“The process of taking a moment that otherwise might go unnoticed and using a song as a vehicle to really explore it has always really fascinated me,” Michael Mayo tells American Songwriter.
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Raised in Los Angeles with two world-class session musicians as parents, Mayo has been using music as a vehicle to explore his life for, well, his whole life. Mentored by Herbie Hancock and inspired by everyone from Brian Wilson to J Dilla, Mayo’s become a pro in his own right when it comes to turning the everyday phenomena of life into powerful musical expressions.
And now, on May 4, Mayo is putting out a new single: “20/20,” a genre-bending masterpiece that draws influence from Mayo’s eclectic tastes and shows off his knack for authentic and revealing storytelling. Coming ahead of his debut album, Bones—which is due on June 4—the single looks at all of the “coulda, shoulda and woulda” moments in life.
“This song sort of came about as a reminder to look back and see how we got to where we are today,” Mayo said. “I wrote it in a hotel room in Gyumri, Armenia. The trip was really amazing and I was reflecting a lot about past experiences and seeing what I can gather from them.”
An introspective writer, the process of creating “20/20” proved to be a learning lesson for Mayo. “It’s okay to make mistakes,” he said. “That’s a part of being alive. But, a part of being human is also taking the time to actually learn from your mistakes and to be grateful that we even get to learn those lessons.”
With Beach Boys-esque harmonies, jazzy chords and an instant feel-good groove, “20/20” is a wildly unique song, boasting a dynamic range of expression and an irreplicable vibe. “I usually say my music is a meeting of jazz, R&B and neo-soul,” Mayo said. “Don’t limit yourself by any arbitrary standards of genre, form or aesthetic, especially if you’re the sort of person who feels like you have to fit a mold. There’s no hard-fast rule that says you have to write a song that goes ‘verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, repeated chorus.’ If you question and explore and then arrive at that form, that’s beautiful! But let it be a choice, not a crutch.”
And with his debut record Bones under his belt, Mayo knows a thing or two about unconventional writing. With each song representing a learning experience from his life, the record is the latest entry in the annals of his using music as a vehicle for deeper understanding… which is something that won’t end any time soon.
“After I release Bones, I’m really excited to start writing new music,” Mayo said. “I’ve been giving this project the emotional space it needs so I’ve been pretty content to sort of tread water, songwriting-wise, but I’m already itching to get back in the game once it’s out!”
Michael Mayo’s debut record, Bones, is out on June 4. Watch a live performance of its single “20/20” below: