Mayer Hawthorne & The County
A nerdy looking gent with a penchant for snappy looking suits and even snappier sounding soul, Mayer Hawthorne (government name: Andrew Mayer Cohen) is one of the leading lights of the Stones Throw, Truth & Soul and Daptone Records lead modern soul movement.
Originally hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, the geographic location also responsible for Samiyam, Recloose and 14KT, Mayer Hawthorne originally came up as DJ Haircut, of both Athletic Mic League and Now On. With a lifelong background as a music ("my pops taught me to play bass when I was six," reflects), Cohen's childhood was sound-tracked by the soul and jazz of Detroit and the surrounding region, as provided by his father's car stereo. In his words, "really thankful for the musical encouragement and direction," he got from his parents, Cohen became a record crate digger very early in the piece, leading to his DJ Haircut alias. " I've been a DJ my entire life, since I was a kid really. It's what I always identified myself with," he explains. "Now most people that know me as Mayer Hawthorne don't even know I DJ. It's a trip!"
With his teenage years coloured by skateboarding, DJing and a local fascination with the sounds of LL Cool J, N.W.A, Black Moon and the like, surrounded by rappers his age, beat production was the logical extension of DJing, and as he became a threat in the studio, Cohen found himself building on his childhood soul music foundations. " I learned a lot of my soul music from digging for the samples to my favourite rap songs," he says. Then as curveball, there was a love of Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Helmet and White Zombie. "I still love all that shit," he continues.
DJing and working on numerous hip-hop projects, when no one was looking, Cohen would construct vividly toned, smoking soul records that while sounding like they hail from the late sixties to mid seventies, alongside his contemporary peers, actually serve as a logical continuation of the musical optimism of that earlier era. And it was this optimistic soul, which would after two songs, lead Stones Throw Records head honcho Peanut Butter Wolf to offer him a record deal. "I moved to LA in 2005 to pursue music full time," Cohen remembers. "I wanted to DJ and make hip-hop music. I met Peanut Butter Wolf at a party there, and I sent him some music. He didn't really like my rap stuff but he loved these soul demos I had done in my bedroom just for fun. He offered me an album deal with Stones Throw if I would record a whole album of soul music. I said 'sure!', even though at the time I didn't know how I would make a full length album."
The result of this gamble by both parties was A Strange Arrangement, his debut album and for both Stones Throw and Cohen, a genuine game changer. " Now I tour around the world singing soul music for a living and rub elbows with celebrities every day," he muses. "You never know what life is going to give you. I'm thankful for every moment of it."
As part of this never-ending trip on the good times train, on the 12th and the 14th of February, Cohen is touching down in Auckland and Wellington to perform two exclusive shows with his backing band, The Country. He's also hoping to catch up with a friend, our favourite local soulstress, Ladi6. " Ladi6 has got mad soul yo!" he enthuses. "I think we first met in Perth last year. She is super cool."
By Martyn Pepperell
Mayer Hawthorne plays in Auckland at Splore City on the 12th of February and at The San Francisco Bath House on the 14th of February.