Interview: How Tuxedo’s love for funk music shaped their album “Tuxedo II”

With Summers getting warmer every year, it has become harder and harder to keep up with the weather partywise. Thankfully, with there second album soberly entitled “Tuxedo II”, Michigan crooner Mayer Hawthorne and serial hit producer Jake One reunited again to provide some heavy 80-inspired sweaty booty-shakers.

To spice things up, we decided to interview the pair separately with my friend and authority on boogie funk JJ. A way for us to hear two sides of the Tuxedo story, and to question the growing trend of artistic collaborations. Not so surprisingly, the duet does more than hold up to the exercise, and not only shows us a great example of mutual respect and admiration, but also feeds us with historical landmarks concerning their genre, a peek at the L.A music scene, and most of all unconditional love for funky music. What’s more, they were generous enough to supply us with an exclusive party playlist, you know, the one that can get you out of that tight corner on a Friday night, when you’re alone in front of the computer and have been entrusted with the weighty task of choosing what to play next…

Highclouds: Can you tell me where and when you met and what was your first impression about Jake?

Mayer Hawthorne: It was in 2006 I think. This was before I ever released a Mayer Hawthorne song. I was in a Hip Hop group doing a rap show in Seattle and Jake came to my show and we exchanged mixtapes. I gave him a mixtape that I did and he gave me his mixtape. I knew Jake as a Hip Hop producer, but when I started listening to his mixtape there was no rap it was only Boogie Funk. And when he put my mixtape there was no rap, it was only Boogie Funk too ! At the time I didn’t know anybody else who cared about these records, it was a very niche genre, early 80’s (81,82,83) Boogie Funk. So my first impression was « Wow here is the only person in the world who likes this music. » And we stayed in touch after that ! Then we started making songs for our own enjoyment to listen to when we were driving around, we didn’t have a name or anything. We were just friends!

Jake One: I don’t exactly remember the first time I met him but I know we have met kinda through myspace I think… I did some mixtape that had some classic funk stuff them, and there was this guy out here that had some mixtape and did the same thing I was doing, and it was kinda weird back then because it was not all that popular. At that time, DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and those guys were doing the Funk 45s and I was more the hotstyle so we were all doing something kind of different anyways. So Andrew came to Seattle and I met him in person and he was doing a show with his hip-hop group and from there we just stayed in touch. I don’t really remember, I just remember he was DJ-ing and he was good. He wasn’t singing, so what he ended up being wasn’t what I saw at all… At that point, I’d just send him mixtape and he would send me stuff. I ended up trowing a beat battle for Redbull, around the country, and I knew he was a producer trying to break in, so when I did one in L.A I put him in that. He lost for the first round [laughs]. Anyways we just stayed in touch ad I ended up throwing a party in there where we played funk. It was just me, him, Dâm FunkWadz was there also. So we just became cool, and maybe a year after that we were just throwing a beat battle again, he got in again… But that trip he played me “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” and some of that stuff he’d been doing singing, and I just couldn’t believe it was him, because it was so good, I was like, I didn’t know he could sing. So from that point on it just took off. That song came out maybe two weeks after that and then he was gone, he was around the world. I had started making tracks in the style of the mixtape that we were doing and I sent the first one to him, which was “Lost Lover”, and he just sent me a song back like the next day, and I was like “Wow”. And I think the next one he sent me was “Are You Ready For Me Next”, and then, he was just on tour a lot, so maybe a year later we got together and actually worked on some stuff in the studio. And it was kind of when he went to Seattle he would try to stay a few days and we would just work on some songs for fun, and then it just kind of turned into this, you know.

Who got the idea for Tuxedo and why did you choose this concept?

Mayer Hawthorne: We knew that we wanted a one-word name because a lot of our favorite inspirations were Zapp, Chic, Shalamar. We wanted something that matched with the sound of the music which we felt was very elegant so I said our name and Jake’s first reaction was : “Oh man does this mean we have to wear Tuxedos?”. I just said “Yeah Probably” He didn’t like that but he grew to love it and now he’s super confortable with it, he’s getting used to it.

