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How Talking to Kanye West Changed Mayer Hawthorne

Mayer Hawthorne was excused for running a few minutes late. The Ann Arbor native returned from a European tour and was on his way from L.A. to New York as part of a promotional push for his album Where Does This Door Go. He is currently supporting OneRepublic on its national tour. The blue-eyed soul singer/songwriter — and former Stones Throw artist — has hit the big time; this is his second album on Universal Republic. He also has a Umami burger named after him.

"I'm a spontaneous person; I don't like to plan things in advance," he says, settling into a leather chair in his publicist's L.A. conference room. He takes a deep breath, composes himself, and talks about changes that marked the making of Where Does This Door Go.

New Times: You usually write, record, and produce your own material. How was it working with other producers?

Mayer Hawthorne: The album is very different. Not just different from anything I've done but is also very different than anything that's out there now. That's great and something I'm extremely proud of. We worked hard to figure out something that would sound new and didn't sound like anything else that's on the radio right now. I have yet to find someone who can tell me what the genre of this album is, which is amazing to me. I love that radio programmers and people like that hate it [the album] because it doesn't fit into their little box.

Was there an internal impetus or a certain pivotal moment when you decided that you should completely overhaul the way you did things musically?

Yes. This is actually a really funny story that I haven't told anyone. I met Kanye West at a festival in Scandinavia somewhere that we both played. After the show, we talked for like five hours straight about literally everything. The thing that I really got from that conversation from those five hours was that there are no rules, and that's what stuck with me. He was really big on that, and it felt like more of a life lesson than anything else. After hearing him say that, I thought to myself that, "Man, he's really right. There are no rules." So for this album, I decided I'd throw all the rules out and the only rule that I kept was that this [making the album] had to be fun. It was very liberating.

Do you think working with this strong group of producers, along with the appearances of Kendrick Lamar and Jessie Ware, can help you reach a newer, wider audience?

Sure. Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, Jessie Ware, Oak, and Jack Splash are big names that a lot of people know, and it's great. I'm happy that I'm going to be reaching new people, and that's definitely the idea. But at the same time, I didn't choose to work with these people because they have big names. I worked with the people who I thought would make this music better. I don't make music to be the most popular artist in the world. I don't make music so everyone will like it. I make music that I think is dope, and if you like it, I love you. If you don't, then go listen to Taylor Swift or something.

Do you think that fans of your first album will abandon you with Where Does This Door Go?

There are Mayer Hawthorne fans who learned about me through "The Walk" or "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out," and they're going to be bummed. But it's OK. There are probably about 15 to 20 people in the world who I care about what they think about the record. Sometimes, I get mentions on Twitter that say, "Sorry I just can't get with the new Mayer Hawthorne record." And they don't need to apologize. It's all good; they don't have to like it.

Is it because it's a bit more mainstream than anything you've released?

I don't know. I think there are a lot of people that want you to do the same thing over and over again. I'm the same way sometimes too. I remember listening to Common, and when he came out with Electric Circus, I was like, "Dude, what the fuck are you doing? Where's the Resurrection Common that I love?" Now I look back on that album, and I love it! It was a fantastic next step. All of my favorite artists — Outkast, Steely Dan, Madonna, Beastie Boys, and Prince — are all artists that are reinventing themselves. I think that's superimportant. I don't see the point of doing the same thing over and over again. I never have.

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Daniel Kohn

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