Ann Arbor native Mayer Hawthorne’s sound from four studio albums channels the neo-soul ethos of Motown with rhythmic updates influenced by funk, hip hop, and disco. As part of his world tour for his latest album, Man About Town, the Grammy-nominated soul nouveau musician will play the Power Center on Friday, July 1, for Ann Arbor Summer Fest. Current caught up with the multifarious maestro by phone during a tour stop in Berlin.
Current: You are playing on Friday, July 1st, at the Ann Arbor Summer Fest.
Mayer Hawthorne: Yeah baby, the Power Center. I always wanted to play the Power Center. I’ve never done the Power Center.
Where else have you played when you’ve played Ann Arbor in the past? Where was the first place you played?
The first was one The Heidelberg. Then we did the Blind Pig of course. We even got banned from the Blind Pig and then reinstated.
What was the bannable offense?
We got in a fight with some people who worked there at the Blind Pig. That was a long, long time ago. Different era. Different band. This was way before Mayer Hawthorne existed.
This was when you were still going by Andrew?
I never went by that. Nobody ever called me that. Not even my folks. Everybody called me Haircut then.
Which was inspired by your haircut?
No, that was my DJ name at the time. It came from my parents buying me records when I was a kid when I hated to get my hair cut for some reason and they would buy me records to keep me sedated so I could get my hair cut without having a temper tantrum.
When you come back to Ann Arbor, what are you most excited to check out?
I always have to hit my food spots: Blimpy Burger and Mark’s Midtown Coney Island. That’s important. I gotta go to Encore Records and dig for some vinyl. And maybe even PJ’s. And then, you know, it’s just about seeing my family. My whole family still lives there. My parents still live on Hawthorne Road.
What does it mean to you as a musician to come from a place like Ann Arbor?
Ann Arbor is the shit because you get the sound coming in from Detroit, but also, Ann Arbor is its own thing. It’s a melting pot of so many different styles: you got Bob Seger and Iggy Pop and Detroit Techno and Ghettotech. Disco D lived in Ann Arbor. Andrew W.K. was my nextdoor neighbor growing up. It’s so ridiculously diverse that you get a little bit of everything, which is great. It gave me a super well-rounded musical education instead of just one style.
When you left to go to L.A., did you have a moment when you realized that this was your calling? Did you have a single moment?
I mean, if anything, I was a computer science major at the University of Michigan and I was sitting in one of the most boring lectures of all time on operating systems or something and I was sitting there just thinking to myself, “What am I doing right now? I don’t want to do this; I want to make music.” And I actually walked out of that class and went to the registration office and switched my major to, basically, graphic design so I could work on designing my own artwork for my music and basically like get a degree and get out of there so I could focus on music.
You’ve released four Mayer Hawthorne albums. How many children do you think have been conceived to your music?
Hopefully a lot. That’s kind of why I do it. I’m on that Barry White shit, man. I wanna be the guy that you dance to in the club and then I also want to be the dude that you dance to in the bedroom.
So with this new album, in many ways I went back to the way I did the first album where I wrote the songs, I played most of the instruments, I produced the album, I mixed the album myself and mastered it. As a result, I think you get the most Mayer Hawthorne album yet. It’s also my most personal record. It’s very story driven. Man About Town is my story. It’s my lonely search for love in Los Angeles, which is a city of over 10 million people. It’s about to find that one person that you can be with forever.
How much stock do you place in Pitchfork album reviews?
Very, very, very little. It’s just a guy’s opinion, you know? I don’t really pay too much attention to that. I mean, honestly, I can count on one hand the people in the world that truly care if they like my album or not and then everybody else, it’s like, if you don’t like it than that’s totally cool. I mean, if you like it, I love you to death and I hope you do, but if you don’t than that’s totally cool. There’s like a ton of other bands you can listen to. I’ve never been one of those guys that tried to make music for everybody.
What’s your favorite album by any musician?
My favorite album of all time? Prince’s Dirty Mind. Just for the record, I have been saying that for 10 years. I didn’t wait until after he died. You can go back and check my interviews from five years ago. It’s still the same answer.
Do you enjoy touring or recording music more?
I’m a studio rat, man. I really like recording. I like locking myself in the studio. I really enjoy that. But touring is super fun too. For me, it’s about finding a balance where I can do one for a little while and then go back and do the other. And the same with DJing. I was a DJ for 10 years before I wrote my first Mayer Hawthorne song so I still really love to do that.
I know you toured with Amy Winehouse. Do you have any stories about Amy Winehouse?
Only that I really miss her to death. I was the last artist to tour with her before she passed and it was an incredible experience and one that I’ll always remember and I miss her dearly all the time.
When you’re not playing live or recording music, how do you spend the bulk of your time away from music?
I’m a big fashion dude. I’ve been going to a lot of fashion shows and I’ve started designing a lot of the clothes that I wear. I’ve been getting really into that lately. And then I’ve been digging for vintage roots reggae 45s. And I’m a huge food guy, so my tour is really a food tour where I also play music.
What are you listening to right now?
Any specific gems you’d like to tell the readers?
Noel Bailey – “Lonely Girl”; Johnny Osbourne – “Ready or Not” (that’s his cover of The Delfonics’ “Ready or Not Here I Come”). I like a lot of the reggae soul stuff, you know. They did covers of soul songs. And then I’m really digging this dude named Robert Cotter right now too, it’s this old rare modern soul shit. He’s got a couple different albums. I think they’re on YouTube. [They are.] There’s a giant called, “Missing You” from Robert Cotter. Killer.
Are you reading any books?
Yeah, I’ve been reading George Clinton’s book ["Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You"]. My sister got it for me, but George Clinton is one of the all-time greatest, for sure. Massive, massive influence on me. If it wasn’t for Prince’s Dirty Mind, my next favorite album in the world would probably be The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein. It’s hard to beat; it’s really a perfect album.
I know you’re in Europe now and you’re going to Japan later in the summer, but what’s been you favorite dish so far this tour?
Just last night I had duck and waffles in London. It was there take on chicken and waffles, but it was this duck and it had a fried duck egg on top with maple syrup. It was pretty spectacular. I had some amazing Indian food in London too.
They say that Curry is the second official dish of England.
I always think of bangers and mash. I really love bangers and mash actually, or they call it sausages and mash. Somebody was trying to explain to me that you don’t want the bangers, that they’re the shit quality sausage. If it says “Bangers & Mash,” it’s not what you want. But I still call it “Bangers & Mash.” I just love it. It’s just that good comfort food.
Let’s talk about the future. What do you see next for you in the future and what’s your biggest goal right now?
I’m trying to release music like Gucci Mane right now. I’m just trying to release more music, faster. We’re almost done with a new Tuxedo album, so that’s exciting. [Tuxedo is Hawthorne's disco side project with Seattle hip hop artist Jake One]. And I’m going to be touring around, eating all the best food around the world.
You got it made.
Yeah, life is pretty good.