Rising vocalist, songwriter, and instrumentalist Michael Mayo has just released his debut solo album Bones. Mayo’s music defies his classical training and traditional genre barriers, seamlessly blending alternative and neo-soul elements. This solo release is also highly personal to Mayo; part of his process for creating the record involved him publically owning his bisexuality. The payoff of that is intricately woven into the fabric of Bones—the album encourages listeners to embrace their truth and to live authentically.
We caught up with Mayo to dive deep into the making of the record and what Mayo hopes listeners take out of it.
First off, congratulations on the record! Where did the writing process start for Bones?
Thank you! So I made the decision to make the record when I got off of a South America tour I did with Herbie Hancock. That trip really put a lot of things in perspective for me. I remember coming home and listening to Herbie’s album Sunlight and Becca Stevens’ album Perfect Animals and something just clicked in me. I knew it was time to start writing the album.
Can you share the significance of the record’s title?
I decided to call it Bones because each of these songs represents a different memory or a lesson that I’ve learned over the course of the last few years since moving to New York. Kind of like the building blocks of this current iteration of me.
You grew up in a musical family, with both your parents working as “first-call” session and touring musicians. What were some of the artists or records that soundtracked your childhood?
Oh, I mean I heard so much great stuff coming up. My mom sang a lot with Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston, so I had a lot of them as well as Aretha Franklin, Oleta Adams, the Clark Sisters, Debarge, Stevie Wonder the list goes on. My dad played with Earth, Wind, and Fire for a long time. He also exposed me to people like Count Basie, Donny Hathaway, Dori Caymmi, Sergio Mendes, among others. So many gems.
The closing track on Bones, “Hold On,” features lyrics and vocals from your parents. What was the experience like including them on the record?
I’m so glad we were able to make Hold On happen. I knew from the get go that I wanted to have my parents on a song, but they were in LA and we recorded the album in New York, so there were some logistical hurdles to jump. But once we got that all dialed in, it was so great. My mom wrote the lyrics and added some background vocals. My dad sang and also mixed the background vocals. It’s the most special song on the album to me. I get big sappy tears whenever I listen to it.
What were some of the influences for Bones’ sound?
I was listening to a lot of Thirdstory, Hiatus Kaiyote, Becca Stevens, D’Angelo and Kneebody around the time of writing for and recording Bones. I think there’s definitely some nuggets of them in this album.
Bones moves between several different genres with a sort of productive tension and ease. How did genre shape how you approached creating the album?
I try not to even consider any genre labels when I’m writing. I always look at labels as descriptive rather than prescriptive, that way I can feel the freedom to just follow the music wherever it wants to go rather than try to adhere to some arbitrary genre standard. I’m a firm believer that if it feels good, anything goes. I will say that genre definitely crossed my mind when considering certain arranging or orchestration things. But that normally comes after I’m done with the actual songwriting phase.
Together with the musical process of creating, you’re sharing yourself on the record, including your bisexuality. With it being Pride month, what does Pride mean to you and your music?
Pride is such an important word and an even more elusive thing to find for some people. I know for me it took a long time to feel comfortable being out and proud. I think a lot of time spent closeted, hiding who you are can trickle over into other arenas of life. So for me that showed up as trying to always please other people with my musical choices, my stage presence, and even my choice of keys for songs. But since coming out, everything seems so much clearer now. I realized keeping a lid on one particular facet of who you are isn’t just a simple, cut and dry thing. It carries over. So now, even though it’s still an ongoing journey, I try as much as possible to prioritize living authentically, and blowing the lid off of this particular thing carries over into those other areas too.
Finally, what do you hope listeners can take away from Bones?
I just hope that people come away with a greater desire to get to know themselves, understanding that there’s no shame in being who you are or feeling what you feel. And also to remember that we’re never alone. At any given moment, there’s literally millions of people on this earth who feel what you feel. I also hope the harmony nerds out there ask me all the niche theory questions they can think of!
Bones is available now. Stream it on your devices, or, better yet, listen to it right here: