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Red hot Mars has found his own orbit

Singer has had hits as writer, producer

Now on his first headlining tour, Bruno Mars has hit his stride. Now on his first headlining tour, Bruno Mars has hit his stride. (Chad Batka for The New York Times)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / November 28, 2010

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When Peter Hernandez, a.k.a. Bruno Mars, was 18, he signed with Motown Records and thought his dream of being an entertainer — nurtured by a musical family as he grew up in Hawaii, and including stints impersonating both Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson — was coming true.

That deal fizzled out. But it got him into the industry, and he and his songwriting and producing partners Phillip Lawrence and Ari Levine, collectively known as the Smeezingtons, became a sought-after studio team. Over the last few years the trio has lent a hand — and in Mars’s case, velvety smooth vocals — to ubiquitous hits like Flo Rida’s “Right Round,’’ Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire,’’ and B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You.’’

Mars finally broke through this year with his own hip-hop pop album, “Doo-Wops & Hooligans,’’ thanks to the sweet R&B charmer “Just the Way You Are,’’ and he also co-penned Cee-Lo’s summer smash, “Forget You’’ (originally titled with an expletive, but rewritten for radio play). It hasn’t been all champagne celebrations and platinum albums for Mars, 25, who was arrested for drug possession in Las Vegas in September and has a court appearance pending next month. But on the phone from San Francisco, the first date of his inaugural headlining tour which includes a sold-out stop at the Paradise Tuesday, he was raring to go.

Q. Now that things are going so well, are you grateful in a way that the deal with Motown didn’t work out?

A. Absolutely, and I never put the blame on them. It was my fault. I wasn’t ready yet. I don’t know who’s ready at the age of 18. And to be the kind of artist I wanted to be, it’s too young. And because the thing with Motown didn’t work, that’s how I became a producer, that’s why I have a story.

Q. Why do you call your production team the Smeezingtons?

A. Why not the Smeezingtons is the real question [laughs]. The root word is smash. We’re always joking around in the studio and we’d say, “Oh, this song’s going to be a smash!’’ And then it turned into smeeze and then smash and smeeze made a baby and therefore now it’s the Smeezingtons.

Q. As a writing and production team, do you have a “Bruno Mars’’ pile and an “everybody else’’ pile?

A. No. It’s a day-to-day thing. We’ll get a phone call or we’ll make a phone call. We made the phone call saying, “We want to work with Cee-Lo,’’ and fortunately we got the opportunity to do that. We go into the studio with the mindset of, OK, we have to write a song with Cee-Lo for his album.

Q. Did you know that “Forget You’’ was going to be a hit?

A. Oh, man, I think that’s the only song where we were like, “If people don’t like this, we’re in the wrong business’’ [laughs]. We never know what’s going to be a hit. We just know what feels good and I think that’s the only trick. People ask me, “What is your method in songwriting?’’ The only thing that we’ve really got is really just remembering what that feels like to finish [a song like] “Nothin’ on You’’ and listen to it. People are saying I’ve got the golden touch and everything I write is a hit, which is not true. I’ve written some terrible songs. But the main thing is to never believe that hype.

Q. Is there an actual person who served as inspiration for “Just the Way You Are’’ and, if so, is she very happy?

A. Yes, there is an actual girl. But I think every single girl does so much to get prepared, just to make themselves feel beautiful, and that song is basically to applaud that. Of course there are times to dress up and do the whole makeup thing, but, for a guy like me, nothing is sexier than a girl in her sweats walking around the house and cooking me an omelet, of course.

Q. “Runaway Baby’’ is more of an up-tempo, urgent rocker that breaks a bit with the rest of the record.

A. That’s more of the “Hooligans’’ side. A lot of people think when they come to see the live show it’s going be crooner-dot-com, but “Runaway,’’ that’s more of the vibe of a Bruno Mars show, a little more urgent and, hopefully, a little more exciting as opposed to me on a stool singing love songs.

Q. Do you think the divisions between pop, R&B, dance, and hip-hop matter as much anymore?

A. It all boils down to the song and the believability. I’m dancing around in a place where it can get really corny, where I’m rocking out on a guitar and then all of a sudden I’m a hip-hop artist. But if that’s what I am — because I’m a fan of hip-hop, R&B, and rock — and if I can do it right, that’s what I’m going to do.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com