Mayer Hawthorne had every intention of building his career as a DJ, producer and rapper.
However, producer Peanut Butter Wolf convinced Hawthorne to release a record that reflected his Detroit roots. Those songs draw on Motown and soul sounds of the past that have been flavored with modern hip-hop beats.
Who: Mayer Hawthorne & The County, with Gordon Voidwell and Air Dubai
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder
Hawthorne never intended to pursue this throwback musical adventure, but it’s striking a chord with fans and his career’s taking off. Some of those fans include A-list artists Snoop Dogg, John Mayer and Alicia Keyes.
Boulder gets to check out Hawthorne’s melding of past and future sounds at the Fox Theatre on Thursday.
“I got into music mostly because of my bad-ass parents,” Hawthorne said. “I was always buying records as a kid and I listened to them all day long. I listened to Motown artists like Smokey Robinson, and I even taught myself how to play bass.
“People think I live in a ‘soul bubble,’ but Smashing Pumpkins is one of my favorite bands. I come from a DJ, hip-hop background, so I’m just as influenced by Public Enemy and LL Cool J.”
Mayer went to school to study computer science and graphics, but he wanted to pursue a career in the music business. The performer relocated to Los Angeles and became known for his skills as a DJ, rapper, producer, arranger and audio engineer.
“I went out to L.A. to pursue a career with this hip-hop group and we released a full-length record,” Hawthorne said. “I felt we developed a unique sound and it was one of my first experiences with singing.
“In L.A., I was DJing, producing and making demos for sampling that featured soul music and hip-hop beats. Peanut Butter Wolf got a hold of these tracks and he fell in love with the music. He wanted me to record a whole album.”
Hawthorne never expected this sudden turn of events, but he was game to work with Wolf, founder of hip-hop label Stones Throw Records.
“I never had any plans to release an album of soul music,” Hawthorne said. “But I wasn’t sure I wanted to say no. You can’t say no to Peanut Butter Wolf!
“I looked at this record as a side project — I had no idea it would get the kind of response it’s been getting. It’s been an incredible and surprising experience.”
Hawthorne was determined to put his own spin on the soul sounds, so he incorporated his hip-hop background into the songs.
“I wasn’t even alive in the ’60s and ’70s, and I grew up on rap,” Hawthorne said. “I wanted this music to sound different, and I wanted to meld and blend all this good stuff.
“I had never sung professionally, so my main focus was on the songwriting. I wanted to create something original, different and fun.”
Hawthorne and his crew decided to have fun with the record’s physical design, too. The debut 7-inch single, “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out,” was fire engine red and shaped like a heart.
“The record really caught people’s attention,” Hawthorne said. “We released 1,000 copies and they sold out in three days. That’s when we knew this was going to be bigger than we thought.
“This has become a wild and unexpected ride.”
Hawthorne doesn’t want to get pigeonholed into any musical genre, so he’s already changing things up for his next album.
“It will still be extremely soulful,” Hawthorne said, “but I’m going to bring in even more of my influences — bands like Steely Dan. I’m going to keep experimenting as much as I can and try to rework different things.
“I’m going to see how much I can get away with.”
Hawthorne recently worked on remixes with Snoop Dogg and DJ Jazzy Jeff, but he’s ready to mix things up for his concert tour.
“You can expect to see a real show in Boulder,” Hawthorne said. “I don’t do concerts. You can expect this to be a show that you’re going to get involved with.
“There will be singing and dancing — and all kinds of new music.”