I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Bruno Mars just days after the release of his solo EP It's Better If You Don't Understand. He has already made a splash on the pop charts as the featured vocalist on "Nothin' On You" by B.o.B., and "Billionaire" by Travie McCoy. We talked about his evolution into being a solo artist in his own right. The interview was conducted May 13, 2010.
Bill: To a lot of pop fans it looks like you sort of came out of nowhere with the vocals on "Nothin' On You" and "Billionaire," but that's not really the case. Can you tell me a bit about how you got to where you are now?
Bruno: I moved up to California from Hawaii to, you know, be an artist, a singer. I never really knew. I was in a little over my head I guess of what it takes to be out here doing music. Luckily, I met up with the right people and learned of the process of creating a song and producing a song and writing a song. It took me awhile to figure it out.
So the artist thing...once I got into writing songs and stuff, that kind of, like, became the first priority. Labels would come to me and say, "Hey man, well why don't you write for this artist that's been signed with us for a long time now." Opposed to them coming to me and taking a chance on me. So I was, like, I've gotta survive. Let me see if I can hustle this angle, and I guess I'm a producer now. So I just started producing and writing for other acts. Me and my partner Phillip Lawrence.
It was only a matter of time until someone heard me singing these demos and stuff. "Nothin' On You" and "Billionaire" were really like the songs that...that was me. When I was writing those hooks I was writing those songs for me. Aaron Bay-Shuck, A&R for Atlantic, heard that and was just, "We gotta sign him. He's the guy that's writing and singing and playing it. Who's gonna sell it better than this guy? It's comin' from his heart." That's how it all panned out, and it just came out real close to each other, so that's why it feels like it's comin' out of nowhere.
Bill: For someone who hasn't heard any of your music yet. They haven't heard the hits. How would you describe your music to encourage them to listen?
Bruno: I would say it's real melody driven. Everything that I write and everything that I sing is coming from a real experience. I put a lot of emotion behind my music...and prepare to get your face blown off because it's awesome! (laughs)
Bill: The songs that are on your EP. How did you decide to keep them for yourself and not give them to someone else to record?
Bruno: Well, the first song that I wrote for me...I wasn't signed, and I wrote "Talking To the Moon." I just knew. I knew this song's mine. I'm gonna put this song in my back pocket. I dont' wanna play this for anybody. So I wouldn't play it for anybody. When Atlantic heard "Nothin' On You" and they heard "Billionaire," I said, "Well, wait a minute. Check THESE out...boom!"
Bill: The title of the EP It's Better If You Don't Understand comes from the lyrics to the song "The Other Side." Can you tell me more about what the title means to you or why you attached it to the EP?
Bruno: Yeah, you know, a lot of people...there's always been so much question about what kind of music I do. Everything. You know, what's his nationality? Is it R&B? Is it pop? Is he a rapper? Is he really that short? A lot of things. There's so many...I always thought that was my struggle, explaining the kind of...you know you asked earlier what kind of music. It's hard for me to explain. Not because I'm trying to be out of the box or...it's just like, man, I just write songs. Hopefully, I try to write songs that touch a lot of people.
So that phrase, "It's better if you don't understand," resonated so well with me because that's been my whole life, a campaign. Just listen, basically. It's a way to say just listen to this music and you be the judge of what it is and how it makes you feel. Opposed to me telling you I am a pop singer or an R&B singer or a soul singer. I want the audience to have their own personal feelings toward my music.
Bill: Are there any particular major influences on your music?
Bruno: Oh man, yeah, that's why I've got "Billionaire" which is a reggae song, my Police, Bob Marley, Sublime. "Nothin' On You" is a throwback hip hop song. It's Tribe Called Quest and it has that soul, Marvin Gaye-ish type chords, and old Motown type feel. You know, that's another struggle that I've had. Being in love with all different kinds of music from rock to country to pop to hip hop.