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Interview: Tuxedo – “Would Tha Dogg Pound rap on this and would Nate Dogg sing on it? That was really the qualification for a lot of the songs.”

16 Mar, 2015

Written by Tommy Juto

Their names are Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One. Their marching orders are to make other people dance and have fun. Their stance is that the best way to do it(pun intended) is by playing the right type of grooves. So they’ve made an album chock full of early eighties sounding funk, disco and boogie, celebrating their heroes like Zapp, Kool & The Gang and Gap Band. On their crusade they passed through Stockholm for a DJ set at the trendy Strandvägen 1 club, so I went down to question them on a few things. No sign of fancy tuxedoes as I enter, nor at the four top at the back end of the bar as Jake is casually wearing a sweater and jeans. The Mayer, however, is another story. No tux there either, but instead, he’s wearing the most outrageously colourful knitted jersey I’ve ever seen in my entire life. On the way home I find myself wishing I at least took a photo of it. Oh well.

Why have you chosen to market the album with a DJ tour?

Jake: The band is a pretty big ordeal, we’ve got like seven people in it.

Mayer: So we’re hoping that this introduction to everybody will get everybody excited enough where we can bring the whole band out and do the proper shows.

Jake: The DJ sets are a whole different kind of fun.

Mayer: I don’t think a lot of folks realize that both of us are really good DJ:s. You know, we were DJ:s first, I DJ:d for ten years before I even picked up a microphone, and I think a lot of people when they come to see us DJ are shocked that we’re actually DJ:s. So it’s a lot of fun for us, we get to do what we originally fell in love with.

When do you think you can have the whole band out on a tour?

Mayer: We just announced the first live band show in Los Angeles and it sold out really fast, so that’s a good sign.

Jake: We’re rehearsing for that, and I think we’re doing some live gigs at SXSW as well. There’ll be some footage of us floating around.

Mayer: We just shot a performance video with the whole band too, which is fun.

Were those musicians part of the album sessions also?

Mayer: Some of them yeah, but the album is mostly Jake and myself.

Who did what?

Mayer: Jake did most of the backing tracks, and I did the melody.

Jake: Then he would come in and rearrange things more to fit the song. He also played a lot of guitar.

There seem to be a lot of real instruments, not only machines?

Mayer: They’re nearly all real instruments, yeah.

Jake, did you do the drumming? They sound really natural.

Jake: I did all the programming of the drums, but the idea was for them to sound natural. We were trying to stay away from the…(makes “unz-unz” sounds).

Mayer: Jake is the drum master, that’s why everybody’s buying copies of Snare Jordan. They’re all trying to get his drum sounds.

Yes, I know you’ve sold quite a few of those. Don’t you think that it in a way could be contraproductive to sell ready-made sounds?

Jake: You know, it took me a while to warm up to the idea of doing it, because I felt that if I let my drums out then everybody’s beats would sound like me. But I think it was when I first did it, I kind of wanted to force myself to move on to something else. So it started as that purpose. Also I hear people that say it doesn’t sound like me at all, which is funny that it can be that way. Maybe it’s just my ear, how I hear things.

I guess maybe it can serve as an inspiration to people who want to start working with music the way you do?

Jake: Yes, I’ve heard how the sounds have popped up on a lot of different projects, which to me feels like they’re advertising for me! It shows that the bedroom producers, which I once was, took Jake One’s sounds and used them on J. Cole’s album or somebody else’s album, and that’s the intent. It feels good.

When making an album, most of the time I assume you’re trying to sound like nothing else. This time maybe it’s the other way round, you’re trying to sound like something else. Is it more difficult to do it this way?

Jake: I think we just kind of used the references as a guide and tried to make it our own. Whenever I would make a beat for this album I thought to myself “would Tha Dogg Pound rap on this, and would Nate Dogg sing on it?”, that was really my baseline for a lot of the songs.

Mayer(laughs): That was the qualification!

