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Mayer Hawthorne

illustration by David D'Incau Jr.

by K. Champ

Native Detroiter and Stones Throw recording artist Mayer Hawthorne is a man of many interests, from heavy metal to deep dish pizza. The self-proclaimed foodie–he has a video series coming out soon titled "Mayer vs. Food"—and vinyl enthusiast was quick to share his favorite eats, songs and local record stores with us during a quick chat before his appearance at North Coast Music Festival.

While it's easy to put Hawthorne in the "throwback" category thanks to his sweet soulful tunes—don't. His hip-hop background and diverse range of influences suggest that he's more than a trendy flash-in-the-pan.

K.Champ: How's this trip Chicago treating you? You've been here a lot this summer, most recently for Lolla!

Mayer Hawthorne: Chicago is the shit. I don't enjoy the traffic here; I think it's worse than Los Angeles and people don't want to admit it. As a city, it's awesome—and they've got great food, which is important to me. You guys know how to eat here and I love you for that.

Any standout food experiences on this trip?
On this trip, I just stopped in Giordano's for a deep dish pizza—it was phenomenal. Despite what I've heard from other people, I did my own Giordano's vs. Lou Malnati's taste test, and while they are both spectacular, I'm going with Lou Malnati's. I think they have a better pizza. They have a better pizza-to-crust ratio. Today I got cheese and Italian sausage, I'm a simple dude.

We have a restaurant here in Chicago called Hot Doug's, and they have celebrity sausages that reflect the individual they're named for. What would a Mayer Hawthorne hot dog have on it?
I've heard about Hot Doug's! A Mayer Hawthorne hot dog would be a Detroit-style Coney Dog for sure. It would be something like Lafayette's Coney Island in Detroit—it's my favorite place in the world to eat. 

I loved your compilation Soul With A Hole—if you had to make Soul With A Hole Vol. II  right here on the spot, what songs would you choose to include? 


What have I been finding lately?  I was just going back through some of my records and my homie DJ Dez from Detroit reminded me of a song by The Montclairs called "Baby You Know I'm Gonna Miss You." That one would definitely go on there.

There's another song I've been bumpin' the shit out of lately from the Chi-Lites, from right here in Chicago, a joint called "I Wanna Pay You Back (For Loving Me)".  That's my jam right now.

You release most of your singles on vinyl and are a big supporter of the medium—what's special about records for you?
I've always been a vinyl record guy, I've been collecting before I could read the labels on them. My parents used to buy them for me when I was a little toddler. I've always collected records my whole life and I've always felt like they sound the best.

There's something about the tangible-ness of the vinyl, being able to pull it out of the sleeve and put it on the platter and drop the needle on it and really feel it, you know? You can feel the grooves, literally. You can feel the music on [the record] and there's something really special about that that I don't think you can get from a CD or a MP3.  I don't hate on them, either, I have an iPod and I record music digitally, but vinyl sounds the best. Hands down, without a doubt.

Mayer Hawthorne singles: "I Need You" and "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out"
Any favorite places to go record shopping?
I have a quite a few! Here in Chicago I love Dave's Records and of course Dusty Groove is the jam—you always find good stuff over there. I used to shop at this spot called Gramaphone, I haven't been there in a minute and need to go back!

So many artists nowadays are adopting a retro, throwback sound—from Raphael Saadiq to Amy Winehouse. How do you distinguish yourself in the crowd (especially in light of the fact you have a new album coming out!)?

Just growing up in the 80s and 90s and listening to a lot of N.W.A., Public Enemy, Mobb Deep and De La Soul, J. Dilla—I was a big hip hop head and got my start as a hip-hop producer and DJ. I approach [my music] from a hip hop angle, but also from a rock angle, too. I always loved heavy metal, I used to listen to Helmet, Rage Against The Machine, Iron Maiden. The Smashing Pumpkins is one of my favorite bands of all time. 

What I'm trying to say is that I'm not strictly a soul guy. I throw all of those elements into my music. I'm not trying to recreate the past, trying to create something new, trying to keep it moving forward. It's important for me that kids my age that listen to my music feel like it's their music, not their parents' music.

What advice would you give to someone who's an aspiring musician?
Stay in school. It sounds funny, but that's the truth. Educate yourself, and know that the music business is a business. It's not all fun and games—well, hopefully there's some fun, I'm having a great time out here, don't get me wrong—but you have to be a self-promoter. You have to know that the music business is a business, and not just playing guitar, doing drugs, and wiling out.
  Mayer Hawthorne performing at North Coast Music Festival. Photo by Mike Murphy.

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