JM: Hi. John Mayer in the studio.
BB: Hey dude, how are you there? Thanks for coming. I appreciate it.
JM: No, thank you for supporting this record and the song and giving me an opportunity to come in.
BB: I guess we can start at this: we were talking yesterday; the last concert that I paid money to go to was your show. I saw you in Minneapolis and we went up and watched that show. And I can't go tonight and now you're like three blocks down the road.
JM: You can't afford it?
BB: I can't.
JM: I gave you tickets.
BB: I'm at the Opry tonight. And so yeah, I can’t come.
Releasing The Search For Everything in Waves
JM: Oh cool. Listen it's always a cool reason not to come to my show because someone has a show of their own.
BB: I hope everybody goes. The whole thing is cool cause you did the show in chapters.
JM: Yeah, kind of breaking it up a bit.
BB: Same thing with your music. Talk about that for a second. Cause I enjoyed how you put out the songs in waves, meaning I got to enjoy four songs at a time.
JM: Yeah, well as a music listener myself, I was starting to feel the experience of listening to new music change. Where, like, I wasn't listening to records anymore. I was listening to what was thrown at the top of like—if you got Spotify placement or if you got, like, the Apple Music placement, I would listen to those things, I would listen to memes. But I wasn’t really listening to records.
And the records that came out by artists that I love—which sort of like, you’d hear about it for a second, and then it would kind of disappear, and I’d go “that’s a shame.” And then I’d hear the record and be like “this record’s great!” There’s all this great music that’s sort of slipping through the cracks, you know?
And so, I knew how hard that—not just I’d worked—but how hard people around me had worked on this record. It’s not necessarily anymore this endeavor where I’m trying to get my name out there. But when you see people who are staying in the studio longer than I am—and I’m in the studio for hours a day. And the fact that there are people in the studio an hour and a half before me and an hour and a half after me. You want to do it in service to those guys, you know?
And in terms of getting the record out and making sure people see it, and making sure people understand what it is you made, the idea became: what if, the way that television is going to Netflix and everyone is sort of putting the whole season up all at once—what if records just switched places with it? And it was like, take four songs, get used to it, get your head around it. Here’s another four, get used to it. Cause I knew each song was really important. And twelve is a funny number to consume now. You know, like, “hey, I want you to watch twelve of these.” You know what I mean? Someone is like, “You’re going to love that series, but you have to make it through the first six.”
So I wanted to make it a little more easily consumable. And I think it worked in the sense that people felt really familiar with the record by the time we got on the road.
BB: Yeah it did for me because I was able to consume the songs and spend time with four of them instead of it going “boom” here’s an entire dinner. I got to eat a little bit of the corn, little bit of the chicken. And so I enjoyed the songs because of that—and I’m not even an album guy anymore. Like when someone puts out a whole album, I don’t have time. I start deleting songs, I’m like—and then I don’t listen to it three times.
JM: That’s the thing. But there’s a lot of great stuff. You’d think that the more stuff there is the worse it becomes, but it’s actually the other way. Everything’s really cool right now. There’s a lot of great music, there’s lot of great movies, there’s a lot of great—podcasts, by the way. Everyone has a podcast I’m supposed to listen to. And it’s all great. But it’s very difficult to find these slots in your life to get that into your world. And so, for me, it helped also—cause this record was so big to get out the door that I had to break it down into four parts just to get it out.
BB: What do you mean “so big to get out the door?"
JM: It took forever to mix, you know—the record was in suspended animation for a while. That was the only challenge in this record is that the songs had been open for two years. I was listening to files that were two years old by the time this record came out. So putting it out in waves allowed me to finish it in waves too. Like I wasn’t all done with it and was like “let’s just put four out at a time," I was like “I got four for you now.”
BB: [Laughs] So let’s hear this one here. [Love on the Weekend starts playing] Why start with this one?
JM: It was the first one that was done.
BB: Really? [Laughs]
JM: No it was the first—so I had played a little bit of cat and mouse with people for a bunch of different reasons. And some of it I didn’t mean to be as evasive musically as I became. And I felt like this was the song that was like, hey, I’m not gone. Talked up to the post, did you like that?
BB: Seems like a good radio guy, yeah. You ever try to do that? You ever hop in and try to do the radio thing where you talk up the song ramps.
JM: Oh yeah, I do that in the car.
BB: Oh you do it? If a song comes on you just nail it?
JM: Did you see how hard I hit that?
Amy: Yeah but it’s your music!
BB: Can you do your own?
JM: Give me any one of them I’ll do it. I’ll talk right up to the post.
BB: Alright, here let’s go back to your first ever.
[plays No Such Thing]
JM: It’s some kind of temperature or time out there in Nashville today, sitting in the studio with John Mayer. Been a while since he’s been here with us. We’re going to talk to him right after this. But this is a song from his very first record, it’s No Such Thing, by John Mayer, check it out.
