It's tempting to stamp Mayer Hawthorne with the "retro" label and call it a day, but there's something that's undeniably current about this Detroit-bred musician. Maybe it's his silky-smooth vocals, which bring to mind old-school crooners like Isaac Hayes or Otis Redding, but with an upbeat, neo soul-meets-hip hop twist. Or maybe it's the fact that we've been hooked on this self-trained instrumentalist ever since he dropped his ultimate breakup bombshell "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" back in 2008. Whatever the reason, there's more Mayer Hawthorne coming with his latest full-length How Do You Do, released this week. He called us from his tour bus in Nevada, where he filled us in on his "flashy but classy" stage style, making soul music for hip hop kids, and collaborating with...Justin Timberlake?
As a little kid, did you know you wanted to do music? Always. Most kids want toy cars and G.I. Joe's, but all I wanted was records. I had my Fischer Price record kit, and was ready to go [laughing].
What music did you listen to when you were younger? I was lucky to get a diverse musical education; I didn't only listen to Motown and Otis Redding, like some people would assume. It's not like I live in a soul bubble. I grew up listening to punk rock and everything under the sun.
What do you hope people get out of your new album? That's actually one of the things, just this musical diversity. It's not just about Motown; I wasn't even alive in the '60s or '70s, so I didn't even know what it was like back then! I make soul music for hip-hop heads.
The video for "The Walk" is a fight between couples taken to the extreme. How did the concept come about? I love doing music videos and I'm always very hands-on with the process. It would've been really easy to do a literal video, but I wanted to do something unexpected.
Are all of your songs based on personal experience? They're based on some sort of experience that may not have happened to me personally, but it's all things that I've been involved in.
Do you have a favorite song off How Do You Do?
"A Long Time" is definitely the one that's most meaningful to me, because it's all about Detroit and the place where I grew up. Nobody needs more hope and attention than Detroit right now.
How do you decide how to dress onstage?
As far as my clothing goes, there is always a great deal of thought that goes into that. The model is always flashy but classy; so we try to make sure we stand out by doing our own unique thing, but you have totally to keep it classy at same time.
You've already worked with Snoop Dogg, Kanye, The Cool Kids...who else is on your list to collaborate with?
I'd love to do a joint with Santigold. I'm sure people will think this sounds crazy, but I'd also love to do something with Justin Timberlake. I love collaborating with anyone who knows how to have fun with the music and is down to try something different.
Download a remix of "A Long Time" from Mayer Hawthorne's tourmates Chromeo below, and listen to more Mayer Hawthorne here.