The Second Time Around: An Interview with Tuxedo
With soul-pop vocalist Mayer Hawthorne and hip-hop producer Jake One makin' sexy lounge-funk music, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised Future and Drake are coppin' tracks from the side-project.
Tuxedo is doing their part to keep funk alive.
Comprised of soul singer Mayer Hawthorne and hip-hop producer Jake One, the dapper duo (yes, they do actually wear tuxedos) sound as though they've come through a time warp to remind the world of the importance of getting down. Their self-titled debut was a perfect thesis for this mission in 2015, melding the buttery-smooth grooves of groups like Chic and Zapp with the rubbery G-funk of Dr. Dre and DJ Quik.
Sprinkle in a playful image and a tongue-in-cheek approach to songwriting, and you get a duo that, even in the wake of retro-funk acts like Daft Punk and Bruno Mars, most organically update the sound for modern audiences. PopMatters caught up with Hawthorne and Jake One as they tour their latest album, Tuxedo II, and got the scoop on how they kept the funk feeling fresh the second time around.
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What's the difference for you guys between putting your spin on the classic disco/funk sound and just emulating it?
Hawthorne: Initially we tried to sound more like the classic funk groups that influenced us, and it just didn't work. As soon as we started doing our own thing and just being ourselves, it really clicked. We grew up in the '90s listening to more N.W.A. and Nate Dogg -- that's our era. The West Coast rap influence defines our sound and makes it unique.
Jake One: There's a fine line between keepin' it G and Kenny G.
You previously mentioned that the Death Row catalogue was a significant influence on the first Tuxedo album. Given that Snoop Dogg appears on the G-funky opener "Fux With The Tux", is it safe to say you guys were equally indebted to Death Row or were you listening to other artists this time around?
Jake One: The producers behind the Death Row sound like [Dr.] Dre, Daz [Dillinger], and Soopafly are always gonna inspire us. I think Battlecat's productions equally play a part for us as well.
You guys said that you made time to record the music for the first Tuxedo album together, as opposed to just doing things separately or via email. How important is that process for this particular kind of album? And did you do the same thing for Tuxedo II?
Jake One: We spent a lot of time together on tour, so we took advantage of that. Some of the songs started from a simple chant on the tour bus or studio time in various places around the world. It's important for us to be in the room together because our albums are truly a collaborative effort. Sometimes I have an idea for a chorus, and sometimes Mayer might have an idea for a bassline. It's not fun making albums over the internet.
Mayer, you released an album (Man About Town) and an EP (Party of One) in between Tuxedo projects. They pull from a lot of different genres and eras, like your previous work, but nothing on them sound too similar to the Tuxedo style. Was this done intentionally? Does Tuxedo satisfy your funk side?
Hawthorne: I'm glad you hear that because a lot of people can't tell the difference. My solo material is still funky, but it's more of a mixed bag with more soul, rock, reggae, jazz, etc. ... The lyrical content is the biggest difference to me. My solo stuff tends to be a little deeper. Tuxedo is purely about dancing and having fun.
Zapp drummer Lester Troutman (brother of the late Roger Troutman) is amongst the impressive production credits on Tuxedo II. How was it working with someone who was present during funk's heyday? Was there an attempt to capture more of a Zapp vibe during these sessions?
Jake One: We did a show with Zapp in Japan and became friends with them, so we thought it was only right to include them in the project. We also recorded a song with Zapp for their upcoming album that is really dope. More than anything, we were blown away by how good their live show was. It made us step our game up in a major way.
One of my favorite tracks on the first Tuxedo album was "Number One", which Mayer has explained as what the original sample for Snoop Dogg's "(Ain't No Fun) If the Homies Can't Have None" might've sounded like. The idea of making a "prequel song" of sorts is really unique and interesting, and I was curious if there are there any cases of this happening again on Tuxedo II? (the backing vocals and bassline for "Special" reminded me a bit of Snoop's "What's My Name?")
Hawthorne: If we did, it was purely accidental. I think we all jacked George Clinton for those!
Jake One: We actually have another prequel type song that we're gonna drop soon, but we didn't put on the album because we don't want to be one trick ponies. Plus the legal clearance is a nightmare.
By that measure, would you say Tuxedo is prime material for other producers to sample?
Jake One: we certainly do hope so! Drake recorded to a Tuxedo sample but was never released.
Hawthorne: Cut that check!
Jake, your body of work in hip-hop speaks for itself, as do the artists (Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Rick Ross) you've collaborated with. Given that much of your solo material is sample-based, is there ever a time when you're making music for Tuxedo that you find yourself thinking "Hmm, I could chop this up for a sample later on"?
Jake One: I've used little parts of Tuxedo for rap beats. A new song I co-produced for Future called "Lookin' Exotic" actually features some background vocals of Mayer's.
Both of you clearly have a deep love for disco and funk and have mentioned some of your favorite records in the past. What's one classic song that you'd want fans of this album to go listen to?
Hawthorne: Anything by Leroy Burgess.
Jake One: Yes! The entire Logg LP. Or anything Leon Sylvers produced.
The announcement for Tuxedo II came within months of the first album. With that in mind, I'd like to close with a question that I'm sure many of us are wondering: will there be a Tuxedo III?
Hawthorne: I really hope so! This is fun!
Jake One: As long as people keep buying it, we'll keep making more.