Bruno Mars smells like wealth. And cigarettes. The former is due to some impossibly expensive fragrance he undoubtedly had made custom, the kind with "top notes of Artemisia" and "base notes of cedar, musk and amber." The latter because, well, he smokes, though at the insistence of his mother, he's trying to quit ... sort of.
"She wants me to, but she told me not to try those electronic cigarettes," he laughs, removing his coat inside New York's Carnegie Club (one of the few places in the city where you actually can still smoke). "She's like 'Stay away from them ... they explode!' And I'm going 'Okay mom, whatever you say.' Because, you know, you gotta listen to your mother."
Mama's boy Mars is in New York to begin promoting his second album,Unorthodox Jukebox, and he's doing so in a manner befitting of its title: Hours after our interview, he will unceremoniously release the video for first single "Locked Out of Heaven" ("People want to do a big premiere," he tells me, "but I feel like I have the luxury to go straight to the fans and say 'Here it is,'") and in a few short days, he will try his hand at sketch comedy as performer and host on "Saturday Night Live" ("This might be the biggest misstep of my career!" he jokes). In a way, it all seems like Mars has grown bored of the traditional promo plan and decided to call an audible, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Watch Bruno Mars perform new songs fromUnorthodox Jukebox live on MTV this Tuesday
"I am incredibly excited about everything ... The only way I'm going to have fun doing this is to be able to do whatever the hell I want to do," he says, patented smile stretching across his face. "I feel like I don't want to write 'Just the Way You Are, Part II,' or the extension of 'Nothin On You.' I have those songs and I'm going to be singing those songs 'til the day I die. I learned so much on tour; performing songs live, and I feel like I have a much better view of what I want to be doing on this next round, and I put all of that focus onto these songs on Unorthodox Jukebox."
And while it's become a bit of a cliché to mention artists taking risksthese days, there's really no better way to sum up Jukebox, a wildly varied collection of classically indebted pop tunes, stadium-ready sex jams and deeply personal ballads. Mars and his Smeezingtons cohorts spent six months locked away in the studio working on it, throwing out more songs than they kept, striving to push beyond mere radio hits and create something that showcases the breadth of Mars' talents: his lithe voice, his unerring musical sensibilities, his knack for penning choruses that don't just latch to the ear but burrow deep inside. It is, in every conceivable way, a producer's album, one that hops from genre to genre and proudly displays its influences (Michael Jackson, Nina Simone, the Police). And because of that, it sacrifices the immediacy so necessary these days and eschews format-specific hits — there is nothing on it as grabbing as "Grenade" or as sweet as "Just The Way You Are" — in favor of something larger, something grander. So yes, let's call it a risk, even if Mars doesn't want to.
"It's not a risk; at the end of the day, it's me, so it's like either you like me or you don't," he says. "I don't know if I've earned that. I don't know what people are going to think of this album; but I do know it's me, it's who I am. I am all over the place, because I'm a producer ... I think it's a good thing to weird a couple people out and scare a couple people.
Thumbnail via MTV.com