[Introduction with "Shadow Days" and "No Such Thing" excerpts playing]
Hangout Begins (01:35)
DW: We’re right here in Los Angeles, California. I’m Don Was, I’m John Mayer’s buddy and producer of his latest album, Born and Raised. Johnny, how you doin’?
JM: I’m really good. I’m not just puttin’ that on.
DW: I can see that. And it’s very good to see you behind a microphone once again.
JM: For me as well. This was a very cool day. I actually just went to the throat doc to look again, cause I’ve been singin’ the last couple weeks and today is the day that transition from one phase that lasted way too long into another phase. To get the all-clear again after singin’ and then to come in here and sing and really hear some new notes that are comin’ to me after not singing for so long, it’s a complete joy. Yeah, man.
DW: I heard some of the rehearsal and you sound amazing. You really do. That must have been pretty frustrating not to be able to sing?
JM: You know I somehow found a way to put my emotions so much lower than the problem was so that I never got — it’s really strange the way I went silent, you know. If you know that something is hanging in the balance so much, you sort of protect yourself from it by just becoming very zen. I just always knew there was nothing I could do about it but what was required of me. And I actually thought a lot about athletes, and what 18 months is to an athlete, you know. There are guys who sideline for 18 months and they come back out and they play again and have great careers. And part of this contract, I guess, with the gift of being able to play music is that, you know, there’s a lot that’s going on from these two little muscles. And if that’s the way it is, then that’s the way it is, and whatever is required of me, whether it’s a surgery or two, or it’s getting needles inside your neck from the outside of your neck, it’s like, you just do what’s required of you.
And it was required of me to not go crazy, and it was required of me to kind of think about what it was I wanted to do as a musician even though I couldn’t be one at that time. So I feel like everything that you’re about to hear, not just today but on this tour, the upcoming tours, is like the logjam of all the things that I’d been thinking about and feeling and listening to in other music, you know. I would’ve been so busy the last 3 years playing my own music I would never have had this chance to listen to as much music as I’ve listened to the last 2 years.
DW: That’s great. Well I guess I can speak for all of us out here, welcome back man. It’s really good to see you here.
JM: [Sings] Thank you! [Laughter] I’m gonna like go around and just sing too much now. [sings] I’ll have a tall black latte, tall black coffee please. [Speaking ] We understand, you are back. It must be incredible to once again have the gift of voice. But stop it.
DW: Well, we got a very cool event here today. We’re really just discovering how cool this is. We got folks tuning in from all over the world, including some very special fans from really from all over, all over the planet who we’re gonna connect with. And we should probably go to our first question, which takes us to Des Moines, Iowa. We got Brenda and Sue. You there?
DW: So you’ve got a question for John I believe.
[Caller]: We do. So we know you’ve been pretty involved with NCIRE [Northern California Institute for Research and Education] and with veterans health research. So our question is, we were wondering how has your point of view changed since you wrote Waiting on the World to Change and Belief? If you think it’s been intensified, or changed by your work with veterans?
JM: You know, that’s a really good question. The work that I’ve done with veterans has really focused me on the task at hand. I think anybody who works with veterans, anyone who knows a military family or somebody who’s in the military or somebody who knows someone who’s in the military, there’s a certain sort of grace that is extended where you don’t really discuss the sort of large—not larger, I don’t wanna say larger—but, in a sense, more broad conversation about politics or the theory of it all. When working with NCIRE and working with veterans and meeting them, I don’t think that it changes my point of view on a song like "Belief" or "Waiting on the World To Change," because that’s sort of the way that I look at it as a songwriter, the way that I process it as a person. But in helping, or helping to help, veterans, you find that you don’t think about the politics. You don’t think about your point of view. So I would say that it’s very sobering in the sense that my point of view doesn’t matter at all. And nobody’s point of view matters at all. All that matters is the task at hand. Especially when something is now in the past. Nothing matters but the task at hand.