Jake One : That was all him. I wouldn’t say I was opposed to it but I was like “I don’t wanna wear a Tuxedo every night, let’s just have fun”… but it made sense with the music cause it was just sophisticated funk and you know the Chics and groups like that they were all dressed up on the cover, cause it was like elegant or whatever… We didn’t come up with the name until we had a bunch of songs. We put three songs on Soundcloud around 2013, and that was “Do It”, so good and “Get You Home” and that kinda just got the ballroom. We just wanted to see what people thought and we didn’t really know wether they’d like it or not, so when we announced it, we didn’t put out our names. We just wanted to do something different, cause Mayer Hawthorne is doing something different Thant what Tuxedo is, so he kind of wanted it to be separate.

Both or you are know to be a fruitful duet, used to working together. Are there times when you don’t agree on things in the studio?

Mayer Hawthorne: It’s rare actually. We work surprisingly easy together and sometimes we’ll go on a chord progression, look at each other and know that it’s not going to work. Jake has a great line : “There is a fine line between keeping it G and Kenny G“. And I think we have a similar feeling for when we cross that line. But I have a more live experience, touring experience than Jake because he’s more of a producer, he doesn’t tour and perform for crowds of people very much so I usually like to push the tempo up because of my live experience. I know that the tempo that makes people dance is around 120bpm. But Jake is the opposite he always wants to slow it down. On the first album, « The Right Time » was the typical example, it was slow and we decided to push it up.

Jake One : We agree most of the times in the studio, even when it comes to picking the songs for the album… cause we recorded a lot more than what we put on the albums, and we’re usually in line on what we think are the right songs. The only disagreement we have a lot of times is that he always want to make the songs faster, tempowise, and I usually push back…Even when we DJ I’m always pushing the tempo down and we battle on that. But yeah in general we don’t really have a lot of disagreements about that just cause at this point Tuxedo just has a particular thing and we both now what we’re trying to go for with it.

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“Most of our musical heroes have never won Grammys.” – Tuxedo

But who’s gonna be the first to win a Grammy? Cause you were both selected several times without any of you winning?

Mayer Hawthorne: Hopefully it’s us together! Hopefully we are going to win one! It’s kind of fun actually to see how many we can lose, I think it’s more fun. I know he’s going to say this exact answer too but it’s really true. Most of our musical heroes have never won Grammys. It’s not something that’s important. It’s nice to be recognized by your peers but it’s definitely not the reason that we’re doing it.

Jake One: I don’t know…Well I probably have way higher odds because I just produce on so many more things, but I lost again this year so…

We are going to talk about your second album “Tuxedo II”, the formula didn’t really change between the first and the second album but is there any new ingredient like gear or new influences that you used to improve your recipe?

Mayer Hawthorne: Yes we definitly got a bunch of new toys, some new synthetizers we used like the Oberheim 4Voice. It’s a very rare and expensive synthetizer, it is very difficult to use, it’s so hard to tune all the voices properly but when it works it’s amazing and very powerful. The Yamaha CS 50 too. Jake is the big vintage synth collector! But I think the real big difference between album 1 and 2 is just our songwriting and the song structure. Toward the end of the 1st album we started figuring out how to make a better song and how to arrange it. Now we try to make every song as good as “Do It”, with a bridge that goes somewhere for a while and then comes back. They’re more interesting songs. But we also wanted to keep the same vibe because it worked so well. And one of the things that really changed our lives is when we were in Japan, we did a show with Zapp who was one of our big inspirations. We met them and talked to them for a while and then we got Lester Troutman to play drums on « Rotational » on the new album. That was something really cool for us, I think that kind of pushed the new album on that direction too : there’s a lot of Zapp influence on the new album.