Jake: ‘Cause I played it to Battlecat and if he was moving, then yeah… We did other songs that didn’t hit the same way and scrapped them.

Mayer: We recorded a lot of songs that didn’t make the record, yeah.

Will you publish them on Soundcloud or something later on?

Mayer: Maybe, there was a reason why they didn’t make the album, they weren’t as good as the ones we put out. We’re keeping quality over quantity.

Jake: Yeah, we’re not gonna be dropping them… It’s not gonna be Tuxedo’s Tuesdays or some shit like that, it’s not gonna happen.

I suppose you prefer working on new things instead?

Mayer: Yeah, we’re already working on the next album.

Are you working on other things as well?

Jake: Yeah, during this process I was working on different projects, and he put out three albums!

Mayer: The Tuxedo release is my third in a year.

Jake: Some of the things with Tuxedo ended up on his other things.

Mayer: “Designer Drugs” was originally a Tuxedo song that I ended up using for my own project.

One of the songs I like from last year is “Never Take It Away”, the song you did with The Aston Shuffle. You’re often doing guest vocals on other’s songs. How did it happen with that song in particular?

Mayer: I do a lot of guest vocals, yeah. I try to work with different people, anybody I think is dope. They sent me a really good song that I think was great. They reached out to me, I had never heard of them. But the song was great, so I said “yeah, let’s do it”.

You said earlier that you’ve been DJ:ing a lot. Are you dedicated cratediggers?

Jake: That’s another thing we’re trying to do, we’re trying to get to Record Mania right now! That’s a place where I’ve been buying records all my life, so I’m excited to see the store.

Mayer: That was the reason we even became friends in the first place.

Jake: It’s crazy, I’ve been buying records for twenty-something years now, and when you get to a certain point it’s hard to find things that you don’t already have. It’s still fun, though.

Are you buying to collect certain artists or record companies like Stax, or are you hunting for samples?

Jake: I kinda buy for different things, like rare records I could put up on my wall or in my collection, then I buy anything I hear that I can sample.

Mayer: I don’t do any sampling, so for me it’s just about finding records I think are amazing to listen to. Just finding things that are inspiring, that are unique.

In your opinion, what’s the greatest sample ever done, besides your own of course…?

Jake: The greatest sample…? Shit…

Mayer: Wow, that’s a really good question.

Jake: I would say…

Mayer(laughs): Besides Pitbull sampling us?!

Jake(laughs): That was pretty fucking great!

You can pick that one if you like…

Jake: I think you get caught up in rarity after a while, being a collector, and then the first shit on vinyl is still the best. I’d go back to the early days when I heard A Tribe Called Quest sampling Ronnie Foster in “Electric Relaxation.

Mayer: Yeah, that’s a great one! (Starts humming the bassline) I don’t know why, but one that I always come to mind for me is Ronnie Laws

Jake: The Pressure sample?

Mayer: Yeah, the Pressure sample. It’s such an incredible loop in Black Moon’s “Who Got Da Props”. Da Beatminerz had some of the best. The Beatnuts had some too… You know what I was just bumpin’ really superhard the other day was Johnny “Hammond”, the “Big Sur Suite”. (Starts humming the horn intro)

Jake: Aaah, yeah…!

Can you get too snobby sometimes?

Jake: I think I’ve already left that stage, I’m back to listening to Donald Byrd all the time.

Mayer: All the records we just named are like dollar records. The thing that I always come back to is that there’s a reason why all those records end up in the dollar bin. It’s because people loved them so much and they sold that many copies of them. Come on, man, those records are amazing.

African-American music during the sixties and seventies, but also later on, was very political. The period of time you focus on, not so much, it was more about partying and sex.

Jake: I think it was a time when people in our country just wanted to forget about their problems.

Is that why you chose to focus on it?

Jake: No, it’s funny, I don’t even listen to lyrics in music, I just get the groove. If I like that, I don’t care what the fuck they’re talking about.