So I would say working with NCIRE has focused me on that. As a songwriter, time ages songs differently, time changes the meaning of songs. "Waiting on the World To Change" is very 2006. It’s very pre, sort of, Obama administration. But I remember that summer, working on that record, I remember the news just feeling very strange. I remember—that song was a time capsule. "Belief" is a lot more of a, you know, theoretical, kind of a discussion, that for me I don’t think changes with anything. But working with these men and women, you find that your point of view is meaningless. And you learn to kind of divorce your point of view from what you’re doing. And in fact, my point of view kind of changed, you know. Which was really cool too. But you find that your point of view doesn’t help anybody. And that’s actually made watching, like, point-of-view-based television hard to watch. Because point-of-view—doesn’t help anybody to just discuss point of view. Nothing gets solved. So that was actually very cool for me to discover that.
DW: Alright, well that’s a great question and thank you so much Brenda and Sue for joining us. Stick around cause you’re gonna hear some fabulous music. In fact, I think we should begin right now!
JM: You’re a born host. Oh we’re doing that now! I don’t look at things any more. I can’t wait to find out what my tour dates are. [Laughter]
It doesn’t really matter, you know. All right so I want to introduce you to Aaron Sterling playing the drums, Sean Hurley playing the bass, we’re going to do this like an acoustic trio, and this is — you know it’s the first song. Sorry it’s been a while for me. I haven’t done this in a while. Maybe I should tell you about my tuning here, I don’t know. It goes like this.
[plays "Queen of California" with Aaron Sterling and Sean Hurley]
DW: Yeah. That’s great, man. I gotta tell you something, it’s so good to hear those songs performed live, man. And just seein’ you guys and hearing you playin’, it brings back the making of that record, you know, and I gotta say that was — I can’t think of a better time I’ve had in the studio after years and years of making records.
JM: It’s interesting cause we don’t have the gratification — we certainly have the gratification of people we know and people we run into loving the record. We don’t have the gratification of like something we can really point to and say that it was like a BAFO sort of a success. But it doesn’t change the fact that the experience of making that record can be heard in the record, you can feel it in the record, it’s still great to put it on and think about that time. For me it was a really interesting time, a violent adjustment in my life, of really figuring everything out and the record is my sort of week-to-week figuring all of that out. And the payoff of doing homework as a human being, you know. It’s like the payoff you get when you do your homework.
DW: Yeah, no, it’s really true, and I love the way you can follow the storyline. I mean, there’s a real arc to the story of the album. It’s great songwriting, man, and it’s really good to hear you perform it.
JM: Thank you. And it’s nice to have these guys who are the backbone of the record. I couldn’t play these—these tunes don’t sound like these tunes without these guys playing on it, you know, Aaron has this lope on the drum [mimes drumming]. And without it it doesn’t—you know, all these great bands that we love, it really came down to the players because they’re just playing blues. You know Allman Brothers or Rolling Stones are a blues band but you take one guy out of the equation and it’s just [plays simple blues pattern on guitar]. Aaron’s function in that is not just being the drummer, it’s like, he’s playing the riff. The drum is playing the riff, really.
DW: Nice work, fellas. Alright I think we’re gonna take a jump over to Germany right now. We got Jessica.
Touring in Brazil
[Caller]: Yes. Um, John, what are your expectations about Rock In Rio in Brazil? You have a lot of fans there and it can be your first concert.
JM: My expectations are to play music for people who have very high expectations for my finally getting there and playing. It’s gonna be really fun to, number one, meet the fans cause, I know that they’ve wanted me to come and play for quite a while and it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another. I love the idea of having never played there before every note that we play is new. Every song that we play is the first time you guys have heard the song. So it’s sort of like watching a movie you might have seen a thousand times with someone who hasn’t seen it yet, and you kind of get a new appreciation for every little part of the film. So I’m going to enjoy the set more knowing that every single thing that you’re feeling and hearing is—you can’t compare it to anything else and it’s been the result of all this waiting which will be very exciting.
