Detroit Free Press: Chatting with Mayer Hawthorne

BJ Hammerstein Detroit Free Press May 22, 2009


Detroit Free Press: Chatting with Mayer Hawthorne Pubished in Detroit Free Press

The sweet soul singles "Maybe So, Maybe No" and "Just Ain't Gonna Work It Out" might have been done as a joke, but Andrew Cohen's smooth-singing alter ego Mayer Hawthorne has generated industry buzz and a growing fan base.

An Ann Arbor native now living in Los Angeles, he's signed to revered indie label Stones Throw, run by eclectic hip-hop head Peanut Butter Wolf. In metro Detroit's club scene, Cohen is also known as DJ Haircut, but he's sidestepping the DJ persona to focus on his knack for timeless melodies and classic, laid-back funk and soul instrumentation.

Influenced by artists ranging from Curtis Mayfield to the Motown writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the Hawthorne sound adds a refreshing and modern spin to the retro movement.

Tonight, Cohen returns to Ann Arbor to play at Necto -- his first show in Michigan as Mayer Hawthorne.

"I'm super excited to bring it back to where it started," Cohen says.

Detroit Free Press: How did a hip-hop based DJ and rapper evolve into the vintage soul artist Mayer Hawthorne?
Mayer Hawthorne: I never had any plans to put out a doo-wop record. For the past 10 years or so, I was always focused on hip-hop music -- even when I moved to Los Angeles a couple years ago, it was to pursue rap music. I did those first couple songs on the side just for fun.

How did the character and sound come about?
The Mayer Hawthorne character is kind of torn in time between 1965 and 2009. It's a conscious thing. My music is definitely heavily influenced by Motown and '60s soul. I'm not interested in being a throwback artist. I'm very conscious that everyone is going to try to label me as a throwback artist, so I'm always making sure that I'm moving the music forward and creating something new.

I try to push myself to step out of my comfort zone and really embrace the character. I'm just having fun with it. I think that's a big reason why everyone's so drawn to it -- it's really fun.

On your singles, you pull a Prince and play all the instruments. What's that like?
Yeah, I play drums, bass and piano. I took piano lessons when I was younger and was never very good. My dad taught me how to play bass when I was real young. I was fortunate enough to come from a musical family. My mom sang and danced and played the piano, and my dad plays bass guitar. He still plays bass in a band in Ann Arbor called the Breakers. I do almost everything in my bedroom in Los Angeles. I'm playing as many instruments as I can. I'm producing, arranging and recording almost everything myself. The full-length is going to drop in fall.

You linked up with Peanut Butter Wolf and are signed to his Stones Throw label (which also features Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson and the late, great Jay Dee Yancey). What's it like working with Stones Throw?
It's incredible. Obviously, people know Peanut Butter Wolf and many of the artists on the roster. What a lot of people don't know is they're also some of the greatest people in the world. They've really given me a ton of freedom, and they've supported me in what I want to do.

For my very first single "Just Ain't Gonna Work It Out," I asked them to press it on a red heart-shaped record, which is really expensive to do and sort of complicated, and they were excited about it and got right behind it.

Although you're living in L.A. and on an L.A.-based label, your music is filled with that smooth Detroit soul. You won't forget about us, right?
I'm so fortunate to be able to represent the Detroit area that ... everywhere I go, I'm reppin' Detroit as hard as I can. I'm so grateful to have grown up where I did. I don't think any of this would have been possible if I didn't grow up in the Detroit area. It has such an incredible impression on you. I feel bad for people who did not grow up in Detroit.

www.stonesthrow.com/mayerhawthorne

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