No Half-Steppin’: Tuxedo Unmasked
“There’s a real fine line between keeping it G, and Kenny G,” producer Jake One tells us. And we’ll take his word for it, considering his experience navigating that volatile border with Tuxedo, his glossy boogie-funk collaboration with singer Mayer Hawthorne. Sure enough, the duo’s self-titled debut, which dropped in March, is a breezy collection of infectious grooves that finds its balance while dabbling in influences ranging from Prince to the late, great Nate Dogg.
Before Tuxedo take the stage at our annual Best of Boston party, Best Fest, on Tuesday, we talked with the West Coas-based pair about inspiration, authenticity, and how they earned Snoop’s stamp of approval to remake a raunchy rap classic.
This collaboration spent a long time in development before Tuxedo finally came together this year. Why was it the right time now for you guys to get together?
Mayer: It felt like “The Right Time.” We’ve been sitting on 25 or more songs, recorded over the past six years. It was partly about our schedules lining up and partly seeing the success of “Get Lucky” and “Uptown Funk” and saying, “Shit! We have 20 of these in the vault!”
Why has this sound and style endured over the years? Why bring it back now?
Jake: I think there’s something about funk done the right way that makes you feel good without being soft. Everything in music has gotten so computerized, and funk is primarily about the groove.
What was it like turning a classic XXX-rated song (“Ain’t No Fun” by Snoop Dogg) into something sweeter with “Number One”? Were you at all nervous on how that would be received?
Mayer: We made sure we got the approval of Snoop and everyone involved before we dropped it. Dogg was stoked on it, so we felt good. Jake and I are such music nerds—we always wondered what the original sample was for “Ain’t No Fun” and we could never figure it out, so we decided we would make what we imagined it would sound like.
How do you walk the line between showing reverence to your boogie-funk inspirations and adding your own original flavor?
Jake: Leroy Burgess, Roger, and countless other guys will always be the foundation, but I think we found a way to add our hip-hop sensibilities to it more than anything.
Did you look toward any Boston artists—Donna Summer, Arthur Baker, or Jonzun Crew, for example—for inspiration?
Mayer: We’re more likely to be inspired by Donna Summer’s mechanic who cut one 45 in the back room of his auto shop in ’81 and never got a record deal. Jonzun Crew got joints, tho! “Spaaaace isss the plaaace.”
Jake: “Space Cowboy”!
Did you use any older instruments or equipment to achieve certain sounds you were looking for?
Jake: A lot of the songs were totally influenced by the vintage synths I was buying. Early on, the Juno-6 was a big part of what we were doing, and when I got the Memorymoog, it brought a whole different sound to the songs. The day I got the Memorymoog, I made “So Good.”
Along with early-’80s boogie funk, there’s an undercurrent of G-funk sound in some of the tracks. How did you incorporate that style, which is typically paired with rappers rather than singers?
Jake: There’s a real fine line between keeping it G, and Kenny G.
Mayer: We crossed that line a couple of times, and we both immediately looked at each other like “Whoa…that wasn’t it. We gotta dial it back.” We both grew up listening to more rap than anything, so I think it’s easy for us to get that part right.
The sound and presentation is upbeat and fun in an unpretentious, sincere way. Do you find modern R&B has gone a bit too cynical?
Mayer: We take a lot of pride in our authenticity, and we always want to deliver the best music we can make. But in general, I have a hard time listening to any artist who takes themselves too seriously. This shit is entertainment. It’s supposed to be fun.
You guys are performing at the Best Fest on July 21. How does Tuxedo translate into live performance?
Mayer: It’s definitely a production. No half-steppin’. We don’t do that many shows, so when we do it, we do it right.
If this album is a tuxedo, then the next album is…
Mayer: A more expertly tailored tuxedo.