In a seven-city tour around the country, Mayer Hawthorne hosted listening parties for people to get an early listen of his next album Man About Town, enjoyed catered food, asked questions about the album, and see a small tiny desk-styled performance.
But the attendees this time weren’t the usual crop of industry bigwigs in any given media market; they were a fans who were randomly selected after simply sending a text with hopes to get in.
About 40 Michiganders gathered in the basement of the Shinola store in Mayer’s hometown of Ann Arbor, where they listened to the album while socializing and enjoying food and drinks. After the album finished playing, Mayer answered audience questions and gave them a brief performance on his keyboard.
Ann Arbor was the final stop of a seven-city tour around the United States to spread the word about the Man About Town album. With posts on his Instagram account, Mayer gave fans in each city a phone number to text shortly days before the show. From there, a randomly selected 25 fans were texted with the time and location. Once they arrived, attendees were asked to put their phones in a box — both as a precaution for bootlegs, and as an entry to leave the event with a free Sonos speaker.
The tour made stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Austin, Miami and Ann Arbor.
“This is all about talking to each other, meeting new people and experiencing human interaction,” Mayer said at the event. “I wanted to give my fans a unique experience and do something that no other artist is doing.”
Jackson Perry, Hawthorne’s manager, said the listening parties “came from the desire to create deep connections with a small number of super fans around the country who have been supporting Mayer since day one.” The campaign began as an attempt to present the album in a unique way, but “the result was better than we imagined,” Perry said. “Some fans [told] us it was the best day of their life.”
Man About Town is Mayer’s fourth solo studio album, the official follow-up of Where Does This Door Go, which featured production from the likes of Pharrell Williams, Jack Splash, Greg Wells and others. Between Where Does This Door Go and now, he has released two projects as part of a group: Tuxedo, which is his duo with producer Jake One, and Jaded Incorporated, his collaboration with longtime friend and fellow Ann Arbor musician 14KT.
This time, Mayer said that he went back to handling his own production and instruments—the way he did for his first two albums—but while using what he learned from the accomplished musicians he collaborated with.
While working with Pharrell, the duo bonded over a mutual appreciation for legendary rock band Steely Dan. Mayer worked to integrate that inspiration into the new album.
“The thing that really makes Steely Dan what it is, is the storytelling. Donald Fagen only gives you the details. He lets you fill in the rest,” Mayer said. “That’s something Pharrell was really big on, that I tried to carry into this record. I try to give you the most vivid details I can, to paint the picture of what’s going on. It made me an infinitely better storyteller.”
He cited Rihanna, Beyoncé and BØRNS as other bucket list collaborators, while gushing over the chance to work with Benny Sings on Man About Town highlight “Cosmic Love.”
Mayer also spoke to attendees about how vinyl pressings have an impact on his album deadlines. When he first started getting vinyl for his own music, he said it would take about a month to get it pressed. Now, it takes around four months. The approach is necessary, he said, to satisfy both his own vinyl infatuation and to cater to fans — to have the vinyl available on release day, music has to be done far in advance.
“That’s how I started listening to music. I still believe passionately that vinyl is the best listening experience. With the exception of a few early ‘90s rap records that sound best on cassette tape, I think for the most part, everything sounds better on vinyl. And just the tangible experience of holding it, holding the big artwork, it’s a completely different experience,” he said. Man About Town, he added, will feature clear splattered vinyl that is only available at shows. “I feel like you connect with something so much more when you experience it that way.”
Other topics included how he avoids writer’s block (“Don’t force it”), getting his sense of style from his grandmother (“I’m not even nearly as good as she was,” he laughs) and his current rotation of listening to vintage roots reggae 45’s by Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, Desmond Dekker and the incomparable Bob Marley. “I don’t think you can feel bad when you listen to that music,” he said. “Even if it’s a sad song, it still feels good.”
Man About Town will be available for fans to purchase on April 8th.
is a journalist who covers music, pop culture, film/TV, race, culture and social justice. He is an editor at Okayplayer, and his work has appeared in Complex, Billboard, Guardian, NPR, MTV, Ebony, HipHopDX, The Flint Journal-MLive, and other publications.