Detroit is in a twenty-first century musical renaissance. Robocop statue talk not withstanding, the urban wasteland vibe has been mitigated by a wealth of artists with connections to the city. Eminem and Dr. Dre are selling cars produced in the city, and favorite son Jack White remains productive, even hooking up with fellow Detroit natives Insane Clown Posse to rework Beethoven. Perhaps the strangest evolution, though, is that of Detroit’s signature musical sound. The purest Motown voice out there belongs to Mayer Hawthorne, a slightly nerdy looking thirty-two year old who burst on the scene with the aptly titled A Strange Arrangement. As Hawthorne prepared to hit the road with Chromeo, he took some time to talk with Prefix about the rigors of the road.
First off, how excited are you to be playing with Chromeo?
I’m super excited, man. I think it’s the perfect fit as far as tour lineup goes. We both have really similar taste in music, and both of our fanbases know good music and will be ready to listen to both bands.
Describe the Mayer Hawthorne live experience.
All right, when you come to see Mayer Hawthorne, you’re coming to see a show, not a concert. We don’t play concerts. A lot of bands get up there and just play their songs, and that’s not what I’m about. We work ridiculously hard to get the crowd involved and bring a real show aspect to every date. Nobody ever wants their money back after seeing us play.
How do you prepare to take the stage?
I do a lot of vocal warm-ups now, now that I’ve learned a little bit about how to actually sing. Other than that, we just listen to our favorite music to get us pumped up, because it really is all about energy and leaving it all up there on the stage every night. Myself and the band always talk about how fortunate we are to be able to play music for a living, and we try to remind ourselves that it should be fun for us as well.
Give me some cuts from the backstage playlist.
There’s usually always some Parliament and P-Funk in there. Rick James and James Brown. That’s the majority of it, I think.
Are you pretty serious before a show?
I’m pretty open, actually. I try to keep my talking to a minimum, because what most people don’t realize is that you can sing all night long and it won’t affect your vocal chords, but talking a lot can damage them. I try to keep the talking to a minimum so I can have the singing at a maximum. And dancing. We do a lot of dancing before shows.
Tell me about your favorite performance.
We do it right every show, man, we really do. I can’t think of a time when we’ve stepped off stage and I thought to myself that we didn’t really bring it. There are definitely crowds here and there that stick out. Like Bonnaroo last year was particularly amazing. We did a show in Rio de Janeiro that was incredible, but we work so hard off stage to make sure that every show has the potential to be that amazing.
Tell me about a time it just wasn’t happening.
There have been a few times recently that as I become popular and people have been listening to my records, they come to the shows and know the words to my songs, or they think they know the words to my songs. There’s a lot of singing along now in the crowd now, which I love, but there’s been a couple of instances where I’ll be watching somebody in the crowd. They’ll be singing along, but they will sing the wrong words, and then I’ll end up singing the wrong words and screwing up the song.
What goes through your mind when you’re on stage in that situation?
There’s not really any kind of panic or anything. It’s a live show, and if people wanted to hear the music exactly like it is on the album, they could just listen to the record. When I go to see an artist, the moments I always remember are the ones that were different, maybe even an awkward moment or a mistake. That’s a unique and important part of a show. That’s part of the live experience.
Would you characterize yourself as an artist that likes touring?
Without a doubt, yes, I love touring. There are so many people that go their entire lives without ever being able to get out of their one neighborhood, so I feel extremely blessed to see all these different parts of the world and eat their food. I’m a big food guy.
What’s a place you’ve gone that you didn’t think you would like, but turned out to be all right.
This is going to sound funny, but Miami. Miami was a place that I didn’t think I was going to like, but I went there and had the greatest time of my life. It’s one of my favorite places now.
What was behind the Miami trepidation?
I don’t know, I think growing up in Detroit- Miami is kind of the exact opposite of everything there. That kind of explains it, but I really enjoyed it.
Was there ever a place that you’d built up to a point that it didn’t meet your expectations?
No, we always have fun. As long as the band’s with me, we can find something to do pretty much anywhere.
Even though you like touring, what’s a part that’s a drag?
Definitely being out on the road living out of a suitcase is tough. Not being able to do laundry when you want and not sleeping in your own bed at night, those are definitely tough. A lot of basic comforts get thrown out the window on tour.
What is the laundry situation for a guy like you on tour?
It becomes an issue of extreme dry cleaning bills, and laundry on tour becomes a luxury. It’s funny how priorities change when you’re on the road. You get a chance to wash your socks, and then to wear clean socks. You feel like it’s your lucky day.
The label doesn’t foot the bill for the laundry?
No, the label doesn’t foot the bill for hardly anything. They pay to press the CDs, and a lot of times that’s where it stops.
How excited would you be to show up to a venue and see a Maytag instead of a case of beer?
Oh yeah, we’re always excited to see that. We played a show, I think it was some place in Alabama…
The Bottle Tree?
Yeah, that’s it. We showed up and there and there were clean socks in the dressing room. That was by far the best thing we’ve ever gotten from a venue on tour.
What acts would you pay full price to see?
Sade. I’m really hoping that I’m going to be able to catch her somewhere on this tour. I’ve never been able to catch her live. I would give an arm and a leg to see her.
What concert do you measure other concerts against?
I saw James Brown before he passed away, and that was definitely a highlight for me. Roger and Zapp- I have this old bootleg DVD of their performances. That’s what I watch backstage to get me hyped. I watch it on the tour bus to analyze it to help me step my game up.
What does the near future hold for Mayer Hawthorne?
I’m basically going to be playing all over the world. After we finish this Chromeo tour, we’re going to be heading overseas to do even more touring. I’m going to shoot a couple more music videos and put those out. I love music videos. I’m trying to shoot one for every song on the album. I’m also going to be shooting more episodes of my online show, Mayer vs. Food. I like to keep a little busy.
Food Reality Show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l3HOef8VJI