Interview: Mayer Hawthorne
For as many people that have called Mayer Hawthorne “retro,” he’s not. While his falsetto voice draws comparison to Smokey Robinson, and his Detroit upbringing is a reminder of Motown, “retro” is too restricting. Mayer Hawthorne, born Andrew Mayer Cohen, is as Smokey as he is James Dewitt Yancey (J Dilla). Call Mayer Hawthorne “fresh,” because he not only is soulful, he’s hip hop, he’s a skateboarder, and he’s surprising people with a voice he never knew he had. David (for SF Station) called Mayer before he embarked on his first US tour.
I noticed you are into skateboarding, when did you get into that?
I remember having a skateboard when I was a kid. I had a Variflex or something, one of those whale tail, one directional from way back in the day. I’m more a fan of a skateboarding than I am a dope skateboarder. I skate everyday, but I wish I had time to really be a great skateboarder.
Who introduced you to soul music?
That would be my pops. He played bass guitar, and still plays in a band, in the D (Detroit), to this day. He taught me to play bass guitar when I was six years old.
I read that you’re family is full of musicians.
Yeah, they’re all very musical. My mom plays piano, sings and dances. My dad has been playing in bands forever. I was very fortunate to grow up in a musical household. We were always listening to records.
My folks used to buy me records back in the day. That’s how I got my DJ name Haircut, because when they would take me to get my haircut, I would have a temper tantrum. The only way they could get me to shut up was by buying me records.
So at a young age you already wanted records?
Oh yeah, before I could even read the labels on them.
Was it the covers or the music?
It was the music. I didn’t have covers for most of them, they bought me 45s. I had my Fischer Price record player, and that’s what I’d do all day.
What are your alter egos and projects?
Mayer Hawthorne was really the alter ego. Mayer Hawthorne started out as a sort of experiment on the side. I had always been Haircut.
When you say you’ve always been Haircut, does that mean Andrew is Haircut, or that’s just your first project?
Haircut has been my nickname for a long time—for probably fifteen years. I’ve been DJing for most of my life, and collecting records—that was always a priority for me. Mayer Hawthorne just took off accidentally. Now I’ve shifted to where it’s my main focus.
Now that it’s your main focus, is your mindset different when you go in to the studio to work as Mayer Hawthorne versus Haircut?
Definitely, I had to switch gears when I signed to Stones Throw. I had to figure out what Mayer Hawthorne was all about. It’s definitely a very different process. The biggest shift for me is going from the DJ, the bass player, or the drummer who is in the background, to being the front man and center of attention, the lead singer and solo artist.
Can you tell me about the process about being Andrew figuring out Mayer Hawthorne?
Mayer Hawthorne is just an extension of me. It really is like an extreme side of me. It’s still me. I’m only one person, I’m not an actor.
Do you think people are surprised when they find out it’s you singing, and maybe not a black person or someone else?
Definitely that has been my experience so far. When I recorded the first Mayer Hawthorne songs, I went at it with the mindset, “I’m a hip hop producer, and clearing samples is getting really expensive, so why don’t I just create my own music to sample so I wouldn’t have to worry about it.” I never anticipated for the public to hear this music. I only shared it with my close friends and family. I never sent it to anyone. The image was not something I ever really thought about. A lot of people who hear my music, and then see what I look like are shocked. I got to be happy about that because that means I am getting it right.
When did you start singing?
Maybe two years ago.
Do you think Mayer Hawthorne could ever do a cover of R. Kelly’s "Bump N Grind?"
Yeah, I think that’s not out of question. I try not to limit my music to anything. I’m working on a cover of “Blame It On The Alcohol” right now.
Someone recently asked me if Detroit or New York had better current hip hop artists, what’s your opinion?
Oh man. You know my answer to that.
Mayer Hawthorne was also our Featured Artist last week. Check out the article here - Featured Artist: Mayer Hawthorne
You can also check out David's interview with Mayer Hawthorne on SF Station here - Mayer Hawthorne: Fresh, rather than Retro