BB: Noo! Boo! Boooo!
Amy: You still had time!
BB: You had like three seconds left!
Amy: You could have plugged your website.
BB: That was good though.
JM: I came pretty close. What if I had improvised the temperature?
John Mayer Trio
BB: When you record this record, do you have Steve [Jordan] and Pino [Palladino] do the record with you, or do you just bring them out to play?
JM: Uh, I would write as much as I could and have them come and then flesh out the tunes. And then when we’re done with that, I’d be like, “Hey stay around for an hour or two,” and we’d do this thing called “free play," which is where you just set up—and I’d take advantage of being able to jam with those guys any time they’re around, so. We’d set up the mics—I go, “Set up the mics, let’s try something," and for an hour or two I try to find something in the universe with those guys in the same room. But most of the time it’s me writing something and getting it good enough to where they can come and play on it, and then they are pretty much the finishing touches on it.
BB: It seemed to me, having gone to a show. And I think I’ve been to—I mean I’ll show you my nerdiness—I think I’ve been to 15 Mayer shows.
Amy: Not think, he has.
BB: Yeah, I’ve been to around that many shows. So I’m a pretty big fan.
JM: Thank you.
BB: You’re welcome.
Free though. I didn’t pay for many of the tickets. Like Lee—since what Lee, 2003 or 4 you’ve been hooking me up?
JM: Why did you pay for the one in Minneapolis?
BB: Because—well I didn’t pay for the tickets. I flew up there and paid for the trip. And then Lee was like “I got your tickets, don’t worry”, “I got better seats.”
JM: Oh the truth comes out. You weren’t standing in line.
BB: You looked the happiest when you were playing in the [John Mayer] Trio during this show. Any truth to that?
JM: Um, probably, yeah. There’s a freedom to that that nobody is really quite sure what we’re going to do. Three super capable guys that didn’t talk about what they were going to do before they got on stage to do it. So anybody can start it. Sometimes I’ll just stand there and all of a sudden you’ll hear [sings Steve Jordan drum beat], and I go, “Okay Steve is starting it.” It’s just like total freedom. Also, it’s like you can kind of embrace the fact that that’s what that band is. You don’t have to worry about whether it’s going to be, whether you’re playing a song that people know from the radio, or whether people are tired of hearing this, or they want to hear that. They’re kind of resigned to, you’re playing three songs with this power trio that they’re not going to totally know unless they’re super fans.
So I have fun in that freedom for three songs. It’s like look “you’re going to get this super powerful blues trio thing.” I always think about Marty McFly saying “you might not understand that, but you kids are going to love it.” I feel like I’m at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.
BB: [Laughs] Your Back to the Future moment.
JM: There are times I look out into the crowd and I see people who are not totally initiated into the blues rock thing and I feel like I’m Marty McFly at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance in 1955. And they don’t get it.
BB: And they probably don’t know who Marty McFly is either. Don’t get the reference.
JM: What a shame that would be. I hope it becomes a Citizen Kane reference in the next 10-15 years. A good Back To the Future reference, if it’s not understood, I’m not sure we have a connection.
Relationship with Clay Cook, Early Career
BB: John Mayer is here now. So I’m buds with the guys Zach Brown Band, and Clay Cook. And so - and I know the story—but, you and Clay were at Berklee together, and Clay was like, “Hey let’s move down to Atlanta together”, and you and Clay kind of had a duo together for a while, right?
JM: Sure, that’s how we started. That’s how I started right out of college was playing in an acoustic duo.
BB: So you moved down to Atlanta. Why Atlanta, of all places?
JM: He had, Clay had family in Atlanta. And said, he said there was great music scene down there. Which he was absolutely right. He did have family.
And he wasn’t lying about either—family and a music scene. So we moved down there and just doing open mic nights and writing and—you know, that’s how I got my start in music was following him down to Atlanta.
We lived in Snellville, Georgia. Are you on the radio in Snellville, Georgia? “Where everybody is somebody.” That’s the catchphrase for the town.
BB: Is it “snail," like “snail” the bug?
JM: It’s “snell," but it’s pronounced “snaillville." “S-N-E-L-L.”
BB: So you guys move to Atlanta and you write a lot of things together.
JM: We had written five or six songs together at this point.
BB: So you decide to go your different ways. Was that a big decision for you two?
JM: Yes. Wow, no one’s ever cared about this.
Yeah. Falling out. We had a falling out.
JM: Part of it. That was part of it. The part of it that I can attest to is that I have pretty big feet. Pretty strong head. I don’t think anyone could have been in a duo with me at that time. That’s the part that I can take responsibility for. That, I probably wasn’t very collaborative. Yeah, I don’t think that I was a strong group worker.
