Interview: Bruno Mars Keeps the Tempo Steadily Rising.
by Michael Menachem
Hawaii got a bit hotter, with bragging rights as the birthplace of one of the brightest rising stars in the music industry: Bruno Mars. In a year that has seen tempo steadily ruling the airwaves with slick European-influenced electro-pop production, Mars (real name: Peter Hernandez) has perhaps signaled a much-needed change in music, focusing on melody and songwriting. Nearly a year since Michael Jackson’s passing, 25-year-old Bruno Mars became a familiar name thanks to the #1 hit “Nothin’ On You” by Atlanta rapper B.o.B, which featured the singer. The sweet, elegant tenor vocal and pleasing falsetto swept the country throughout the spring and summer, making way for another collaboration on Travie McCoy’s solo debut hit “Billionaire.” With “Nothin’ On You” and new tune “Just The Way You Are,” Bruno bests Usher with six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, and as a solo performer only four songs have appeared on the chart longer this year (Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK,” Rihanna’s “Rude Boy,” Katy Perry‘s “California Gurls” and Eminem‘s “Love The Way You Lie” featuring Rihanna.)
It’s an impressive feat for a new artist, but not when you hear this guy’s voice. Bruno’s rich tone is undeniable and it sets him apart from other emerging artists as an act to watch in the coming year – one who not only performs with conviction, he writes and produces his material as well. While music fans have warmed up to his solo material, they might not be aware that Bruno Mars is one third of the production trio The Smeezingtons (Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine are his songwriting/production partners), having churned out hits for two years including “One Day” by Matisyahu, “Wavin’ Flag,” the World Cup theme by K’naan, Far East Movement’s “Girls on the Dance Floor” and Cee-Lo’s most recent hit “Fuck You!”
This past weekend, Mars took to the stage on Saturday Night Live, hitting all his high notes and showing off his pearly whites. The artist also released his debut album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, a collection of heartfelt love songs and mishievous numbers, combining old styles with the new. Our Editor caught up with Mars to find out if Jane Lynch is really as nasty as Sue Sylvester, to discuss the origin of some of his songs and to get the scoop prior to his first solo performance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Michael: Can you talk about your hopefully life-changing SNL week and what it was like preparing for your performance at the famed Studio 8H?
Bruno: Man, it was an out of body experience. It was so surreal. Just being there and actually performing and enjoying the fact that it was happening. I popped the hair up and you know, I gave it my all. It’s funny to me, because I’m used to playing in pubs and bars and everything’s happening so fast and the world is watching me learn these things. It’s the first time I ever used air monitors, you got those things jammed inside your ears, and the first time I used them was on Saturday Night Live. Watching the performance back I thought I could have done this, I could have done that, but overall I just had a blast.
Michael: Well, it showed. Did you get to interact with anyone from the cast?
Bruno: It was cool hanging with new cast member Jay Pharoah backstage. I did a little interacting with Jane Lynch when we did the promo and every chance she got to say hi she was so sweet.
Michael: Are you excited about your performance on Ellen?
Bruno: I have to leave in about 10 minutes to do that. I did Ellen with B.o.B. and we did “Nothin’ On You.” I was actually relaxed for that.
Michael: How are your nerves now?
Bruno: Now I’m shaking in my boots. We gotta do that song, “Just The Way You Are.” I wanna relax today [on stage]. I think I gotta keep it low key today, that’s the beauty of it, I gotta keep changing it up. I don’t know if people like the pompadour. You know what I tell ’em? Tough shit!
Michael: I read that on “Billionaire” you were in London, with just a few hundred dollars in your pocket and you just thought of the lyric “I wanna be a Billionaire, so frickin’ bad,” is that true?
Bruno: It was just frustration. Like I couldn’t believe it. I was already broke enough in LA and now we’re broke here in London trying to figure out foreign money. Trying to figure out the value, like what is five pounds worth. We were like we gotta be really tight with this money because that’s all we got. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s said it, when you’re in that situation you just think why can’t I just be rich and not even worry about a couple dollars?
Michael: “Just The Way You Are” has been the reigning hit on the Hot 100 for four consecutive weeks, Congratulations! Was it written about someone in particular or about a specific relationship?
Bruno: It’s actually about my Chihuahua. Her name is Francis and she’s very insecure. [He was joking] I think it’s better left open. A lot of people have been in that situation where your girl is taking way too long in the bathroom trying ten different outfits on and different hair styles just trying to get ready to go to dinner with you. Truthfully, it’s like, I like what you’re wearin’, I was cool with that. The song is catered to and inspired by those situations.
Michael: “Liquor Store Blues” featuring Damian Marley showcases a little bit harder reggae sound from you. How did this song come about with Damian Marley?
Bruno: That song was a lot of different things. It started with me, Diplo and Phil Lawrence. I went over to the studio and we just started writing. Diplo had to go on tour so we didn’t get a chance to finish it. We just had the first verse and the hook and I was in love with that melody. So I called up Supa Dups and said man, I’d love to collaborate with you on this song. I added my thing on it, Phil and Ari and I put our minds together. I just thought, how glorious would it be if we could get Damian Marley on this track and really put the period at the end of this sentence.
Michael: “The Lazy Song” is one of my favorite songs on the record. I’m kind of surprised nobody has jumped on this kind of theme before. Were you just sitting around eating potato chips and watching re-runs when you thought of this song?
Bruno: No no no, it was actually kinda like the worst song I’ve ever done and others say it’s their favorite song. I was actually working with K’naan and Ari Levine on the song, trying to make it the best, biggest song, trying to make it like Beatles shit, Michael Jackson, Queen…just massive. And every time you do that you just shoot yourself in the foot. We spent hours on it. Due to frustration I was just singing “today I don’t feel like doin’ anything.” We just didn’t wanna be there after being in the studio so long, and at the time I thought I could have taken a day off today.
Michael: “Marry You” is infectious, I love the vocal and the throwback vibe. It reminds me of The Beach Boys and some other songs from the 60s.
Bruno: My album’s called Doo-Wops & Hooligans, so this is the doo-wops side. The Beach Boys are the kings of melody and simplicity. So simple that it’s so complicated with their harmonies and chord changes. The “song” is all about the melody with the Beach Boys. It’s real open and sing-able and so big. I came to the studio and Ari had these chords goin’. I was like, is this corny? It wasn’t, it was really a natural thing.
Michael: You may think it odd to ask you this at the end of an interview but I think it sums up your range as an artist and a musician. I would describe your live show and stage presence to mix all kinds of pop sounds with a variety of genres. I noticed touches of Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys and Jamiroquai. Growing up, what music were you surrounded by and who were you drawn to from an early age?
Bruno: I was drawn to a lot of doo-wop music. A lot of The Beach Boys as you said. Little Richard. 50s. I got into Motown later on. Then hip-hop. 90s R&B. R.Kelly, Keith Sweat, Jodeci. Then I got into rock. It’s always been periods of time where I kept on doing research. Once I started liking a certain sound I would check out their influences. It’s been in sections. Now I can say I like a lot of things at one time and find joy in different genres. But looking back it’s always been in sections – this year I was into this, this year I was into that.
Bruno concluded the interview with the following question: “Now should I go with a mohawk or pompadour?” We discussed his options and he left me with this: “If my career fails I can blame it on you!”