I have a feeling all those songs are gonna be sped up that night, you know. I’ll try to play with a metronome or something. [mimes playing "Queen of California" too fast] ah! I mean, you got to be quite a formidable band to open with "Queen of California" and go [plays "Queen of California" slowly] while everybody’s like oh he just started playing we’ve wanted him to play for eight years here, you know? So my expectations are to have a brilliant really fun time and work off the energy of the country, not just the crowd, you know. Cause all artists know that Brazil is like the most excited fan base in music. So keep Brazil alive there in Germany!
DW: Alright let's do another song. You’re gonna do "Speak For Me"?
Speaking of tone may I mention Sean’s [Hurley] incredible tone coming out of that Fender bass. As a bass player it’s driving me nuts I’m watching his hands. I got the same bass, it doesn’t sound the same. [Laughter] Really good man.
JM: Man there’s all this dexterity that i have before these things. You’re looking at a guy that just basically just stepped out of the woods. I’m like Clark Kent now. I have all feelings and stuff. I’m having all feelings of doubt and I’m a real person now. I don’t just go like, What if I screw up? This is the first time I ever thought to myself what if I screw up. Oh boy. I’m much more fun to hang out with.
[plays "Speak For Me"]
DW: Beautiful man. It’s so great to hear these songs played live. Now I’m stoked up about going to see the dates, man.
Coping With Throat Issues
JM: Well I have to sing them still a little bit differently. It’s not just me being overly inventive. This Botox that I had in my throat is dissolving. If anybody saw the video or was at the show that I did in Montana back in January, that was significantly more curtailed an ability to perform. And now it’s kind of opening up, so. One day soon I would imagine that by Jazz Fest I’ll be going [sings].
DW: Well you sound incredible compared to the last time. And two times ago you were typing things out on a keyboard. I was walking around with an iPad and you had a bluetooth keyboard and that’s how we were conversing, so.
JM: You don’t go crazy when you know you can’t. You know? When you know you — I’m sure there are people out there who’ve had these medical struggles, or any struggle, when you know that going crazy would do nothing for you but make life harder, you just sort of like you just sort of go like, “All right.” “Okay.” “Sure.” “Great.” And maybe you sit—I mean, there are several times where I had hope. All through the last couple of years. Okay, let’s go see, let’s go check. I mean I would love to buy the thing they put down your throat to look. I would love to buy one and have it at home. I’d probably stab myself with it and make my problems worse. But you go okay I know I’ve been doing my best, I’ve been eating rice for dinner, and they look, and it’s bigger, and you go sit in the car in the parking garage for a minute and you go, Okay, had your moment, now what do we do?
Because I wanted to get back here, you know. So this is like you guys watching and you guys on the Google+ thing, this is what I was dreaming about night after night after night so I’m so happy to be out of that wormhole and for those who are tired of me talking about it just give me another minute.
DW: Well, once again we say, good to have you back. Now let’s move up to Copenhagen, shall we? And we got Henrich. There he is. How you doing?
[Caller]: You write fantastic music, and my question is how do you keep on finding your inspiration for it?
JM: Mm. My inspiration has kind of always come from enjoying the sound of someone else’s music. I’m still discovering music that’s existed before I was born. And there’s so much music out there in the world that you sort of stumble on something and—musicians who listen, you know, musicians who love music, you know, are constantly in the search, we’re always tripping on something. I’ve had the teenage discovery moment about 10 times in my life, even since becoming a musician. So I find something new that I hear that really moves me and I say to myself, I would love to know what that’s like to create. So I sort of study it. I’m very inspired by having a song like a song I love.
And if you study it correctly, you actually don’t sound like it. If you study it incorrectly you sound just like it. If you study it correctly, you actually break it down to its smallest particle, then you can rebuild it and nobody, not even yourself, will notice that it actually came from—I mean, I could play you a song and I’d say, I heard this one song, and I wanted to make a song just like it, and you’d go, “it sounds nothing like it.” Because you studied the song enough to break down what it is about it that moves you. It’s not really the chords or the lyrics, it’s some other little intent. Lately I was inspired and I still am inspired by writing music for the stage. Writing music that can go fifteen minutes if you want it to, or it can go 5 minutes, and that’s a different kind of writing. It’s a different style of writing, a much more open style of writing. I’m inspired by what the next record could sound like. The sort of openness of the possibility of it.
DW: You hearin’ something in your head already?
JM: Oh, yeah. What did we call it the other night, like “eerie country”. Some “acid country” or something. Love to make “acid country”. Yeah. Because the way that I interpret country, or western, really not country music so much as country western, you know, if you’re really open, you can pick something up and do your own thing and you’re not copycatting anything. So if I stay true to myself, my version of country western is very weird, kind of off-brand country-western with a Sting bridge. That’s what you get with me.
DW: Well, maybe we can hear such a song now. What do you got next?
Background on "Who Says"
JM: Yeah, well, this is actually interesting enough as a segue. This is something that sort of, like, was premature in terms of where I was going musically, because it’s on the Battle Studies record, and when I first wrote it, it blew me away. I was like, whoa, I can have that one, or I can go that direction too. And there’s nothing else on the Battle Studies record like this. And then kind of everything on Born and Raised is like this. So this is the one that kind of I take off Battle Studies and it’s like the JV soccer player playing on the varsity team. Hanging out with the seniors. And this song is responsible for a bunch of cool people, but people that I don’t know, coming up to me asking me if I want to partake in smoking marijuana. Which, I don’t. I hardly ever, ever do. And that’s actually what the song is kind of defending, you know.So, yeah. Anyway. Here.
[Plays "Who Says". Intro sounds like "On the Way Home"]
DW: Beautiful, man. Beautiful. But what guitar are you playing?
Martin Stagecoach Guitar
JM: It’s a guitar that—I’ve had a great relationship with Martin for like the last, more than 10 years now. We’ve done a couple signature models together, and Dick Boak at Martin and I designed this—I call it the stagecoach. The idea —it’s a little double-O sized guitar, which means it’s like a parlor guitar, it’s a smaller scale, and it’s kind of a western guitar, but it’s what they call a 45 model which means it has a bunch of mother of pearl so it’s extremely ornate. I love the idea of like a steel magnate traveling by stagecoach and having a little tiny Martin guitar but just, like, stuffed with mother of pearl.
So it’s incredibly ornate aesthetically, but it’s incredibly Spartan and simple build-wise. And so it’s kind of like, it’s something simple that’s incredibly ornate, and it’s not for soloing on, you know. It’s not even for strumming with a pick. But you can really get—great guitars you can play a couple strings on and get very minuscule on, you know. [demonstrates] Most guitars you play that and you go oh, that sounds thin, but you know everything is [demonstrates]. So it’s really for playing down here [indicates bottom of the neck], you know. Something about playing those very simple things that I find I just love.
DW: Sounds great on there, man. Great definition.
JM: I mean, it’s one of the coolest—the dream growing up was that, yeah, you’d make records, but where I grew up or how I grew up, the dream was to have your own guitar. That was the dream was to have your own guitar and so every once in a while I look down and I go, I can’t believe that I’ve got my own signature inside the guitar.
JM: Thank you! Has anyone ever made you a bass?
DW: I’m working on one now.
JM: There’s nothing else like it. That is the high school, detention, drawn-on-your-notebook dream, that one day you’re gonna have your own model guitar. And so that’s hard to not appreciate.
DW: Beautiful, man. All right, so let’s go south of Texas, to Mexico City, Mexico. We have Alonso.
[Caller]: That’s right. Hi John. Yeah, I got a question. I mean it’s a little off the topic of music. So I see that John, you’re a very big, avid watch collector, so I was thinking, if you had to trade your watch collection for something, what would that be? And you can’t say money. It has to be something.