Jake One: I just think in this record we put more effort into the songs… There’s more pre-choruses, there’s more bridges, it’s more interesting, but sound wise it’s the same keyboards… So if you’re not paying attention it just sounds like the first one – which is what we were trying to do because to me I hate it when someone comes out with something I like and then take some crazy left turn, we couldn’t do a techno album, that would have been stupid. So I don’t know, maybe with the next one we’ll take some more risks, because we do tons of music that doesn’t sound like Tuxedo at all, which is why I liked us being a certain thing, because I’m doing all this other things that are way off the grid of what we are. Well I think it was just going around the world and seeing the reaction to the first one, you know… Cause we just didn’t have any expectations. So to come to Paris in 2015 and see that everybody know the words, you’re just like “Wow, how the fuck did that happen”, cause we didn’t have a lot of money behind the project, and there wasn’t even a focus for Mayer Hawthorne… So to see it take off like that, it definitely gave us confidence, like “okay, we’re doing the right thing”, that’s a big part of creating. If you feel like you can trust your guts and it’s gonna work, you really can do the best of what you’re capable of. The first album we literally did cause that’s what we wanted to do. We could have like some things ditched some things production wise and make it sound a little more modern, but we didn’t really want to do it. I’m not really into pondering, all my success where just about doing what I want to do.

It feels like the Boogie Funk revival has become mainstream with acts like Bruno Mars’. Do you think that made the whole genre more accurate?

Mayer Hawthorne: I love it, I’d rather hear that kind of music on the radio than anything else. It opens doors for us to come true and make people more receptive to our sound. It’s always nice.

Jake One : I think Bruno’s a star, and he can do whatever he wants. And I love the album, I think it’s great, in my house my family listens to that album more than anything, it’s playing all the time, my daughter knows all the words. I do think that what is doing is definitely more pop than us, and sometimes we thought why didn’t we do that, we should have make it more polish, but that’s what makes us us! I just think it’s good playing on the radio, it just feels good to go around and hear shit that I like. I don’t know, nobody’s really that successful besides Bruno Mars… there’s that Calvin Harris song that we like a lot, the one with Migos and Frank Ocean, that just came out, that’s really good. It’s kind of in the same vein. There’s a lot of underground artists doing it that are just dope, but they don’t really have big songs.

To stay on the topic of nostalgia, could you pick a date, a location, and a genre you would send Andrew to?

Mayer Hawthorne: If he could chose he would definitely want to be in a studio in California with Battlecat or Tha Dogg Pound in the mid 90s. He’s probably going to say I should be in a French hotel in the 60s with Serge Gainsbourg!

Jake One: Good question. I would probably send him to Detroit, like in the late 60s, cause I just think he could have gotten in the Motown factory, and do some incredible things. He would have been in there doing records of Smokey Robinson or whatever… Because it just how he looks, it might have never happen, America might have not been ready for it at that point, but it would just have been cool to see it happen.

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“I don’t wanna try to make people happy, I just wanna do what I wanna do” – Tuxedo.

As party lovers, how do you manage to lead a party behind the turntables?

Mayer Hawthorne: We both did that first so that’s like our comfort zone, it’s home for us. We love Djing so it’s been super fun to be able to do it together. Now we don’t have to talk we know what the other person is going to play next, it’s nice. Making people dance is really fun for me. Recently we’ve made our live more like the DJ sets because the DJ sets were so successful for us and working so well that we wanted the live to be the magic combo with the DJ sets.

Jake One: Well you know, I stopped DJ-ing a long time ago, I tried to just not DJ cause I don’t really like that. I don’t wanna try to make people happy, I just wanna do what I wanna do. But Tuxedo has just been an amazing bliss, when we play, people are coming to hear what we want to hear, so that’s dope that we set up something that people are really engaged in. We just play the shit we like. There’s time when we play more well-known ones than others but every set we do we definitely play a couple that nobody knows what the fuck it is. We gotta do that. We always play Knee deep cause that’s my favorite funk song ever. There’s just songs that we will always play, and some others that we might just play one time. For instance hour he played this one song called Sea on the funk, and he’s playing it everywhere on the tour, and he would just stop things and say « This is for me » and he always does that. He also just has a lot of confidence in what he’s doing as the DJ. I would more play safe than he will and probably stick to the script.

You seem to have a lot of respect for each other. If there’s one skill you would envy him, what would it be?

Mayer Hawthorne: He’s incredible. Jake is so great at knowing what’s good. He’s very fast in the studio and he knows when it’s good. While sometimes I will want to sit and experiment and second guess myself, he knows the way to follow.

Jake One: I can’t sing, so I think that’s the one.

They created specially a playlist for us that you can listen below.

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