- Thu, 2011-01-06 13:25
First he was a successful producer, working on worldwide hits with the likes of Alexandra Burke, Flo Rida and Cee Lo Green. Then he co-wrote and sang on more worldwide hits, with similarly huge popstars like B.o.B and Travie McCoy. Now, following the release of Just The Way You Are, Bruno Mars is a worldwide number one artist in his own right. Some people are just born to make music, and clearly he’s one of them.
I Like Music chatted to Bruno about touring with Travie McCoy, his song-writing skills, growing up in Hawaii and his album Doo-Wops and Hooligans.
”I Like Music because…it’s all I’ve got.” Bruno Mars
ILM: What should people be expecting when they go to see Bruno Mars live?
Bruno: Some hooligans on stage, having a good time! It’ll turn into a party!
ILM: Your brother is in the band with you, how’s that?
Bruno: Awesome. I don’t know what I’d do without him. Being on the road is hard, but it’s a lot easier when you’ve got family and friends there. And that’s kind of the beauty of coming to see the show; the guys playing with me are not just hired musicians. They’re guys I was playing with in pubs and bars and stuff for two or three years before I got signed. The audience gets that sense. You think you’re going to go and see Bruno Mars, but you’re actually going to see a whole bunch of characters on stage.
ILM: Can you tell us about the band...
Bruno: As of now it’s five people. Philip Lawrence, who’s written all the songs with me, is in the band. He’s a character! He’s incredible live, and so fun to watch. My brother’s in there, plus a great keyboard player by the name of Brian London. The newest edition to the band is a guy I’ve known for a long time and have always wanted to play with, but the timing was never right. He’s called Kenji, and we call him Kenjiman Slim. He’s a little Asian kid, but he’s badass on the bass!
ILM: What was it like touring with Travie McCoy?
Bruno: He’s such a nice dude. Don’t let the tattoos fool you, he’s a sweetheart! He’s almost like a mentor. He’s been doing it all for so long, and he’s such a pro at it, so he’s really helped me. I remember doing the Billionaire video with him and he’d be whispering to me “look at the camera, you gotta connect man! No-one knows who you are so you gotta let them see.” He’s been a brother, and I’m so happy we’ve been on the road together.
ILM: You’ve worked with a lot of other artists; who have been some of the most inspirational to work with?
Bruno: Definitely Cee Lo. I’ve been idolising him for a long time. He’s just an incredible singer with raw, God-given talent. I always wanted to get in the studio with him, so that fact that we’ve got a song together is incredible. Damian Marley is another incredible person to have worked with. I grew up in Hawaii, and a lot of people don’t know it but reggae is a huge influence in Hawaii. I used to be in a reggae band when I was 16. Getting to meet him and put a song together for my album is incredible. But this is just the beginning!
ILM: Who are some of your dream collaborations?
Bruno: I’d love to work with Alicia Keys. Plan B. The Arctic Monkeys. I’m a big fan of theirs. I don’t know about collaborating, but I’d just like to see them in the studio and see them work, so I could learn.
ILM: Speaking of the studio, you mentioned Philip Lawrence, one third of your production and writing trio, along with Ari Levine and yourself. The Smeezingtons – I love that name!
Bruno: Isn’t it awesome! We don’t take ourselves too seriously!
ILM: What’s your relationship with Philip like?
Bruno: I basically come up with everything and he puts his name on it. Haha! No, he’s the heartbeat of this whole operation. You see my name, but I wouldn’t be here without him. I’ve found someone that I can fall on. It’s very hard to write songs by yourself. It’s so much easier and more fluid when you can talk to somebody and get their opinion. You need someone to tell you and say “that was really whack, I’m not going to let you sing that,” or “that’s awesome. Don’t give that up!” Having a guy like Phil is great.
ILM: How did you come to meet him?
Bruno: It was a dating site.
ILM: Man who writes songs seeks…
Bruno: Haha, right! No I met him at a studio. A producer who I was working with called him in to help me write a song. He came in on the bus with some crusty backpack, moonwalked into the room and was just so funny that he had me on the floor. Then we start working and he had the talent to back it up. I love that about him. So many of the people I’ve worked with take themselves so seriously, so his approach was nice and refreshing. I’m doing this shit for fun, because it’s what I want to do. That’s how he felt.
ILM: What are some of your favourite moments on the Doo-Wops and Hooligans album?
