Bruno Mars: Defying expectations with ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’
Bruno Mars was born and raised in sunny Hawaii. He’s sold millions of records. And he has those chocolatey brown eyes. His shirt is mostly unbuttoned and he speaks slowly while stirring milk into a huge cup of coffee and settling into a large, brown leather couch.
Relaxed, cool and confident – that’s how he appears talking about his new album, “Unorthodox Jukebox.” And he probably is, at least today. But that’s not how he feels all the time. The 27-year-old singer had a very hard time getting started on the album, the successor to his hugely successful debut “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” from 2010.
“I went through writer’s block – two months of being uninspired. It was just weeks and weeks of going back into the studio and trying to write something that means something. It’s not easy. It gets scary, and I was afraid I’d never be able to write anything ever again,” says the singer who drew a sigh of relief when the songs finally started coming.
“Suddenly, for some reason, it started flowing again. That part of my brain turned back on,” he explains.
Bruno Mars thinks that it was the many months that he spent on tour after releasing “Doo-Wops & Hooligans”, that made it difficult to get back into song-writing mode.
“Maybe it was because I was coming off tour and I was trying to get my mind to work like that again. You have such a repetitive life on tour, travelling and singing the same songs over and over again. When you take all of that away, the transition … You’ve been playing the same chords and now you’re trying to teach yourself new chords,” he says before admitting that he generally has a hard time writing if his head is somewhere else.
“When I got nothing on my mind, have room to explore and be creative. It’s hard to be creative when you’ve got personal problems with your family or something like that. When that all clears up …”
He stops himself and is quiet for a moment. And then he starts talking about something else, something less private, maybe.
Even though he is named after professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino, music and not sports was pastime number one in Bruno Mars’ childhood home in Hawaii. Both his parents are singers, and he’s been performing in front of a real audience – not just mum and dad in the backyard – since he was three or four years old.
He’s had the same idols since then too. He’s still a fan of Michael Jackson, Prince, Freddie Mercury and Sting – and yes, his new hit song “Locked Out of Heaven” may sound somewhat like The Police, he admits, grinning.
“There’s an 80′s kind of a feel to it. It wasn’t planned, but my love for these chord progressions and the synth drum machines that were popularised in the 80′s, came out on this album much more than on the first one. I feel like … in the 80′s there were singers, real strong singers,” he says, calling the decade, he was born in, ‘an era of great singers’.
“Today, it’s more like ‘the era of computer-programmed’. There’s a beauty in that too – I’m not a snob that’s gonna say ‘this is not real music’.”
It’s just not his taste. Bruno Mars likes the guys who’ve been playing their instruments, till – as Bryan Adams said – their fingers bled. And that’s how he’s made a career for himself too.
“I come from the school of ‘you better be able to sing your song live’ and ‘this better sound better live than on the album’. I used to watch concerts on VHS. That’s why Elvis was so awesome to me, especially the young Elvis. Michael Jackson, James Brown too. These guys could do it live, and that will always be a good weapon to have.”
On the title of the album “Unorthodox Jukebox”:
“I was always told that my music was too unorthodox, too all over the place. That really chapped my ass, because I’m all over the place. The way I write music and all the music that I enjoy is what makes me unorthodox. To the suits that’s a bad thing, because they have to think about marketing and what radio station will play this song and who will listen to it. Is it a young audience? An urban audience? A rock audience? I never understood all these questions. If it’s good music – maybe I can get them all? So, I guess ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’ is my statement of freedom.”
On taking care of himself:
“If I party, there’s no show the next day. When the show is over, I go to bed. I learned that the hard way. Being on live TV and my voice sounds terrible – that’s a reality check. It’s embarrassing. You don’t want to let down the fans who’ve tuned in or bought a ticket to the show – you want to give them their money’s worth. If you’re struggling and not having a good time, it might be contagious.”
On his alternate life:
“I should have been a surfer. But I suck at surfing – I was always playing music. I had an Elvis suit on at four years old.”
Q&A: Bruno’s Jukebox:
Metro: If we were in a bar …
Bruno Mars: I’d say ‘what’s up, toots?’
Metro: … and I gave you a dollar for the jukebox, what three songs would you play?
BM: Right now? The way I’m feeling right now? We’re in a bar … Is it nighttime?
Metro: Yes … it’s around 10 and we’ve had three beers.
BM: Okay, three beers … I’d play Zeppelin, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ to start the shit off. And then I would play ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred. Why not? We’ve had three beers and I’m hitting on you. I’m gonna dance too. And the third one … to really freak and weird the people out is Celine Dion, ‘My Heart Will Go On’. Just to really bum out the whole bar. But I’d sing along.
Metro: These are all really old …
BM: You’re asking me, right? I like old songs. And for some reason I see you and me at the bar feeling kind of sexy.
Metro: And feeling kind of 80′s.