Mayer Hawthorne: New Age or New Face?

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

– Jim Jamusch


Mayer Hawthorne’s talent like Amy Winehouse and Adele’s is obvious. A hearty low-tenor voice with a falsetto of an angel he has it all (so to speak). Whether you are first hearing a ballad or up- tempo ass shaker, his music thrives off a nostalgic homage to Motown. With no question his music evokes a tangible pull on emotions that forces you to dance, no matter how sad the lyrics may be. Although he possesses a note-worthy talent, Hawthorne’s music follows a trend established by a long line of musicians before him. Mimicking components that were first established by artists like Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Ray Charles whose music transgresses through time Hawthorne’s ability to voice heartbreak, love, and break-ups brought out the likes of every age, culture, gender, and lifestyle for his Webstar Hall debut.

I entered into Webstar Hall excited for the nights dancing, good music, and drinking. Greeted by a bartender with a Prince Purple Rain sleeveless shirt, that boasted of his many tattoos, one being a in the shape of a tooth I knew the mass was thriving off eclectic vibes. A crowd of free spirits, hippies, college students, working people yearning for a night off, and of course the old couples (ages 50 – 80), the diverse fan base Mayer Hawthorne’s music has been able to appeal to did not surprise me. The simple fact that he has the entire package from vocals, to attire, with a background that bragged of flashing lights in the shape of a heart, even his band consisted of a guitarists with a humungous afro (of course), and three others with the oversized nerdy glasses all wearing matching colony blue fitted suits. All in all, I knew it was going to be a night to remember.

Beginning the concert with indie/rock/soul band The Stepkids who sported the infamous Jew fros, in all white attire, in front of an all white screen their performance was one reminiscent of Woodstock acid trips intermixed with artistic expression. An “art installation” that established them as chameleons within their performance they stood in front of a white screen that changed colors, shapes, and objects (embodying a human kaleidoscope) while incorporating dots, sequin, glitter, and even animals. The ambiance created a synergistic mood as the audience ordered their body numbing second and third rounds of buds and cocktails. Creating sounds of high-pitched falsetto with the blending into the background made me feel as if I was in a trance, forcing me to watch the trip while listening to music being played. Two guitarist on the sides of a drummer, with the occasional female singer The Stepkids had successfully married The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John and MGMT.

With a DJ set after, playing everything from Kiss by Prince, Signed Sealed Delivered by Stevie Wonder, to Daryl Hall & John Oates I Can’t Go for That, and Mr. Sandman it became clear how fluidly consistent the audience’s energy was as the DJ moved through songs genre by genre (or could it have been the booze?) Whatever the case may be, the anticipation of Mayer Hawthorne amongst the crowd was pervasive and noteworthy. Hawthorne had successfully established a build-up that made smoke and mirrors shameful (keeping in mind the act of performing is a large part of the art known as the Motown era).

As the lights dimmed and he approached the stand of the mic the screams across the crowd were authentically loud and urgent. Beginning with an up-tempo tune, Hawthorne’s sound consisted of a foundation that undeniably has been replicated from the greats of music. A fusion of Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, The Stylistics, Al Green, Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, and all the others(because there are clearly too many to name), his music by no revelation of mine was popular from the drop of the beat to the final farewell when he stated “Love, Peace, and Souuul” (ring a bell? Yea, Don Cornelius trademarked the expression for the iconic Soul Train).

A show that had me bopping, shaking, grooving, and singing along (to lyrics I originally hadn’t heard before, yet always on the tip of my tongue), the overall impression was me flabbergasted.  Before the concert I had heard of the Michigan native who pays tribute to his Motortown (heard in his song How Do You Do, also the title of his newest record), but my amazement came from the reactions of the crowd that gave off the impression as if they never ever, heard songs that were so (how do I say), soulfully catchy.

With that being said, it is important to establish the Motown formula/recipe that continues to construct the music that we all love so dearly, while making it clear what new age truly means.