Bruno: I’m really proud of a song called Grenade. It’s about the other side of love. The lyrics are “I’d catch a grenade for you, I’d throw my head on a blade for you…” saying I’d do all these things for you, but I know you wouldn’t do them for me. It’s about love but not just talking about how beautiful a woman is. I’ve been on both sides of the track before! You can hear a little bit of pain in that one.
ILM: What would be your advice to aspiring songwriters?
Bruno: Listen to the best songs and the biggest hits ever written and understand why they were so big and eargasmic! Thriller by MJ, Purple Rain by Prince. What the hell’s purple rain? But it feels good and it’s unique. All songs are saying the same thing, but you’ve got to think about what makes it your version.
ILM: What comes first when you’re writing; melody or lyrics?
Bruno: It’s always different. I always say that your chorus has to explode, like in Purple Rain or Thriller. Sometimes you come up with this verse that puts you in a certain mood, and you feel where you want to go and just hit it.
ILM: Matt Cardle covered your track The Way You Are on X-Factor, what did you make of that?
Bruno: It was super-flattering. They put together a great arrangement of it as well. I grew up watching American Idol and worked with Alexandra Burke, so I know how the system goes. It plays a very big part in the music industry.
ILM: How do you feel about X-Factor and American Idol being a route to fame?
Bruno: You have to be able to evolve, and everything’s changing. Technology is changing. You can download and send songs on your phone. People are wanting music faster but they want to invest their time and believe in that. X-Factor and American Idol give you that. They give you a show, variety, a back-story. They really know what they’re doing on those shows, and you have to be able to run with that. You could say “no, you have to do it the hard way,” but no you don’t! You could put your songs on Myspace today and blow up tomorrow.
ILM: What are you earliest musical memories?
Bruno: I used to watch my father’s group sing doo-wop music at a young age. I remember being blown away by harmonies. Watching my mother singing as well. That’s what really made me fall in love with music. I was like “my family are doing this; I’m going to be able to do it, right?”
ILM: How did living in Hawaii help to shape your sound?
Bruno: It’s really similar to the UK. Everybody listens to whatever the hell they want to. You can pick up an iPod, and on the same one you’ll have the Sugababes, Arctic Monkeys and Jay-Z. And there’s beautiful Hawaiian music as well. It’s really melody-driven. So it’s a melting pot and I’m right in the middle.
ILM: Do you think you might experiment with musical styles other than your current one?
Bruno: Maybe! I always think about that. By my second album I will have learnt so much. I’ve learnt so much just by sitting down and writing these songs. It’s only the beginning. I hope I can get enough people on board the Bruno Mars train that they’ll understand what I’ve been through and where I’m going with it.
ILM: How do you feel about the fame aspect of being a musician?
Bruno: You sign up because you want to do music and one-day hope to be a successful musician. You want to put your music down on record and get it out to enough people that when you play a show there’ll be lots of people there. But I’m learning there’s another side to it that you didn’t sign up for. Like I said, everything’s changing. People wanna have access to you and I’m just learning that.
ILM: What do your family make of everything?
Bruno: They’re proud. My mum thinks Grenade is going to be a big old hit! We’ll see if she’s right...
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Bruno: 2 Live Crew. Do yourself a favour and listen to them! They’re the reason that in America we have that label on CDs saying ‘parental guidance, explicit content’. They have the raunchiest lyrics, but it’s fun! I remember enjoying it in middle school, and now that I look back at it I think “man, if my daughter was ever dancing like that…” The booty-shaking and all that. A real good old-fashioned time!
ILM: Have you discovered any new music since being in the UK?
Bruno: Yeah, Plan B. I’d like to hear more as well; I’m not out that much!
ILM: Have you seen any shows?
Bruno: I saw the Noisettes here a long time ago.
ILM: Have there been any live shows that have left a really lasting impression on you?
Bruno: I saw Prince live, and Michael Jackson live in Hawaii.
ILM: How old were you?
Bruno: About ten. You forget how many hits he’s had! He’s been getting them since he was ten years old, and he’s singing those all the way up to Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Thriller, Man In The Mirror. You watch this freak of nature on stage - who doesn’t look like he’s human the way he’s dancing - with this big production… It’s really surreal. That’s about as big as it gets, and no-one’s ever gonna do it like that again.
ILM: What have you got in the way of future plans?
Bruno: Let’s just see what happens today. I only just started! The fans are going to get everything that they want. I love them to death. I love to hear them saying how much they love the album because I remember feeling like that. But I just started and I’ve got a long way to go!