Mayer Hawthorne covers all sorts of musical ground with his new "Impressions EP"
Surviving another boring Wednesday is easier when you've got a little new music to get you over the hump. Mayer Hawthorne knows this. And he's releasing a free, six-song slew of cover songs, unfurling his eclectic sonic palette for all to hear. The new stable of tracks, titled "Impressions EP," will be released independently for Hawthorne via his Twitter account.
For those waiting for the artist to release his sophomore album "How Do You Do" this fall, the hump has been about two years and counting. Still, Hawthorne's raised his profile considerably with a slot on the Hooligans in Wondaland tour with Bruno Mars and Chicago's 2011 Lollapalooza festival. On the heels of a 10" single of his song "No Strings" released in April, this is the latest tidbit unveiled by the Stones Throw recording artist.
The download package also features short descriptions of how Hawthorne chose this eclectic set of gems to turn into cover jams. The track list has the Michigan-born soul crooner revamping tracks from such varied artists as ELO, Jon Brion and Chromeo. Typically pigeonholed as a saccharine Motown throwback, the man born Andrew Mayer Cohen made some unexpected choices on the EP that go a long way in affirming his role as a 21st century artist with a forward-leaning philosophy on old-school sounds. Hawthorne spoke with Pop & Hiss about Wednesday's free release.
Pop & Hiss: How much did your Detroit roots and your musical upbringing factor into the songs you chose for the EP?
Mayer Hawthorne: I was really fortunate growing up to have a broad musical education. My parents listened to all kinds of music, rock, soul, Motown, jazz, Frank Sinatra, everything. I think that definitely played a huge role [in the selection]. It plays a huge role in the music I make and it’s why my music sounds like it does. It’s soul music, but it incorporates so many other genres.
Do you see any of these new covers making their way into your live set?
Some of them we’ve actually been doing like ELO’s “Blue Sky” and the Isley Brothers’ “Work to Do.”
And with your cover of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky," I understand you recorded the song in a really strange way.
Yeah, the story behind the recording of that is pretty crazy. [My band and I] were at a festival in Dour, Belgium, and they had this little tent that was barely big enough for us to even sit in, let alone get the whole band in there. But we set everything up and we hit record and did it in one take. It was just a really magical take of that song and I ended up using it. I was able to get the multi-tracks from that recording session and I went back and mixed it in the studio, but it was really just a magic take of that song, it had so much energy and feeling.
Did most of the other tracks come together in a more conventional way?
Most of the tracks were recorded at my studio in L.A. Some of them I did in Detroit, as well, in another studio. I wrote up a little description of each track that’s gonna be released along with the EP online. There’s a story behind each song and I wanted to make sure people knew it. I wrote them all out myself and I’m gonna be posting them along with the EP [Wednesday].
Chromeo is also on the list of artists you covered. Would you consider this EP to showcase various time periods in music, with them being one of your more recent favorites?
Chromeo is definitely the most recent group that I covered. I wanted to let people know that I don’t just live in some vintage world where I only listen to old music. I listen to a ton of new music as well, and I’m a new artist that’s living in 2011. It’s not about taking it back, it’s about moving it forward.
Did any of the songs you chose seem intimidating to cover at first?
It’s always tough. With any cover, I like to choose songs that affected me strongly already. So it’s tough sometimes to take a song that you love so much and put your own spin on it because you get such a strong feeling from the original. It’s always hard to add your own touch to it. But that’s one thing I tried to do was make the songs my own.
See Mayer Hawthorne and the County's recording of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky"
-- Nate Jackson
Photo: Mayer Hawthorne Credit: Frankie Batista / For The Times