Photo: Andi Elloway

Tuxedo Puts the Fun in Funk

Mayer Hawthorne is an Aquarius. Jake One is a Taurus.

Both are goal-oriented, fixed signs, and when revolutionary and independent Aquarians are coupled with pragmatic and creative Taureans, it spells out a match for success written by the cosmos.

While Hawthorne says their references to astrology are inspired by musicians they love who have done the same, there’s something uncanny about the way their sun signs work together. If you’re not one to put trust in astrology, the individual accomplishments Hawthorne and One bring to their funk-pop project Tuxedo are more impressive than any sort of astrological fate.

Both have been hard at work on their own for over 10 years. Hawthorne makes mellifluous, Motown-inspired sounds and One lends his production chops to artists like Drake, De La Soul and Rick Ross, even mixing a few songs for Hawthorne himself. Much like their solo work, the way the pair approaches music is varied – but only to the point where the two can balance out each other’s habits.

“Our big thing is that I’m really good at starting stuff and letting it go, [and] Mayer’s really good at finishing and not letting it go at all,” One explains as Hawthorne laughs.

“I’m the perfectionist,” Hawthorne admits. “I have a hard time just throwing shit onto the canvas, and Jake is really good at that.”

What started out as a passion project between kindred musical spirits has become a runaway, if unexpected, success. The duo’s secret weapon? Not taking themselves too seriously. They have their solo careers for that and can fully exercise their creative visions without as much tension as one may expect to face when forming a group.

“What really made Tuxedo successful was that we didn’t put any pressure on it at all,” One explains. “When I get together with Mayer, it’s like summer camp or something – no pressure. And that’s what makes it special, really. We reaffirmed my belief that you’ve just got to do what you want.”

Hawthorne agrees, reiterating that the focal point has never been to make hit records or a certain amount of money from the duo’s music.

“Part of the reason that Tuxedo is so great is because we have the freedom to be so silly with it sometimes and try crazy things because there’s not as much pressure for it to be successful financially,” he continues.

In keeping with the collaborative spirit that’s woven throughout the project, their most recent record, this July’s Tuxedo III, is heavy on features from a wide variety of artists. Some are household names (MF DOOM) while others are energetic up-and-comers (Gabriel Garzón-Montano). They all have one thing in common though: they’re friends of Hawthorne and One, and that was important to the duo when deciding who to collaborate with.

“The only rule was that anybody that we put on the album had to be somebody who was really a homie of ours,” Hawthorne elaborates. “We did songs with more well-known artists and they didn’t make the album. The people who are really our homies, that we are actually friends with, those just naturally worked better and that was what we ended up using.”

The artists keep this same energy at their live shows, which both agree is Tuxedo in its purest form. The aforementioned ability to play up the best of each other’s strengths alongside what One describes as their “joyous sound” makes for one hell of a dance party.

“The live show is kind of what makes it all worth it – just being able to see people’s reactions to what you worked on and spent time on,” One says of Tuxedo’s upcoming stop at the 9:30 Club this month. “We did a U Street Music Hall show last time we were in DC, [and] we didn’t know if anybody liked us. But we sold out and everybody went crazy and we were like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing the right thing.’ It gives you a kick in the butt in the right direction.”

Hawthorne wholeheartedly concurs about the District.

“DC has actually always been a really good indicator for us. The DC crowd [is] so knowledgeable, so if they are really into what we’re doing, that means we’re doing the right thing.”

Tuxedo brings the fun and the funk to 9:30 Club on Sunday, August 4. Tickets are $25, and doors open at 7 p.m. For more on the duo, visit www.tuxedofunk.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-035-0930; www.930.com

M.K. Koszycki

M.K.'s entire life revolves around music, whether it be scouring Twitter for the band of the moment or catching a live show at one of DC's many venues. When she's not at a gig, find her hanging out with her golden retriever, drinking beer with friends or re-watching Twin Peaks for the hundredth time.