Singer-songwriter John Mayer on throat surgery, his new album, life in Montana and the DIY music industry
By Josh Sanburn
You've been out of the spotlight for a couple of years. You had throat surgery and Botox injections into your vocal cords to get rid of a recurring inflammation called a granuloma. What were you up to all that time?
I was really able to come off-line and think, Who do you want to be now? You certainly have the opportunity to make whatever music you want to make. I remember at some point thinking, Wow, do you hear that? That's the sound of nobody thinking about me.
You weren't at home in Montana thinking music's going on without me?
I loved it. I said, Let it go. I want to watch American Idol or The Voice and for the first time not be a snobby critical guy. I became a consumer. I'd go to shows, and instead of me going, Oh, right, you're doing that, I would be fully emotionally affected by it because I didn't just automatically consider myself one of the guys.
Because of the surgery, you couldn't sing or even speak for months. What was that like?
It was exciting at first. And then the novelty wears off, and that's when what could have been depression sets in. And I think you have a choice in those moments in life. You can panic, or you can go, Well, this is f---ing interesting.
Why didn't you panic?
Because I knew that wasn't an option. You've signed up for a wild life anyway. It's no less wild to lose the ability to sing than it is to put your first record out.
Has your voice changed?
It's coming back, and it will come back all the way. The Botox takes a while to dissolve, so as it dissolves, my range comes back.
How did that affect your recent album, Born and Raised and your new one, Paradise Valley?
They stem from this inability to sing higher. I didn't know I had a granuloma for most of the making of Born and Raised. The songs are all low [in pitch] because I would hit a ceiling faster. Looking back on it now, I've been making these records based on those limitations.
Has your songwriting changed as well?
A lot of the greatest stuff for me lately has been stuff that I had tossed off. "Dear Marie," I thought, never could've been good enough. Not enough turns and bobs and weaves. But you get to a point where you go, I don't need to over-express myself.
You're not worried about writing pop hits anymore?
I'm not worried anymore, period. I'm not worried about pop hits. I'm not worried about sales. I care about one thing, which is just, tell your story. And I want this story to really unfold onstage.
So what's your live show like now?
It's arranged for the short attention span. By the time you realize you're at a show, we're seven songs in. I'd like to get to that point where people go, "You've got a really good sound." There are certain songs from the past that don't fit in that sound right now, and I'm working overtime to write more songs that do.
How has the music industry changed since you first made it big in the 2000s?
It's very DIY now. The artist has his or her finger on the trigger every single day with Twitter and Instagram. If I take too much cough medicine, I could leak anything I want to leak. The problem is when that trickles down into the music, and there's nobody around to say, "I don't think that makes a very good first single." It's a hell of a lot of power for an artist to have, probably too much.