Bruno Mars finds success at center stage

Dec. 17, 2010 | 39 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition

He’s one of the hottest stars in pop music, with a hit album and seven Grammy Award nominations for his work as a recording artist, songwriter and record producer, but Bruno Mars is still in touch with his island roots.

A hectic cross-country jaunt from Boston to Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards nominee show and a quick trip back east for a concert in Pittsburgh were just behind him, and he’d picked up a bad cold along the way, but that didn’t keep the Roosevelt High grad from calling home to talk about his career, the music business, and the show he’s bringing to Honolulu this weekend.

“I’m a little under the weather after that Grammy performance,” Mars explained. “I had a show in Boston, then at 4 in the morning I got to the airport, flew to the Grammy thing, rehearsed it all day, performed it live — and then right after I was told I was nominated for seven (awards). I had to do a little press junket and then jump right back on a plane, took two flights to get to Pittsburgh, and it caught up to me. I got real sick.”

“Other than that, I’m ecstatic.”

And with good reason. Signed by Motown shortly after he arrived in Los Angeles in 2003 and then dropped without even a CD-single to test the market, Mars was two days away from returning to Hawaii when he got word that a song he’d written had been sold and payment was on the way.

A string of ever-bigger successes followed.

In 2009, a turning point came when a song Mars co-wrote and sang, “Right Round” with Flo Rida, made an impact on the charts. That year, he and his songwriting partners, who call themselves the Smeezingtons, went into the studio to contribute to notable pop songs by Lupe Fiasco, B.o.B ( “Nothin’ on You”) and Travie McCoy.

This year, “Billionaire” with McCoy, co-written by Mars and featuring Mars’ vocals, became a sensation.

And now he’s up for several Grammies as a writer and producer.

The TGIF cover of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for Friday, December 17, 2010.

MARS says the record label “rolled the dice” on signing him as a recording artist and came up a winner.

“It would have been very easy for them to just replace (my voice) with a bigger name because that’s how it is these days,” he noted. “If you put a bigger name on the song it’s easier to get on the radio, but they didn’t do it.”

Actually, the label had good reason to trust in Mars. The A&R man who ultimately signed Mars as a solo act, Aaron Bay-Schuck, had been working with him for a couple of years behind the scenes to set the groundwork for Mars’ solo career.

As Bay-Schuck told the music industry network Hit Quarters in an online interview this week, “Bruno made it clear from the beginning that being an artist was always his biggest goal, but that he was also willing to write and produce and do anything that it took to be recognized as an artist. … We wanted the public to know from the outset that there was more to Bruno than just the voice.”

Bay-Schuck, who counts Mars as his first “get,” or successful signing to a label, calls Mars “an incredible live performer” who can “live on a lot of different radio formats” — getting airplay on Top 40 while earning legitimacy with hip-hop and “left of center” fans.

In fact, Mars is the biggest act to come out of Hawaii in almost 40 years. No artist from Hawaii has hit the national charts harder straight out of the box since Bette Midler went platinum with her debut album, “The Divine Miss M,” and won the Grammy Award for best new artist in 1973.

“Every little stepping stone I’ve had is all in my music,” Bruno says. The songs on his debut album, “Doo-Wops & Hooligans,” present him in a range of moods and characters, from sweet romantic (“Just the Way You Are,” the first single off the record, “Our First Time”) to cynical ladies’ man (“Runaway Baby”).

“That’s the multiple personalities of who I am,” he explains. “I’m from Hawaii, a Puerto Rican kid, my mom’s Filipino, I impersonated Elvis by night, then transitioned to a Michael Jackson impersonator, then hopped into a doo-wop band, played in reggae groups in high school — I was just all over the place.”

Mars’ tastes in music are eclectic. Among his current favorites are Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Kanye West’s current album and Cee-Lo — and also the Police, Bob Marley, the Jacksons, Prince and the classic doo-wop acts of his father’s generation.

SO WHY is Bruno Mars hitting now?

“One (reason) I think, is the simplicity of the songs that I’ve been a part of,” he said. “(With) ‘Just the Way You Are,’ ‘Nothing on You,’ I’m not saying mind-boggling lyrics, I’m just saying what I think (and) I’m hoping when I’m writing my songs, that it’s coming from a real place and you can just feel that.”

Mars thanks his sister Jamie, who’d moved to California years earlier, for helping him make initial contacts. A “very, very crappy demo” got Mars the deal with Motown.

“Through Motown I just started building different relationships, and while I was signed with them I met Philip Lawrence — and when I was released from Motown, me and Phil kept going … (we) met Ari (Levine), and kept writing until (record) labels started tip-toeing around. That’s when we started selling songs.”

Those early successes were “bittersweet, (because) we were making income, but it was hard for us to understand. We were writing the songs, I’m singing the songs coming from my heart, and they want to give ’em to someone else. We’d think, ‘Don’t you think people’d like to hear the guy that wrote this?'”

He got his opportunity. After writing and producing for other artists — including a Grammy song of the year contender fronted by Cee Lo, with a title this paper can’t publish — Mars is now a star in his own right. With that has come media scrutiny on a 24/7 basis.

“That comes with the bag. I’m getting used to it,” he says.

He’s under scrutiny, too, for a cocaine arrest in Las Vegas, with a court date pending, but is not talking about that.

As for the title of the album, while Mars’ roots in doo-wop are well known, “(‘Hooligans’) is more a part of the live show,” he says.

“A lot of people are saying that I’m a ‘crooner,’ which is fine, that’s really what doo-wop is, but I think when you see the live show you understand that I’m not in the studio writing love songs all the time. I’m a fun guy, I need to be with the band, just a bunch of young guys jumping around. We’re having a blast. That’s when the ‘hooligan’ side comes out. … It’s definitely not a lounge act.”

Asked about his long-term goals, Mars hesitates for a moment.

“I really want to be known for making classic albums, not necessarily an album full of singles,” he said. “With this album I feel like I sat down in a room and just wrote songs. It’s all scattered all over the place, (but) that’s what I wanted to do. … Hopefully by album two, I can really hone in on something.”

“That’s the best part, man. This is just the beginning for me, and I know that. But I have so much more to go and so much more to show.”

  • Anonymous

    I thought he got busted for cocaina in vegas. if he got off, at least he got same treatment as paris i guess.

  • Livinginhawaii

    How can we be assured that he will not be high on cocaine while performing here? In the 70’s we wasted money on a Gordon Lightfoot concert. He was stoned out of his mind and the corrupt civil servants at the Blaisdell would not give us a refund….

    • A239

      Thats a pretty lame comment. Most performers are high on something when they perform. To expect a refund for something like that maybe you were high.

    • Cholo

      Bu Lai, In the 70’s was HIC.

  • Mrs.BMars

    I love him. He’s such a talented performer and artist. this man is as diverse as they get. I LOVE IT! so refreshing to breath in a breath of fresh music! Keep doing what you doing Mr. B Mars..you got great things..well even greater lol.. in store for you. <3 – Mrs. B.Marss

  • http://twitter.com/bellamacolino Daniella Macolino

    I loved reading this article! I love Bruno Mars so much and he has come so far!I am so proud of him :)

  • Daliza

    he has inspired me so much i really admire him for not giving up on his dreams he is a really big influence to me and i look up to him. He’s amazing!

  • CarneDogo808

    Very talented and fun performer. We really enjoyed the concert.

  • Jwj964

    Is he Gay??/

    • Skjmjtaw

      no he is not

    • unknown

      are u????

  • Anonymous

    Another Cocaine Bust coming up

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if Bruno will sing Eric Clapton’s hit: Cocaine
    If you wanna hang out youve got to take her out; cocaine.
    If you wanna get down, down on the ground; cocaine.
    She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie; cocaine.

    When your day is done and you wanna run; cocaine.
    If you got bad news, you wanna kick them blues; cocaine.
    She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie; cocaine.

    If your thing is gone and you wanna ride on; cocaine.
    Don’t forget this fact, you can’t get it back; cocaine.
    She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie; cocaine.

    She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie; cocaine.

  • Bruno Fan

    He’s such a good singer and has awesome stage presence. I love him so much. When my kids asked if it’s ok to idolize an artist even after getting busted for cocaine, I told them that everyone does it anyway. It’s no big deal. Most kids will grow up doing it once in their lifetime, so why make a big deal of it? I love Bruno, you set good example for all the kids. ;)

    • Kids who have parents that tell them that “everyone does it anyway” and “it’s no big deal” are the kids that will grow up doing it once in their lifetime… what kind of parent are you?? You are sending them the message that it’s okay to do that garbage.

      Not everybody does it.. none of my friends or family have ever tried it, nor ever will.

    • Ttt

      Are you kidding? what kind of parent are you? Everybody does it, its no big deal? I beg to differ, nobody in my family/friends have ever tried any drugs.

      Trying it once can potentially result in a lifetime of addiction—- I see people like that everyday at my work and it usually doesn’t end well!

  • nymo

    imo…that cocaine bust…that was probably a setup to destroy him before he got any bigger and successful.

    • Ttt

      Eveyone keeps saying its a set-up. I am not saying its not but he’s a grown-ass man and nobody forced the drugs into his pocket. if he has a drug problem, he needs to man up ang get help before it destroys everything he’s been working for.

  • Bob F.

    I remember Bruno sitting in my 1960 red Cadillac that i sold to his father. Bruno was 5 years old at the time. Life goes by so fast. Stardom didnt come easy for Bruno. It took alot of determination and guts to be where he is now. Good luck Bruno.

    Bob F.