JM: Yeah! No. I wouldn’t even trade it for money. I’d have to trade it for something else that gave me a ton of pleasure not just in the item itself but through the social aspect, the sort of world aspect. Cause collecting watches for me is about—I have friends that I would never have made any other way. I travel to things I would never have traveled to. So it transcends sort of material items. I’d have to trade it for something else that made me that happy and I’d have to start from scratch. I’d actually have to go research the thing that somebody offered me. Cause there’s other stuff to get into. You could get into anything. There’s a market for anything. I could collect, like, motorcycles, maybe? [Laughter] Like, maybe motorcycles? I see old motorcycles that I think are cool. But then I’d be hanging out with motorcycle guys. But maybe they’re cool. Motorcycle guys and watch guys, I just don’t think they hang out together.
But the thing is when you collect something of value, or you collect something and you’ve been in it so many years that the value of it grows, you think about one day you’re gonna sell it and you’re gonna make money, but then you just have money. And then what are you gonna do with that money? You’re gonna buy a cheeseburger, and then you’re gonna break a 20 with that, you’re gonna have like 14 bucks left. You have to do something as smart with—people talk about this all the time. I bought my house for X and I sold it for XX. It’s like— now you’ve gotta buy something at least as smart as a house with it! You know what I mean? It just keeps ascending into you having to do — it’s scary to me. You know? Like if you sell the watch collection it’s like, oh he got out, and he’s made all this money! Like, I’m gonna do something stupid with it! And he took a helicopter ride, and he ziplined, and he [...]. And they’ll be like, that’s where that went? That’s where that money went?
DW: Please come encourage him to sell those watches.
JM: They’re not to sell. They bring me great joy and I think it’s cool to have something that is just completely the opposite of playing music in terms of the cerebral aspect and the social aspect of it. You know, I’ll walk around conventions, I go to conventions. I like Jay Leno for that reason. He’s a car guy, and certain people are into other things so that they can kind of take a mind break, you know. The people I talk to about watches I don’t think they even really know my music, you know. So. It’s fun. So I guess I would trade it for Jelly Bellys. Just a bunch of Jelly Bellys.
[Caller]: Hey, why not? Sounds good. Thanks for answering.
DW: All right Alonso. Thanks, man. All right I think we should grab another question here. Actually from Billboard magazine we’ve got Ty Comer in New York City. Hey Ty, how are you man?
[Caller]: Hey, I’m doing great, how you doing?
JM: Good, how are you?
[Caller]: I’m doing fantastic. You sound great tonight man it’s so good to have you back. You’re quite welcome. You know we here at Billboard are such big fans of yours and we’re glad that you’re back in tip top shape and are gonna go back on the road and you know give the music back to your fans who’ve been waiting such a long time to hear you play again.
JM: I’m back in tiptoe shape. I’m almost tiptop but i’m halfway there.
[Caller]: You’ll get there. Well listen your story was so interesting and so inspiring to us and we knew there were a whole lot of fans out there who deserved to hear that as well and wanted to give you a platform to talk about what you went through and how you came back so that’s why I'm so pleased to announce that you'll be gracing the next cover of Billboard magazine which hits newsstands tomorrow.
JM: Very cool! Do you have it there in the office?
[Caller]: I think we actually have a shot of the cover that we can show right now.
JM: Oh great! I have not seen this
[Caller]: And there it is.
JM: I don’t see it. Oh! I see it only on the small ones. [Laughter] I know what kind of shot it is. Am I looking brooding there? Looking brooding and pensive. Oh, cool. All right! Nice. All right, cool.
[Caller]: So as a special treat for everybody on the hangout just wanted to give them a chance to see the cover of billboard and it really is a fascinating story you know i think a lot of people knew that you were going through a lot but it wasn't til i read the piece that i realized the depths of what you were going to and it was just really inspiring to hear how you were overcoming them. I encourage everyone after the hangout to go to billboard.com to read the story, buy the issue, and also to see where you’re gonna be playing near them on your upcoming tour.
And you know there’s a lot of people that i know are excited to hear you play again and that’s because we put an ask out for questions and we got thousands of questions on Twitter and Facebook and Google Plus. People wanting to know when you were playing near them, and several other things. And I’ve decided to actually give my question over to a billboard fan. And that question’s gonna come from Nicholas Ohara Boyd who wants to know something that I’m actually very interested in as well. What are 3 records that you would consider essential listening? Three albums that we’re all gonna go out and buy after this hangout is over?
