Mayer Hawthorne was one of four singer-songwriters selected for a new four-part PBS series, 'Live From the Artist's Den,' along with Norah Jones, Rufus Wainwright and the Wallflowers. But unlike the others, Hawthorne has only come to singing recently.
Born Andrew Mayer Cohen, Hawthorne moved from Ann Arbor to Los Angeles in 2006 with every intention of becoming a hip-hop producer. Instead, he has become a leader in the recent soul revivial. In an interview a couple of weeks ago, he explains how he did it.
What made you start singing? You were sampling the hip-hop stuff -- did you sing vocals on some of them?
I just started singing on stuff. I guess I really sang on it ‘cause I thought nobody would ever hear it. It wasn’t a song that was supposed to be released to the public. That’s why I like songs like 'Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out.' It doesn’t have a bridge or an outro or anything. It’s not even a full song ‘cause it wasn’t ever supposed to be released to the public.
So somebody on your label or management side encouraged you to do the singing thing?
Yeah, this guy named Peanut Butter Wolf in Los Angeles. When I moved out here, he heard some of those demos from a mutual friend. And he was like, “You’ve got it all backwards dude. You should be doing this instead.” And I was like, “Alright, I guess, if you want to put it out, you can do it.” And I thought we’d maybe sell 1,000 copies and I would just keep doing my hip-hop, DJing, producer thing. It just really connected with people I guess, so here I am.
Did singing come naturally to you or was that hard?
It did not come naturally at all. I was terrible. I’m still learning very much how to sing every day. I’ve got a long way to go.
Are there vocal coaches that you work with?
I do have a vocal coach. Mostly I just learn from trial and error. We do over 200 shows a year. I’ve learned the basics from guys like Roger Love and Bruno Mars and Erykah Badu and all these amazing singers that I get to do shows with sometimes.
And then from there it’s just finding my own way, you know, ‘cause everybody’s voice is different. You gotta figure out how to use your own voice in the best way possible. It’s just like an instrument, like a saxophone or a synthesizer or anything, you gotta play it like an instrument.
I just did a track with Pharrell for my next album that’s pretty amazing. I’ve been talking to Erykah Badu about doing some stuff. I’m working on a bunch of really dope stuff. I’m always working on new music and I’m always writing songs. I can’t reveal too much right now but I have some really amazing things coming out soon.
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