Dressed to Impress: Tuxedo Brings the Funk to Tokyo

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A collaborative project between singer and multi-instrumentalist Mayer Hawthorne and seasoned hip-hop producer Jake One, Tuxedo is a critically acclaimed funk and disco group that draws inspiration from ‘80s R&B and boogie, as well as ‘90s G-funk. The pair, who have four Grammy-nominations between them, are huge names in their own right, but having garnered such a large following together, they see Tuxedo as more than just a side gig. After the release of their third album earlier this summer, the duo decided to come to Japan for a couple of shows and TW caught up with them following their performance at Contact in Shibuya.

Can you tell us about how you guys first met?

Hawthorne: It was at a hip-hop show in Seattle in around 2006, I think. We were both DJs making hip hop beats and thought it would be a good idea to exchange mixtapes. Weirdly, despite our backgrounds, there was no hip hop on either tape. We both then felt that it was a sign that we should be friends.

You formed Tuxedo soon after despite both having other projects. What made you want to start a group together?

Hawthorne: I think there was nobody else coming up with funky tunes at the time. We both loved that kind of music and felt there was an opportunity. You then had groups and individuals like Bruno Mars, Daft Punk, and The Weeknd who helped to popularize funk music, but back in 2006-2007, there was really nothing out there.

One: Tuxedo is something we created just for fun. It’s our own thing that we can do at our pace and can get a lot of pleasure from it. There’s no pressure.

Did you expect things to last this long?

One: God no! I honestly didn’t even think we would do an album. We initially put out three songs on SoundCloud and the reaction gave us the boost to make an LP. We probably had some songs at that point, but we had to get in there to finish them.

Hawthorne: It’s the fans that determine whether you can continue making records or not. If they’re behind us, we’ll go on.

You recently released Tuxedo III. How does it compare to your previous albums?

One: The biggest difference with this album is that we feature a lot of different people on it. We wanted to try a variety of voices and bring people into our world. We definitely could have got some bigger names or something like that, but it wouldn’t have had the right fit. We only wanted people that were into Tuxedo and could sing karaoke over other people’s songs.

Hawthorne: I think if we had gotten bigger names, they wouldn’t have understood what we were trying to do. From that perspective, it wouldn’t have made any sense to pay a lot of money just to get a famous person on there. Our musical friends made guest appearances and that’s the first time we’ve ever done that.

How long did it take to make?

One: It took a couple of years, but it was a gradual process while doing other projects. We certainly weren’t working on it every day.

Hawthorne: It was important for us to get together. We didn’t want to make music over the internet. We just waited for the right times and then would spend three or four days in the studio working on it, take a long break, come back together and take a break again. That was the general process.

How would you describe a Tuxedo live show?

Hawthorne: It’s basically a live dance party. We do a show with our band which is more exact and organized, and a DJ set that is more off the cuff. Each song blends into the next so it’s like a non-stop dancing event. There are remixes, some unreleased stuff and songs that inspired Tuxedo.

How was your show in Japan?

Hawthorne: It was amazing. We were nervous beforehand and afraid the typhoon might put off people from coming. Fortunately, it didn’t stop anybody. They all came and danced and partied the night away. We will be coming back to Tokyo and Osaka with our band soon and it’s going to be another great show. Just make sure you bring your dancing shoes.

Are you into any Japanese groups or musicians?

One: Since we’ve been coming here so much, we’ve been really getting into old Japanese records. It’s a whole new world for us. There are a lot of names I could throw out. Someone like Tatsuro Yamashita, for example, is one I’ve been listening to a lot recently.

Hawthorne: I’m a big fan of people like Hiroshi Nagai, both his paintings and music, and Mari Kaneko. I did a collaboration with Shintaro Yamamoto that was really cool because I love his music. When he asked me to do it, I was like ‘hell yeah’.

What are your general impressions of Japan?

One: We feel very fortunate that the fans here have embraced us so much. It’s already our favorite place to go. If we didn’t have the shows, we would come here for a vacation anyway.

Hawthorne: We loved Japan even before Japan loved us and now it’s like a mutual love. There’s no place we’d rather be. I came here twice before Tuxedo was formed and I hope to be coming back as much as I can in the future.

Tuxedo performs at Billboard Live Tokyo on November 6 & 7. Check our event listing for details.

Feature photo of Tuxedo taken at HMV Record Shop Shibuya

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