Mayer Hawthorne to come home to Sonic Lunch, and DJ at Live, on Thursday
Didn’t know that the singer of the hit “The Walk” - who cobbled his stage name by adding his middle name with the street he grew up on - was a DJ, too? Originally, DJ-ing was Hawthorne’s primary focus.
“I've been a DJ and a hip-hop producer for most of my life, and I never really had plans to make soul music,” Hawthorne told AskMen.com. “But I was getting to a point making rap music where I had to clear a lot of samples for the beats I was making, and it got really expensive. I decided I would just make my own samples, and I wouldn't have to pay anybody to clear it. That's how I got started making soul music.
“Peanut Butter Wolf, he's the president of Stones Throw Records out here in L.A. He heard some of those sample tracks, which were just for my own personal use, and he loved them and wanted to know if he could put them out on Stones Throw. And I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ Even Peanut Butter Wolf thought it would be a fun little side project we'd put out and sell 1,000 copies, but those 1,000 copies sold out in two days. That was when we first realized we had something big here. Shortly after that, I put out an album called ‘A Strange Arrangement,’ and we got a lot of love from some really famous people like Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg and John Mayer. That always gets a lot of attention. That was really big for me, man; it got me where I am right now.”
Another of Ann Arbor’s favorite sons, Found Magazine founder Davy Rothbart, interviewed Hawthorne for Grantland.com, and the two talked about Hawthorne’s development as an artist while growing up in Ann Arbor.
“In middle school, I'd mess around in the basement with my good friend Andrew Wilkes-Krier, who lived down the street,” Hawthorne told Rothbart. “We didn't have a name for our band, we just liked making noise. Of course, he went on to become Andrew W.K. Then in high school, I started a punk band called Something Like That. Later, I played in a funk trio, but I started getting really into rap music. I was hooping constantly with my friends who played on the Huron High School basketball team — I'd rotate between point guard and shooting guard, but I wasn't very tall then, and not good enough to make varsity. In the summertime, we'd roll to Burns Park or wherever we could get a game going, and play for hours, and then go to somebody's house and try to make hip-hop. We called our crew the Athletic Mic League, because we'd all gotten to know each other through playing sports.
“The thing was, we didn't have a DJ. We just all liked to rap. All the rap crews at the time — Run DMC, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Gang Starr, Eric B. & Rakim — had a DJ and we were like, 'Damn, someone's gotta be the DJ.' I volunteered. I'd always been a record collector — other kids wanted G.I. Joe for Christmas, and all I wanted was records. So I bought a pair of Technics 1200s and locked myself in my room for a summer, and when I came out I was the DJ for Athletic Mic League. After college, I kept making music with those guys as a hip-hop DJ and producer.”
Hawthorne eventually moved to Los Angeles with his three-man rap group, Now On, and things moved quickly; but the group struggled to pay for the samples they were using in songs.
“We'd have to pay thousands of dollars for the rights to sample an old soul tune before we could sell our own songs, and the more interest we had in our music the more broke we became,” Hawthorne told Rothbart. “We were living off ramen noodles, three of us sharing one bedroom. We'd DJ a gig for fifty bucks, which was like fifteen bucks each. I remember thinking, ‘Damn, this is gonna pay for my tacos, but then what am I gonna do?’ There were definitely some grim moments. I was borrowing money from people. I thought about heading back to Michigan and moving back in with my parents.”
But the success of “A Strange Arrangement” (2009) was followed by even more attention and critical love for the album “How Do You Do” (2011) and Hawthorne has been on fire ever since, showing up on Time Magazine’s Top Ten Songs of the Year list (for “A Long Time”), “Conan” and “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and a GQ profile focused on the musical acts that influenced Hawthorne's distinctively snappy sense of style.
So make sure to catch Hawthorne while he’s in town. There’s no telling where he’ll go next.
And in the meantime, check out this interview clip (which features some adult language) and these music videos: