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Mayer Hawthorne On Making Steely Dan Sexy & Getting Schooled By Pharrell

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Annie Reuter
Annie Reuter
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Mayer Hawthorne makes no apologies for the fact that his new album, Where Does This Door Go, sounds nothing like his previous two records. At a concert on the eve of the album’s release (July 15), the soulful Michigan native showed the breadth of himself — his hip-hop background, his love of ’70s funk and Steely Dan, that soaring falsetto of his. All just a hint of his new release, which features production from Pharrell, among others.

“This is a very special night,” Hawthorne said from the Bowery Ballroom stage. “Tonight I have a brand new album that comes out worldwide in two hours. It is definitely a celebration in this mother f*****.”

And he wasn’t lying. As the smell of pot engulfed the room, his fans danced and bobbed their heads throughout the entirety of his set. Many sang along to the soon-to-be-released tracks and at times he conducted the room in a sing-along, outstretching his arms while teaching them the lyrics to his new material. They seemed to be receptive to the new sounds, despite what Hawthorne may think otherwise.

“This album is very different from my previous two records,” he recently told Radio.com. “Some people are not going to like that. Some of my fans that have been following, sorry guys.”

He added, “I could never go back and do another A Strange Arrangement [his debut album]. It would be impossible at this point.”

A huge fan of Steely Dan, Hawthorne wanted Where Does This Door Go to reference the ’70s smooth jazz-rock duo — only, you know, with a bit more sex. To achieve this, he acted in a way some might find counter-intuitive: he added hip-hop beats, 808s and drum machines.

Instead of doing everything himself, Hawthorne broke his previous rule and enlisted the help of others. Where Does This Door Go consists of 15 tracks, many of which are produced by Hawthorne and Pharrell Williams, Greg Wells, Jack Splash and Oak. He credits Williams to pushing him in this new direction.

Related: From ‘Get Lucky’ & ‘Blurred Lines’ To Future Hits, The Secret Comeback Of Pharrell Williams

“Before I decided who to work with, I wanted to go around and meet everybody in the whole business,” he explained. “I worked with people who brought a positive attitude into the studio and people that knew how to have fun with the music. That was my only rule for this record: it had to be fun.”

In between the fun tracks lies Hawthorne’s more sensitive side. One track in particular, “Reach Out Richard,” Hawthorne described as “by far the hardest song [he's] ever had to write.” In fact, he wouldn’t even go into more detail about the specific inspiration for the track, other than saying it was about his father — it’s that intense.

“I have to thank Pharrell Williams for pushing me to get the whole story out,” he said. “That was a toughie for me. It’s a very emotional story. Richard is my dad. I still tear up thinking about that song sometimes, it’s a tough one. It was so close to me that I didn’t even know if I could put it on the album. Pharrell called me every day and said, ‘You have to put that song on the album.’ I caved and put it on there and I’m glad I did.”

Hawthorne may have Williams to thank for his rising popularity, too.

“He had this vision for me being this stadium rock artist,” Hawthorne recalled. “He was always talking about how he pictured me rocking stadiums and my fans would be out in the lawn seats drinking Bud Light and smoking a joint. It was something that I didn’t necessarily 100 percent agree with but it was really fun to picture that and play with.”

From the looks of that sold-out album release show, Williams may not be far off.

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