Mayer Hawthorne mines vintage soul, 1980s rock on album

02/20/2014 4:05 PM

02/20/2014 4:07 PM

Mayer Hawthorne didn’t win a Grammy last month, but Pharrell Williams, who produced some tracks on Hawthorne’s new album, “Where Does This Door Go,” won producer of the year.

“I was super happy for him,” Hawthorne says by phone from California a few days later. “Part of that was for the work he did with me.”

Besides, Hawthorne lost the Best Boxed Set or Limited Edition Package trophy to one of the industry’s biggest stars – Paul McCartney.

“It was cool to be recognized since I was the art director,” he says of the nominated 7-inch single box set for “How Do You Do.”

While Hawthorne, who plays Amos’ Sunday, remains in control of his art direction on the new album, he loosened his grip on writing and producing this album solo this time.

“It was very difficult. I’m a studio nerd and I’m a perfectionist. That’s part of the reason I do my own artwork because I can’t let go of the control. There were moments of extreme frustration and heated arguments, and that was exactly what I wanted. It pushed me to go out of my comfort zone,” he explains.

Since he emerged in 2009, the Ann Arbor-native was known for his smooth vintage 1970s soul.

“I had definitely placed a few rules on myself. I didn’t use synthesizers on the first two albums. I wouldn’t have any rap. I had Snoop on an album and made him sing. That was a rule. I broke every rule that I ever had and it was awesome,” he says of “Door.” “I just decided I’d done two albums where I wrote and arranged and produced everything and played all the instruments myself and it was time to do something new.”

The consciously titled “Where Does This Door Go” still mines vintage soul, but draws on Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, the 1980s soul-pop of Hall & Oates, yacht rock and hip-hop. The latter certainly isn’t new to him. Mayer Hawthorne was born out of Andrew Mayer Cohen’s (his real name) work as a hip-hop producer.

“I was starting to get sued for the samples I was using. I decided to make my own samples so I didn’t have to pay for the clearance,” he explains. But it was those Motown-nodding soul songs that attracted the attention of Stones Throw Records’ Peanut Butter Wolf who signed Hawthorne. Yet the sound seems to fit a self-described “laid back dude.”

Rapper Kendrick Lamar appears on the “Door” track “Crime,” which Hawthorne describes as his version of NWA’s “F*** Da Police,” but don’t expect hardcore rhymes. Hawthorne’s breezy attitude sounds more suited for a party than a protest. Yet the back story suits the song.

“We all got tickets for drinking a glass of wine on the beach in Malibu,” he says of the incident that ignited his fury. “I thought it was the most obnoxious thing ever.”

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