When Mayer Hawthorne was growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he frequently confiscated his parents’ record collection — which included music by jazz and soul greats like Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield and Leroy Hutson — to play on his Fisher Price record player.
But when Hawthorne, born Andrew Mayer Cohen, came of age and started to venture off musically, it was hip-hop that caught his ear the most. Thus, it comes to little surprise that the genres would influence his debut album, “A Strange Arrangement,” released on Sept. 8th on Stone Throws Records.
Hawthorne, who got his start as a hip-hop DJ, first launched his recording career when he met producer/labelhead Peanut Butter Wolf through a mutual friend at a party in Los Angeles. Wolf, who is the founder of the label Stone Throw Records, had heard two demos Hawthorne recorded, signed him and asked him to record a soul album. Hawthorne, still high off of hip-hop, wanted to record a rap set instead, but “when Peanut Butter asked me to record an album, period, I couldn’t turn that opportunity down,” he says.
That appeared to be the right choice; the project became Hawthorne’s appropriately-titled debut, which spent six weeks on Heatseekers, peaking at No. 2, and reached No. 74 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
“My intentions with any of my music is to keep it futuristic and updated and be experimental and try new things,” says Hawthorne, stating that the album also has sprinkles of rock and funk. “It’s important that when kids are listening to my music they don’t think of it as their parent’s music.”
His first single, “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out,” finds Hawthorne invoking both doo-wop and hip-hop with his high falsetto soaring over an old-school beat. The only cover on the album, the New Holidays’ “Maybe So, Maybe No,” showcases horns and a bouncing backbeat, making the old song contemporary enough for today’s listeners.
Hawthorne’s indiscriminate demeanor works well not only on wax but also on the internet; he has a video advice column called “Dear Mayer” on the official Stone Throw Records website, where people can write in and ask forhis opinion. ‘It was just another thing that we did for fun as an experiment’ he says about tapping into his inner Dr. Ruth.
But it wasn’t much of a stretch for Hawthorne, since matters of the heart are a popular subject on the album. “A lot on my album deals with my personal relationships,” he says, “I’ve been through a lot of situations with women and if I can help someone else avoid the pitfalls that I’ve gone through then I’m happy to help.”
In addition, the column “is a good way to interact — for me to get in touch with my audience,” says Hawthorne, who also gives away free concert tickets to fans via his twitter, twitter.com/mayerhawthorne.
Hawthorne is currently finishing up a 30-date U.S. tour and plans on touring in Europe next, which will be his first time performing overseas with his band: The County.
Moving forward, Hawthorne hopes to expand his musical horizons with the release of a new wave album as well as more soul and hip-hop-laden music. “I just want to make music as long as I can and reach as many people as I can,” he says.