Good Soul Music Recipe:

  1. ¼ cup of  simple pop Lyrics
  2. 1 tablespoon of easy melodies and harmonies an audience can follow
  3. 2 cups of impeccable music production and recording
  4. ¾ tablespoon of gospel/holy-spirit moments: Moans, Wails, High screeching, call and response, and handclaps
  5. 5 full cups of a background band (consisting of horns, piano, and drums)
  6. 1 tablespoon of falsetto voice
  7. 4 bars of conversation at the beginning or in the middle of a ballad
  8. 1 full tambourine
  9. 3 cups of formal attire (i.e. tuxedos/long gowns) for live performances
    10. ¾ teaspoon of interplay between lead and back-up vocals
    11. 5 cups of rhythmic groove (i.e. hip/ass shaking components to the beat)
    12.  1 cup of each core genre: R&B, Soul, Pop, Funk and Rock & Roll


Mix all of these together, let cook for a couple of rehearsals, and voila! You encompass the Motown era that is the foundation for all artists that come after. Not excluding the Ann Arbor native now known as Mayer Hawthorne, it is easy to understand how appealing he can be to those searching for feel good music which inevitably encompasses the entire soul of black culture. A well-perfected performance that had me dancing along as well, it was no doubt that Hawthorne had talent. Mixing new age isms that are relatable to the millennial generation with baby boomer music comprehension, seen in his song titled “Henny and Gingerale” (which beat gave me déjà vu of Keep Dancing by Marvin Gaye), even his conversation with the audience that incorporated Outkast’s famous lyrics “forever ever, forever ever?” or “You put a ring on that shit”, leads me to the question does his ability to infuse pop-culture with his assimilation into soul so deep you can feel it in your toes, equate to new age innovative music? I mean, can we really identify him as the creator of this form of art, rather than the new face (also seen in the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse)?

Not to discount the talent that Hawthorne possesses (because of course any good writer leaves a disclaimer), he is a a multi-instrumentalist who composed everything himself, and was signed to the Stones Throw Record company after Peanut Butter Wolf only listened to two songs. It is no doubt that, Hawthorne’s musicianship is where his innovation is established. Beginning his days as a DJ/producer and former member of the rap groups Athletic Mic League and Now on, I guess his initial joke of recording soul-saturated music, turned out to be extremely serious when he understood the profound influence black music has and continues to have in world society. Regardless of whether we like to admit (cause ya know everybody’s so damn sensitive nowadays),  black culture has very well established the core of what we identify in all genres of music, and to prove it here is a list of a few songs that might rings bells of how influential black music is in all culture, movement, expression, fashion, and life. Not to say that other cultures have not played a large role (here is another disclaimer for you sensitive types), but lets face it without soul, would the Mayer Hawthornes, Amy Winehouses, Adeles, or Joss Stones of the world really exist? And if they had not the uniqueness of their culture would they really even matter? Listen and Watch these videos and you decide.

Cultural Music Canon That Influenced the Ages (To Name A Few):

  1. The Stylistics – Betcha By Golly Wow
  2. Michael Jackson –  The Lady of My Life
  3. Jimi Hendrix – Wild Thing
  4. Al Green – Love and Happiness
  5. Marvin Gaye – What’s Goin’ On
  6. Earth Wind & Fire – September
  7. The Temptations – Aint Too Proud to Beg
  8. Prince – Kiss
  9. The Spinners – I’ll Be Around
  10.  The Miracles – Cruisin’
  11. Al Green – Let’s Stay Together
  12.  Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered
  13.  Jimi Jendrix – Purple Haze
  14. Marvin Gaye – Keep Dancing
  15. The Miracles- Love Machine
  16.  Bill Withers – Lovely Day
  17. The Spinners – Could It Be I’m Falling In Love
  18.  Bill Withers – Use Me
  19.  The Supremes – Can’t Hurry Love
  20. James Brown –  I Feel Good
  21. Chi-Lites – Have You Seen Her
  22. Ray Charles – I’ve Got a Woman
  23. Barrett Strong – Money (That’s What I Want)
  24. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Aint No Mountain High Enough
  25. Diana Ross & The Supremes – Baby Love