Mac Ayres has had an interesting journey of musical discovery. When he left his hometown of Sea Cliff, NY a few years ago to attend the prestigious Berklee School of Music, he made music more like John Mayer than John Legend. But after his arrival in Boston, he was exposed to new takes on popular forms of music, which helped him find his R&B voice. Fast-forward three years and he’s making some of the best soul music of the year.
Drive Slow is Mac Ayres’ first official project. The 9-track EP serves as a sampling of his tremendous musical upside. This isn’t an official debut project but based on what I’ve heard so far, the album will be special. I got some time with him during his first trip to Los Angeles and we talked about how moving to Boston changed his musical style, R&B as a genre, the influence of J. Dilla on him, and much more. Read the full interview below.
OTW: Let’s talk about Drive Slow first. How long did it take you to write, record, and release the entire project?
Mac Ayres: I’d say it probably took nine months from writing the first tune to being done with everything.
What environment did you create the project in?
My bedroom. I was just hashing out ideas. I work on Logic so I was just playing ideas, recording demos, and showing it to people. Sometimes I would re-record things later but I’d say 90% of the project was done in my bedroom.
What song on the project means the most to you and why?
I’d probably pick “Calvin’s Joint.” It’s the first full song on the record, and it’s about leaving Sea Cliff for the first time, which is my hometown, when I was heading out to Boston. Calvin is my little brother, so it was kind of just a song about growing up and moving on.
How was the transition from Sea Cliff to Boston?
It was a lot. My first year at Berklee was pretty crazy because you’re not really exposed to a lot of different kinds of music on Long Island. When I got to Boston, it was a lot different. I was not doing R&B at all before getting to Boston but after I got there and started meeting different people and hearing new styles of music, different things started opening up for me.
You might be the first person ever who went to Boston and got inspired to make R&B music [laughs].
[laughs] Facts. I’ll take it.
Where do you see soul and R&B music right now as a genre?
I think it’s in a pretty good place. You can point out a lot of the bad things that are going on in music today but I think with the extreme bads, come the extreme goods. We’re hearing some of the best R&B ever these days. I love the Daniel Caesar record that just came out. Sabrina Claudio is making great music too.
You’re playing our upcoming showcase in LA. What did you learn from touring with Pomo that you incorporated into your live show?
I’ve been performing since I was a kid. I would play bars around the area I grew up in. Instead of getting a summer job, I would make money by playing shows. Touring with Pomo gave me a better sense of how to keep a crowd going and how to formulate a set list to a higher degree. When everyone’s paying attention to you, it’s way different than when people are eating a cheeseburger and not giving a shit about what you play [laughs].
What’s the difference between you as a person and you as an artist?
I don’t think I differ that much. I think I just would be making tunes in my bedroom anyway even if nobody heard them. I like to think that it’s not too far off.
How do you balance the up-and-coming musician life—networking, writing, rehearsing, traveling, etc.?
If you’re really committed to something, you make time. I just really want to be great, so I make time, no matter how much of it I have.
What do you think is the biggest sacrifice you’ve had to make so far in your musical journey?
I don’t get a lot of time alone. It’s one thing to be around your close friends, but I value my alone time a lot. When I get to be by myself, I really use that time wisely to write and get better.
What was one of your earliest music inspirations?
J Dilla is a big influence of mine. I think my first exposure to him was when I was a little kid watching Fresh Prince, and Jazzy Jeff was on there. I wanted to learn more about those guys so I looked up Jazzy Jeff and found all the shit he did with Dilla.
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
I’m looking forward to playing more shows. We just booked our first London gig so I’m looking forward to that and hitting BBC with Jamz Supernova. Hopefully I’ll also be putting out a new project sometime soon as well.
Do you have strict rules to how you work? It seems like you’re always writing and working. Do you have deadlines in your head?
No, I can’t mess with a deadline. If I say I got to do this by 8 o’clock, there’s no shot [laughs]. I’m always writing though. I just have to do it when it feels right. The more I do it, the more it feels right.
We’re told that Mac Ayres will be back with a new project very soon. Stay tuned for more from this rising star at Ones To Watch.