JM: That’s actually a better way to put it. Three records you all have to go out and buy. Can you help me with this? [Laughter]
I will assist. I will take out greatest hits as an answer. Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life? I mean, Pet Sounds is truly great. D’Angelo's Voodoo I just love it. It’s one of my favorite records. I’m trying to think now. The way I have to put this in my mind is like were hanging out, like, what would I put on to be like you gotta hear—Oh! Crosby, Stills & Nash. I would say not even Deja Vu. I’d say Crosby, Stills & Nash [the album].
DW: The very first one.
JM: There’s a real love of life in that one. There’s a real, that’s like pre-Ohio. You know? It’s a pre-Ohio world on that record. So I would definitely say Crosby, Stills & Nash. Songs in the Key of Life. And the next one would have to have like, you know what I’d really put on there is like essential listening, cause a lot of people they hear the jazz they like, but they don’t know what the jazz is when it’s time to find it? I would say anything like a good Bill Evans record for piano jazz, a good John Coltrane record like Giant Steps, Giant Steps or Blue Train, a good Wes Montgomery record like Smokin’ At the Half Note, which is a live record. Boss Guitar is a great record.
So, yeah, like “jazz” is my third answer. [Laughter] But buy the right jazz. Cause all these guys jumped around labels you know. They were on labels and the labels put out greatest hits. So some of these guys have four or five greatest hits records and it’s the Prestige greatest hits, the Riverside greatest hits, the Verve greatest hits.
DW: [Whispers] Blue Note.
JM: The Blue Note greatest hits! Well my point was that once you get signed to Blue Note [Records] you stay on Blue Note, so. [Laughter] Don helms Blue Note Records. Anything in the Blue Note catalogue, yeah. So sorry for the scattershot answer. You can find the transcript for this answer on billboard.com after we hang.
[Caller]: Yeah I think you gave us about seven or eight records but we have a lot of listening to do so thank you so much John and again welcome back.
DW: So John would you say that the cover of the Billboard is the cover of the Billboard?
JM: Oh Yeah! Yes. Yes. [Laughter] It’s always been. It’s a trade magazine. It’s a trade magazine, is it not? Yeah. I like trade magazines.
DW: It’s a great honor man.
JM: No, it’s very cool. Thank you.
DW: All right let’s do another song fellas.
Writing "Dear Marie"
JM: Yeah. I’ll set this one up by saying that we—I wrote this last summer up in Montana. We were hanging out for a couple weeks in between my being able to sing and my going in for my second procedure and I thought you know, I’m not gonna be able to hear my own voice for a minute, or do anything with it. Let’s just hang out. And we really had a great time up at my place, and it was hot, and it was awesome and we were in this little shed that we play music in, and wrote this song. And you know, right now I’m in the studio writing songs for the tour. One thing that I really wanted to do before any of this vocal stuff happened was commit to making tons of music in my 30s. Just tons of music. And now that I had that stoppage, that delay of game, I really wanna get back to catching up to—if you’re going to a show you might hear two new songs. Or you might’ve heard two new songs last week and you’re like listening to them and you can’t wait to maybe hear it at the show. So I'm gonna play a new song we wrote last summer and this is the first time anyones ever heard it and this is how I want to start the entire next phase of my career. Is not being precious. Is just making music. It’s not a big closer, it’s not like the one everybody knows, but I wanna make the commitment now to myself as well as to the listeners out there that there’s gonna be a lot of music going around. When I say no two shows are gonna be the same I really mean it this time. So this is a song that, it’s called "Dear Marie." And I don’t even know how I’m going to start it, even yet. Like as of right now I’m not quite sure.
[Plays "Dear Marie"]
DW: Awesome man. That’s the first time I heard this song. If that’s a harbinger of things to come then I'm thoroughly jazzed man. That’s a great song. Alright so, yeah, it whets my appetite for going to see the tour, that’s for sure.