If you’re a fan of R&B, you’re a fan of Mario. For two decades now, the Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and overall entertainer has been blessing fans with timeless R&B ballads. To this day, music-lovers can recite the lyrics to “Let Me Love You,” “Crying Out For Me,” and “Just A Friend” verbatim. This is that nostalgic R&B feel and energy we wish artists could bring today.
Fast forward to 2020, and Mario hasn’t let up in the slightest. Returning today with his newest EP titled Closer To Mars, he unleashes five incredible, sensual records that will make listeners not want to leave their bedrooms. If you’ve been in quarantine, you’re probably either boo’ed up or wishing you had that special someone to cuddle with. With the Baltimore native recently discovering his name Mario means “Mars” in Latin, he crafts an EP that speaks volumes to our current state of the world, giving you a piece of him you’ve never seen before.
Baller Alert had the pleasure of speaking with Mario at his private, intimate Closer To Mars listening in Los Angeles. Read below as we discuss the inspiration behind the new EP, finding the perfect girl for his “Mars” video, his new book on the horizon, and more!
Closer To Mars out now! How are you feeling?
I feel really excited and happy that it’s finally here, I was supposed to put it out in May. Now, it feels good that it’s a real thing. The fact we’re literally the closest to the planet Mars than we’ve been in 15 years, I didn’t plan that. The stars aligned, that’s how my life has been for the past couple years. It feels good to see that happen, it’s confirmation that I’m in the right place.
What made you finally feel comfortable to release it?
I wanted it to come out, it was a matter of when and how. During this time of quarantine, it challenged all of us to make the choice to go. Nothing’s regular about this experience. It feels nostalgic to be putting out music, something I love and am passionate about, while also being very uncertain about what’s going on in the world.
5 songs is the perfect length, how did you keep it so short?
It wasn’t a thing I wanted to do. It was “okay let’s put this out, I’m going to pick the 5 songs that I like right now.” I knew I wanted “Mars” to be on the project, the leading record. I knew I wanted the record “Pretty Mouth Magic.” I knew I wasn’t going to be able to tour or do the things I wanted to do, so I wanted to split this up and put another project out towards the top of next year. I wanted to keep it short and sweet, digestible.
I know you paused the project during the pandemic at the height of the #BLM movements. Did you participate in the protests?
I didn’t go out a lot, I was really processing everything going on. I was going through a lot of personal things, really trying to put my energy in the right place. It’s a very triggering thing happening, really trying to stay mentally in the right place. I’m very sensitive to energy so I didn’t want to allow it to take over my whole mind, not being able to think and see things correctly with so much going on. We look at it now, we see how all these different types of movements really create so much separation among us as Americans. As people. I’m happy I didn’t allow it to take over my whole everything. It can be really draining, really make you angry everyday. I’m not the person who can deal with that type of craziness because I’ll go all the way. I make sure to support and use my voice in the right way for the right audience.
What does a song like “Rewrite It” mean to our current times?
I did that record a couple weeks after everything started with the protests. It’s time for us to rewrite our own history, rewrite how we perceive our history, rewrite how we’re presented in the culture on purpose. Our power, our influence. I wrote that record to empower Black people, to empower anyone fighting for what they believe. Rewrite your history, it’s never too late. You tell the story you want people to hear 20 years from now, that’s the mindset I was in.
What does it mean to have this intimate listening for your fans?
For me, if I could have fun with the fans, it’s amazing. These are the people coming out during the pandemic, that means they’re real hardcore fans. They support. This is the first time I’ve had an event since this started, so it’s introducing — ready to get back on the road again. Even if it’s intimate, creating those moments where it’s about the fans, the music, the experience.
Talk about the contest where a winner can win a projector and headphones.
That’s me and my team’s idea. My name means “Mars” in Latin, so I wanted to create something my fans could have that’s a physical representation of Mars. My connection with the song “Mars,” that’s intimate about getting closer to me with the girl I’m dealing with. Back in the day, it was about merch and having that paraphernalia. Having something that’s tangible that’ll always make them think about Mario and that moment. If you see that lamp, in 2 years you’ll remember when I got you that light.
Who’s the lucky lady in the video?
Aïssata, I knew what I wanted for the video. I co-directed it and wrote the concept. I knew exactly what girl I wanted, what I wanted her vibe to be like. I searched Instagram for four days, I was on the hunt. There were a few girls. Actually one girl almost identical to her, but she wasn’t available. She said “my boyfriend wouldn’t be okay with this.” I’m like “he can come with you, I just really care about the art.” I’m professional. When she didn’t work, I almost reached out to a casting agent but nah. You know what you want, keep looking. I saw Aïssata’s page, I DMed her. I told her “look, I’ve got this video I’m shooting. I’ll fly you out.” She asked “what’s the concept?” She asked if she had to be naked in the scene, I said “nope, but you’ve got to wear something real sexy. You’ve got to look like you’re my girl.” You got a boyfriend, I got a girlfriend, we good. We’re real professional, we gotta make art.
Why didn’t you use your girlfriend? Is that too personal?
The timing of it wasn’t right, she had to leave town for something. It’s art. I talk to my girl about that a lot, she’s like “yo, you have to do shit like this.” I’m like “damn, I put myself in your shoes and I appreciate you being able to handle this.” But I’m very communicative, she knows my art. She knows I’m an artist, I’m a creative. I had to do love scenes with girls before. On Empire, I did sex scenes. I was naked in the fucking…it’s art. I make this shit look real. [laughs]
Highlight from shooting Empire?
The highlight was being on a show that was legendary for its time. Being on the last season was the highlight, working with really incredible actors, directors. Learning about the production side of things, really enhancing my experience within this world that I want to dive into. I’ve been directing videos, writing a lot of screenplays I’ll be pitching. That’s gonna be lit.
What else can we expect from you?
I got a book I’m working on right now called Life In Exchange, it’s spirit psychology. How to balance your personal life when going through life, how to survive but also make sure you’re grounded in your truth. Everything we do is psychological in this world. How do you keep yourself focused? How to keep yourself motivated during a pandemic? You have to be so balanced in order to be successful, it’s about helping people stay mentally healthy and making sure their spirit is in the right place.
Did you do a lot of research for this book?
Nah, I lived a lot for it. My life is my research. I talk about in the book too. I’m speaking it into existence. It’s something really special for my fans and young people who during this time where the world is at, are still trying to focus on their career. Sometimes I choose my spirit over survival. I don’t trust everything I see, but you feel the energy of where we are and think to yourself, what’s more important? Me getting myself right spiritually or getting to the money? Which to do that, you have to be around people, involve yourself in energies or spaces you don’t want to be. It’s how do I balance myself out on this journey and stay sane?