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Interview with Andy Cohen, 2019

Appearance on Radio Andy show

Andy Cohen: I mean, it's hard to bust into this song and talk, because I just want to hear it. Two lines in that little verse: "I'm the boy in your other phone," and "pushin' forty in the friend zone." I mean, those are two great lines.

John Mayer: Thank you. You know, people were really nervous about that line. Ricky [Van Veen] was nervous about that line. Oh, yeah. Very close friends were like, you can't say you're pushing forty in a pop song. Because people won't listen. People who listen aren't forty. And I'm glad I stuck it out. Cause it's more interesting than it isolates anyone from being forty. It's just, like, an interesting, weird line.

And I do think that sometimes I'm in someone else's [other phone]. Like, we never imagine that we might be in someone's second phone. But we are always like, I'm gonna put them here. The other day I thought to myself, I think there's people I know on Instagram who are muting me. There's someone right now who you really like who is probably muting your, at least your posts, if not stories. And once you have that sort of global take on the world, [you realize], yeah, the same things that I'm doing to other people, people are doing to me.


AC: I want to talk about "I Guess I Just Feel Like," which is the last song you put out. It is so beautiful, that last time I heard it I cried. I hear this song and it seems like a protest song or something very political. Or a great statement about the world today.

JM: Yes. But it's from the internal take.

AC: What does it mean?

JM: I think we're all very fatigued. It would make sense that we would observe the world and try to make sense of it, right? And up 'til a certain point we did. We'd kind of observe, and make sense. Observe, make sense. Observe, reconcile, make sense. And there's, like, this logjam. This total backup of looking at the world, trying to make sense of it, and not being able to make sense of it. And that disconnect, I think, is stacking up, you know. And I feel like there's this cosmic sadness, or this cosmic writer's block everyone has. No one really quite knows what's goin' on. And for me, I was like, okay, I'm not writing songs. I'm not very happy. I don't get depressed, and here I am with this sort of utilitarian depression, like why am I not happy? And then this song is kind of me writing about why I can't write a song, or why I can't totally get happy. So I've started to write songs in a way now where I'm not even the singer of the song. I'm sort of, like, stepping away from the microphone and writing, and singing into a more personal microphone. So it's not really a protest song on a political level, but it's a protest song on an internal level. Like, I'm friggin' done feeling this way.

AC: And the other thing is, it could be about anything to anyone.

JM: Protest songs are traditionally—they suck. Nobody has their best melody and goes, I'm gonna put this to the protest song. Protest songs are always kind of like, they're very transactional. And this is a very beautiful—it's a very strange balance. It's a delicate balance between being sad but still kind of up. You know?

Don't you wake up in the morning and read a news story, and go "fuck!" There's this corner in my room that's, like, my staring corner, from the bed. I look at that corner. And my question is always, like, [whispers aghast] "how do we fix that?" And this song is sort of about the residue of that buildup. "How do we fix that? How do we fix that?"

AC: Okay, so it is a little bit about...

JM: Yeah. The world is a great big necklace with knots in it. And every morning I feel like the world is handing me a necklace, going, [nasal whine] "can ya get these out?" And I go, yes, I'm gonna get those out. So every day I'm trying to get the knots in the little chain necklace out. And I'm like, "ah! You do it, ah! I can't do it!"


Caller: My question is, there are songs of yours, for example Walt Grace, that as soon as it starts, it just takes my breath away. It's like a punch in the stomach, it's so good. And it just gets right to my heart. And I want to thank you for that song, and I want to also say: Is there a song like that for you? Not your song, but someone else's, that no matter when you hear it, the room stops for a second.

JM: Oh, that's a great question. And I want to answer it correctly. I would like to start, like, modern. I mean, when I hear "Harmony Hall" by Vampire Weekend, I get kicked in the chest. I'm like, this is better than anything I can do right now. Which is great. I just love getting my ass kicked. I'm like, man that's really good. That's really kind of a perfect recording. That's a perfect recording.

And then, you know, you got these songs over time, like "A Song For You" by Donny Hathaway. That'll do it. You know what'll kill me? If I hear "I Shall Be Released" by The Band. These are the ones I listen to where I'm like [whispers] "I will never be this good." "I Shall Be Released" messes me up. There's some Dylan songs.

I'll tell you what it is. Springsteen does it to me now. I hear Springsteen and I go [whispers] "son of a *bitch*, I'll never do that..." A couple songs off Nebraska, when that song starts, the way he holds it together, it's unbelievable. Oh, "Atlantic City." He just knocks me out. I move around through music, and you know, I feel like to be born now is like the greatest time to be born, because you have all this extra music that came before you. So you're still finding out about music. And I was never, like, a full-on Springsteen fan, and now I'm just getting full-on assaulted.

AC: I know that the Broadway show really moved you.

JM: Just messed me up.


Caller: For Dead and Company, do you have any say in writing the setlist?

JM: Yes. Yes I do.

AC: It emanates from team Team Bob and then circulates through the band, and then you might say this, that, the other?

JM: Yes. I get a text from Bob's guy, who sends a setlist to me and Bob every morning. And actually it's a really healthy, robust debate. And I'll tell you what makes it work. I represent the new crew. Bob represents, like, let's do deep cuts. And I think it really helps the show to have the setlist pass through both of our hands. So I am the guy who, I can't go too long without putting a pop song in. So I look at the set sometimes, and I'll be like, that whole Set Two is so heady, that people might, like... So it's like, can we please throw Tennessee Jed in there, just to hold it down?

So by the time Bob and I get it, it's that perfect balance of, like, super super purist, and me, like, fighting a little bit to make sure that it stays relevant. You know what I mean? Like, modern-day relevant in the pop world. Not to say it's not relevant.


Caller: Will you allow me to try to convince you to reintroduce "Assassin?"

JM: Interesting question. There's a song called "Assassin" that is probably the most reflective of the period in my life where I'd lost myself. There are two ways you can say it. A, "I drifted from myself," B, "I was a douchebag." Depends on how you want to look at it. And that song is a little bit flatironed. You know? Remember when I had, like, flatironed my hair? The more flatironed my hair was, the more upset I was as a human being. And so the song is a little bit too shallow for me.

It's about [mocking aggressive voice] "I came over to have sex with you, and run, but like, you actually were having sex with *me* and running!" And I'm like, I don't relate to that. But I might play it again someday. Once I'm sure that I'm far enough away from it. Which I think I am at this point.