The “retro soul” tag is added to almost any contemporary work that sounds like it was originally recorded before 1980, and Mayer Hawthorne is aware of how trends come and go. But, he says, he’s not interested in taking it back to the “good old days,” as much as he is in creating the “new good days.” And to fans like producer Mark Ronson, who said, “I have no idea what this is, old or new, but it’s fucking good!!!” upon first hearing Hawthorne’s music, age ain’t nothin’ but a number.
On How Do You Do, his first major label effort for Universal Republic Records, Hawthorne proves that he is not part of a trend. The classic Motown sound that provided the blueprint for his self-produced independent debut, A Strange Arrangement, remains, but is joined on How Do You Do by music reminiscent of late 1960s California pop and the best work from the likes of Steely Dan and Chicago.
“Hawthorne emerges with a jaw-dropping collection of classic soul,” RollingStone.com proclaimed upon hearing A Strange Arrangement, but with this latest release, the formula has been updated. The vocals are stronger, the music more varied and vibrant, but it’s still Mayer Hawthorne. And the message is love.
Hawthorne grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, and vividly remembers, as a child, driving with his father and tuning the car radio in to the rich soul and jazz history the region provided. “Most of the best music ever made came out of Detroit,” claims the singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, who counts Smokey Robinson and famed songwriting trio Holland, Dozier, Holland among his influences, but also draws inspiration from Michael McDonald, Juan Atkins and J Dilla.
Hawthorne has produced and played instruments for much of his life, but never intended to become a singer. What he became, however, was a new school soul sensation, touring globally and earning accolades from Playboy, NPR and Entertainment Weekly. “He’s an able singer…an arranger of astonishing precision,” wrote the New York Times when Hawthorne first hit the scene.
On “The Walk,” the first single from How Do You Do, Hawthorne plays a man scorned and content with saying “So long, you did me wrong” to the lady in his life. “A Long Time” is both a brilliant homage to Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” and a storied history of Hawthorne’s beloved Detroit, followed by a duet – yes, duet – with the incomparable Snoop Dogg on “Can’t Stop.”
“It’s Snoop like you’ve never heard him before,” Hawthorne told Billboard.com before the two performed together at the South by Southwest music festival in March.
The rest of How Do You Do is a trip through generations and tales of love cherished and love lost. Songs like “Hooked,” “You Called Me” and “You’re Not Ready” are vintage fare, while “The News” and “No Strings” add a modern, 21st century flair to the proceedings.
Snoop Dogg once heralded Hawthorne as his new favorite artist, praise shared via Twitter by other stars such as Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and John Mayer. With the release of How Do You Do, such sentiment is sure to grow, just as Hawthorne himself continues to grow as an artist and performer. It was soul music from which he came, and those roots will never be left behind. But there is more to this artist than just soul music.
“A lot of my other influences are coming out on this record,” Hawthorne told Billboard.com. “There are a lot of other genres that are blending in now. “It’s just turning into me.”
- Ronnie Reese, August 2011