Retro-soul crooner makes them swoon
By Lacy Matsumoto
Special to The Advertiser
His sweet yet sultry voice is almost a replica of the vocals heard on '60s soul hits. His charming good looks have made women adore him. And his heartbreaking lyrics show his sensitive side. Michigan-born singer Andrew Mayer Cohen, now known as Mayer Hawthorne, made his mark on the music charts with his single "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out," which was pressed, fittingly, in the shape of a heart.
The guy's a softie, and his retro-romantic approach is pulling in fans from all over. Pitchfork praises his latest album, "A Strange Arrangement " — the one "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" came from — for its "catchy, energetic and unfussy arrangements." Esquire went even more crazy for him, calling the album "a master class in soul music."
Hawthorne calls himself "a vinyl junkie." He was a DJ and played in bands before coming up with the soul-singer idea. His label, Stones Throw, signed him up after hearing a two-song demo.
"The heart-shaped record was my idea. It was my first single ever. ... I wanted to make it a collectible. I didn't think it was really going to happen, but Stones Throw made it happen — that's why they're so great," Hawthorne said in a phone interview from his home base in California.
Stones Throw picked up Hawthorne after the company's president, Chris Manak, also known as Peanut Butter Wolf, met him at a party.
"I was really focused on hip-hop at the time, so I tried to show him that," Hawthorne said. "But he loved my weirdo soul music demos that I made in my bedroom. I didn't plan on recording it, but it was such a good opportunity."
The soulful music is a combination of retro-R&B meets Barry White.
"Where I grew up, in Ann Arbor, Motown was huge. It really had an influence on me," the singer said. "When I'd go to work with my dad, we'd listen to music together. I wasn't born during that era when Motown was made, so I don't know what it was like, but I do pay respect to it."
With clean lyrics and fresh threads, Hawthorne has his own style. His photos often depict him in a suit and fashionable glasses, giving him an updated preppy look.
"I love fashion, it's very important to me, even before the music," he admitted. "I'm not real big on designers; I just like what looks good. If it's fresh, it's fresh, if it's not, it's not."
His confident style and smooth voice might be what lures so many female fans to his concerts.
"I'm always surprised at the ratio of women to men that come to my shows," he said. "But hey — what guy wouldn't like that? It's really flattering, but it can get overwhelming sometimes.
"I just really try to remember that life is great," Hawthorne said with a laugh. "I'm really just a nerd with confidence."
Hawthorne's first visit to Hawai'i is short, but he hopes to get in as many activities as possible.
"I hope to eat all the local food there. It's rare that I really get to enjoy a place. You know we're in and out, there for the show and gone the next day. I'm really hoping to take in as much as I can," he said.