  • lovebrunomars

    what’s wrong with you people?is he gay?he got busted for cocaine…..stop that stupid comments!!!he is just an amazing singer…he is the most talented singer i have seen in a while…his personal life is not your problem…if you want to talk about something,talk about his music…leave him alone!!!!he’s not gay..he has a girlfriend…and the cocaine thing happened just once!!!!sooo….SHUT UP!!!!!!!LOVE U BRUNO!!!!

    • DummieChicc

      Dang! He Has a GurlFrann..?? Mann iPlanned Too Gett Himm Onee Dayy…. Weellp,, If iCant Gett Himm Thenn iWill Meet Himm..!!(: iLOVE Peter H.(Bruno Mars) So Friggin Much..!:D

    • brunos#1fan

      amen to you!

    • Thebremers2

      ur an %#$%^&*(() just jealous and a hater why dont u go and sleep on it if you dont like him get out of this site #%%^^&&

      • lovebrunomars

        maybe you should read my entire comment…and you’ll see that i don’t hate him…actually i’m saying to the haters to leave him alone…because he is an amazing singer..trust me i don’t hate him,i love him and his music!!!!!!!

  • A_KLady

    You know…I met you twice already and gotta say, what a genuine, young guy you are….I can’t wait until you guys are back to London again. It has truly inspired me to go even further..in whatever I pursuit in my life. Bruns and Phil, love ya both lots:)
    A

  • Andreia kempf

    LOVE BRUNO, LOVE BRUNO, LOVE BRUNO . I’M CRYING ='(

  • http://twitter.com/Doo_Wop22 Pinar_

    I don’t know why but It’s like the spirit of Michael Jackson is in Bruno Mars..

    • brunos#1fan

      amen to you sister!

  • Mrs.BMars

    FYI if you DO read this B. Mars…Just know that I’ve decided to pursue my lifelong dream of backpacking around the world….my ultimate goal is for us to cross paths in both our journeys in life.. i truly would love to meet you and just sit and pick at your brain. –A true fan, a True music lover and a true Bruno Mars lover & believer ! — Mrs. B.Mars!

  • AdaraAdenAmarit

    Must be nice living in Hawaii. We’re snowed in Chicago. Great article. Bruno is amazing. We saw him twice in Chicago, he’s out of the this world LIVE. My 3 year old son absolutely loves him. He always asks for Bruno Mars CD when we’re in the car. Congratulations to Bruno Mars and the people of Hawaii!!!!

  • P2luba

    Bruno fix, not a joke any more!!!!! Must listen everyday!!! God bless Bruno and your band!!!

  • Niconariah

    I luv u bruno and that voice omg u can sing a girl out of her panties u are swagnificent luv u

  • http://www.lyneve/blogger.com Evelyn

    Bruno! AMAZING! keep inspiring us and entertaining us with your music! much love sexy child!

  • Toffeesweets

    so what if he took cocaine no ones perfect everyone makes mistakes hes a good guy and hes really talented so people shud just focus on the good things hes done cause they out do the bad :)

  • http://twitter.com/LiniandManny Shalini and Amanda

    bruno mars is amazing!!!

  • rachel

    love him! he’s such a great singer. everybody makes mistakes and unfortunately his had to be publicized. he is so not gay, although i did not know he had a girlfriend…

  • iamGzey

    It actually depends on the person really. And I mean, it’s no big deal, for me, because the time that he sings and performs, he’s just so adorable and captivating.
    Keep up the good work Bruno!

  • rosie

    I UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU SAYING I M WITH 100% BRUNO AND I LOVE WHAT YOU DOING I KNOW IT COULD BE ALOT OF WORK AND STRESS BUT NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO A GOOD JOB IN WHAT YOU DOING BECAUSE WE ALL LOVE YOU AND WE FEEL UR SONGS I LOVE YOU SO MUCH PLEASE TAKE CARE HAVE SOMETIME FOR YOURSELF I LOVE YOU 4EVER YOUR #! FAN WHO LOVES YOU SO MUCH

  • Gothula1981

    I AM VERY PROUD OF YOU, BRUNO, FOR ACHIEVING THE RECOGNITION YOU TRULY DESERVE. ESPECIALLY BEING FROM HAWAII YOU’VE PROBABLY WORKED HARDER FOR DIVERSITY THOUGH I KNOW WHILE GROWING UP YOU’VE HAD THAT BUT ON THE MAINLAND ESPECIALLY WORKING WITH THE TOP LABELS YOU HAVE TO BE UNIQUE AS WELL. SO FOR WHAT YOU HAVE ACCOMPLISHED ALREADY…I AND I KNOW MANY OTHER PEOPLE FEEL THE SAME AS I DO….ARE VERY, VERY PROUD OF YOU AS WE ARE OF OUR PRESIDENT…..MAHALO FOR YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND FOR SHOWING THAT OUR HAWAII PEOPLE ARE NOT ONLY SMART BUT ARE TALENTED AS WELL…..ME KE ALOHA PUMEHANA…..ONE VOICE IN HAWAII!!!!!