A few years prior to Mayer Hawthorne breaking hearts and taking names with his debut, he and hip-hop producer Jake One were trading mixtapes. Noticing an overlap in tastes, almost a decade later the two Grammy-nominated artists come together for their Tuxedo project—and a return to Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stones Throw Records for Hawthorne. To make Tuxedo sound as authentic as possible, Hawthorne and One went to John Morales, of the M+M Mixes fame, the man who mixed records that helped to define two decades of dance music.
Holed up in his Steinberg-driven New Jersey studio, Morales’ back catalog gives him living-legend status. Much of this catalog is collected on his M+M Mixes compilations. They include Jocelyn Brown, Miami Sound Machine, The Temptations, The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, The Commodores, to name just a few. What Morales did for those records is what Tuxedo wanted for its debut: ‘80s-style smooth funk and R&B.
Prior to starting his mix, Morales cleans all the tracks, getting rid of noise, cutting up and muting, including samples. On the Tuxedo album the music is either recorded live or comes from samples of live instruments. Morales then makes individual parts to create movement in his mix.
The majority of Morales’ time was spent in layering and mounting the vocals, which in the case of “Start to Dance” included 40 tracks of just vocals. Hawthorne blew through Morales’ studio at one point during the mix, giving specifics about bounces and which parts he wanted more upfront.
“The main thing with Tuxedo is there were a lot of vocal tracks—10, 15, 20, 30 tracks of vocals only, stacked, harmonies,” Morales says. “Noveltech Vocal Enhancer is a vocal plug-in I love because it brightens everything up nicely, allows the vocal to really shine. You can tailor the frequency you want to push. I would group all [Hawthorne’s] vocals and send them to a group fader to give it a brightness. If I EQ’d every individual part, then I would use it to color the whole thing over. I used it on every track.”