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Interview: Mayer Hawthorne

| May 1, 2012

Superman had his Fortress Of Solitude; Mayer Hawthorne has his records and the stores scattered around the globe devoted to housing rare and overlooked vinyl.

Appearing: May 17th at Park West with The Stepkids, and later the same night at Beauty Bar in Chicago.

While out on the road, if the L.A.-based, Ann Arbor, Michigan native’s not on stage soaking up the intense, if unlikely, female adulation his bedroom-eyed crooning brings, he’s either satisfying his foodie tendencies at a local eatery of note or adding to his collection of LPs.

You can just picture him hunkering down in a musty shop with creaky hardwood floors – the kind that make it easy for well-fed dust bunnies to hop in between stacks of music. His thick-rimmed hipster frames slide down his nose as he hunches over crates, flipping through unorganized and improperly alphabetized titles. Losing all track of time, he focuses on the hunt, rarely coming up for air until he locates that trip-defining gem.

Hawthorne has a name for this treasured ritual: “digging.” And it’s not a team sport.

“It’s usually more of like a Zen thing for me. That’s kind of like my drug. So, I don’t usually like to talk to nobody when I’m digging for records. It’s more of like a private thing. I just get in my zone and dig,” he reveals on a Saturday afternoon, right before the East Coast portion of his world tour gets underway. “People think that they want to go record shopping with me, but they really don’t – they get bored.”

So, it seems like a spin-off of his “Mayer vs. Food” YouTube series is out of the question then. The 33-year-old will play virtual food critic and break bread with fans online, but shopping excursions are off limits. In lieu of craftily edited vignettes, we’ll have to settle for hard-nosed advice.

“I like digging in record stores that are kind of sloppy and unorganized. Because that way you just like start digging through a pile and find something you weren’t necessarily looking for. That’s usually how I find the best stuff: not having any strategy at all,” Hawthorne admits. A haphazard methodology also makes up for an overwhelming number of choices. “I always have like a list in my head of all these records that I want to get, and then as soon as I walk in the door of the record store it goes completely out the window and I can’t remember anything that I wanted.”

This affection for 12 grooved inches of aural merriment stems from Hawthorne’s two-turntables-and-a-microphone days in Detroit as DJ Haircut. (For those keeping track at home, that’s alias number two for the man born Andrew Mayer Cohen.) Hawthorne came up with his own Motown-influenced melodic riffs to erase the need for sampling copyrighted (and expensive) material. Despite never considering himself a singer, this goofing off caught the attention of Stones Throw Records label head Peanut Butter Wolf, who urged Hawthorne to create an album around the tracks. A Strange Arrangement followed, spurred on by the it’s-not-you-it’s-me single, “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out.” (In keeping with Hawthorne’s hobby, the single was released on red, heart-shaped vinyl – surely a get for future diggers.)

Hawthorne jumped to the majors for his sophomore effort, How Do You Do (Universal Republic), keeping the soul- revivalist motif going without ever falling into pastiche. Despite the inevitable Curtis Mayfield comparisons, Hawthorne firmly places the album in this decade with a guest appearance by Snoop Dogg and infusing the coos and his A-plus bedside manner with a hip-hop sensibility.

Hawthorne’s voice sounds like it’s draped in gold lamé, even if his outfits suggest otherwise. The budding fashionista might bristle at the word “outfit,” but anyone with a self-proclaimed motto (“flashy but classy”) to go along with their duds, doesn’t just wear clothes. Hawthorne sports a look that’s hipster chic mixed with GQ swagger and very debonair. You’ll rarely find him sans bowtie or without a perfectly pressed and color-coordinated pocket square.

His fashion sense comes from an unlikely source: his grandma Shirley. “I get all my fashion inspiration from my grandma. She’s the most stylish person I know. Like any time she would walk into a room, everybody would always know right off the bat,” Hawthorne remembers. “But, she always kept it really classy. She taught by example.”

— Janine Schaults

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Category: Features, Monthly

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