Mayer: It’s definitely all about the melody, the melody and the groove is everything. I mean, I see people quoting my lyrics on Twitter all the time, and they don’t even get them right, they don’t even know what I’m saying! But it doesn’t matter, it’s all about the melody and the feeling.

But “A Long Time” was a bit political?

Mayer: Yeah, it was a bit political. If you want to go there, for sure there’s a message. But I don’t know, what was part of the fun with this Tuxedo project was that the songs were less allegorical, less deep. It was much more surface level. Forget about your worries and dance. The album is about dancing. Every single song is about dancing and having fun. That was the goal, the idea was to make a record that you didn’t really have to think very much about.

One of my favourite songs from this period of time is “Joystick” by the Dazz Band.

Mayer: Yeah, hell yeah.

That song is not one bit about playing video games. Are there any songs on your album with double meanings that I haven’t spotted?

Mayer: We do that all the time, “Watch U Dance” is not what you think it is…

You didn’t go as far as playing video games, though?

Mayer: No… One of those, though, is…what’s that one…? (Starts singing in falsetto) “Playing video gaaames…”

Jake: C Brand.

Mayer: Yeah, C Brand. You gotta check that one out. “Wired For Games”. That’s a great boogie song.

Jake: We gotta play that tonight! Actually, they might be talking about playing video games.

Mayer: I don’t know, “you don’t need a quarter, I’m already turned on”, that’s like… That’s not about no real video games, it all comes back to that.

Jake: You see, I don’t listen to lyrics.

You’ve been doing music for some years now, and this Tuxedo project doesn’t seem to be that far a step away from what you’re doing normally. But when Daft Punk came out with “Get Lucky” last year, did you feel that they stole your thunder?

Mayer: It was more like a kick in the ass for us.

Jake: I was more thinking like, damn, I don’t wanna make it seem like we heard that and made this all up.

Mayer: We didn’t wanna feel like everybody thought we were biting off of that, ‘cause we had been working on these songs for so long, and that told us that the world was ready for us.

Jake: We put “Do It” out and I went to a club, somebody was DJ:ing and played it and people were still dancing, they didn’t leave.

Mayer(laughs): “They didn’t leave…”! That’s always encouraging!

Jake: Hey, you’ve been places that’ve seen the wrong song come on, and people will leave.

Mayer: They will, yeah. They’re fickle.

The song titles on your album, are they a nod to Prince?

Mayer: A nod to what? Oh, Prince. Um…

Yeah, you know, with words spelled as one single letter.

Mayer: Ah, yeah… I’m thinking it was more of a subconscious thing…

Jake: I’m thinking more like people type on social media.

Mayer: It’s definitely like a funk thing, though.

Prince used that on most of what he did, and your sound is related, especially to his early albums.

Mayer: Definitely, yeah. He also did the eyes for the letter I and so on. I don’t think that was even really something we consciously were thinking about when we did it, but…

Jake: That’s funny.

Mayer: All that stuff is just permanently ingrained in our brains.

Funk songs in general are a lot about getting the groove moving, and often they’re quite long, but yours seem to be more like radio edits?

Jake: I think just in general people’s attention span is so short. Our own attention span is short.

Mayer: Yeah, that’s what kids are like these days… We wanted to make a record that felt new and modern, that got right to it, and I know we had to fight John Morales on that a lot, when he was mixing the album. He really wanted to make ten minute mixes of every song, and we had to kind of wrangle him in on that.

Jake: But it was also like, “wow, he really liked this shit!”.

Do you think the album will really connect to the listeners once it’s out? What kind of reactions have you had?

Mayer: It’s hard to say, so far the reactions have been really good.

Jake: You know, the thing with radio and that kind of success is so much based on payin’-to-play, and we’re just not in that situation. And we also didn’t make the effort to format things for radio, it wasn’t really us.

Mayer: We could’ve done that, but it wasn’t the intention when we made the album. If we get that, it will be a bonus.

Jake: It wasn’t ever the goal to get it on radio. I don’t even listen to the radio anymore.

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