BB: What were roles in that duo? Cause everyone’s got their role inside of a team.
JM: He was, and still is, hyper-musical. Incredible musical mind. Um, and we were also by the way we are really good friends now.
BB: I’ve seen you play with him before, so I’m assuming now you guys are cool.
JM: Pure closeness. These are two kids who were the stars of their town—the musical stars of their town—coming together, obviously seeing something in one another that they identify with. Making music together, but never having really given over to someone else, and probably shouldn’t have. Two really strong solo kind of mind sets. Coming together to collaborate. And where I think if you’re still going like “well that still doesn’t add up," put me inside his life as a guest, and it gets a little strange.
It’s like two people sharing a birthday, you know. I entered his entire social life. I think there was an identity thing of like, wait what’s mine and what’s yours. And again, taking responsibility for it, I have very big shoes. I’m not necessarily subtle. Especially at that age. You didn’t want to mess around with young John, you don’t want to mess around with 19-year old John Mayer who just figured out that the world is bendable and he’s out to just destroy it.
BB: So you decide to move to California. Like to make it?
JM: Well, interestingly enough, most of my team came out of that time in Atlanta. Then I moved to New York, and then it kind of became this sort of jumping around thing for me. Like I’m still jumping around.
John Mayer’s Dog, Living in Montana, "Rosie"
BB: Yeah cause you have a house—and where’s your dog, by the way? Cause I’ll watch on social media—does your dog stay in Montana?
JM: My dog does not stay in Montana. This is what happened. I got a dog; Wanted to have a dog on the road. Road dog. A dear friend of mine happens to be an incredible dog trainer. She took my dog. Trained my dog. Turned him into a perfect beast. And then I was like, okay taking my dog on the road. Dog hates music. Hates music. He thinks it’s like thunder. So he’s trembling in the dressing room. First night—I think Red Rocks was the first place we were like “okay well I got a dog let’s do this.” Cowering in the corner. Also like when he’s home with me if I pick up a guitar, plug it in and start playing it he does the funniest thing. He like doesn’t want to offend me. He like slowly slinks his two front paws off the couch and just waddles out of the room.
So it wasn’t going to work, but it turned out that my dog trainer, she loved him so much, she said “well he’s a part of our family too, so I’ll be the mommy.” And I thought “that’s awesome.” My dog lives a better life than I do. He lives in Brentwood, California. And I’ll pick him up—it’s like doggie day care but it’s months long.
BB: Sounds more like custody.
JM: It’s joint custody, yes. But I’ve heard of people doing that. I know singers who do that. They try to get a dog—and it’s a very noble idea to get a dog. “Hey I’ve grown up, and I want to get something to take care of and take responsibility for," and then you realize it would be you taking the elevator down to street level in Denver, Colorado at 7 in the morning to make it go potty. So it’s a wonderful thought.
BB: I always wondered that, I was like, “Where’s the dog?”
JM: Yeah the dog, I pick up the dog on the way out to Montana. And we get to know each other again on the plane. And then we’re there. And he’s got 15 acres of pure dog park.
Amy: And you don’t have to take him out. It’s great.
JM: Well he’s a black lab so he doesn’t want to run too far.
BB: There are bears though.
JM: Yeah there are.
BB: I’ve seen the Snapchats.
JM: There was a bear in my yard a couple Summers ago. I’m scared of bears, man. I’ll walk outside across the driveway in the dark and, totally scared of bears. Bears are scary. I mean, they sell bear pepper spray at the supermarket. And if you go hiking you’re supposed to bring bear pepper spray.
I have a feeling, in your demographic there’s plenty of people who have with them, as they listen, bear pepper spray.
Amy: Do you know what you’re supposed to do if you encounter a bear? Play dead or run? Or scream?
JM: I think it’s different for each bear.
BB: I think it’s different for each person too.
Amy: Well you need to be prepared.
JM: You’re supposed to be prepared. You’re supposed to have bear pepper spray. If you see bear poop you’re supposed to get out of there.
But I’ve heard things, like a bear will maul you but not kill you. And then like you think it’s left but it’s hiding under some leaves just watching you die or just watching you be injured. These bears are serious, they’re not messing around.
This is true. The bear will maim you, and then sort of hide and watch you.
BB: You just said you’ve heard and now you’re saying it’s true. You’ve converted in two sentences. This is fact?
JM: Yeah because I have people I trust in me around my life.
BB: And they’ve told you that a bear will attack you and then watch you?
JM: Yeah, a bear will attack you—I think a grizzly will attack you, bring you to the edge of death, and then watch you. And if you get up then you’d be dead.
BB: So it’s like Game of Thrones in Montana?
JM: Yes. It’s the Revenant in Montana.
JM: I feel really good about this information.
BB: Back in the studio. John Mayer’s here with us today.
I like this one. "Rosie."
JM: Yeah. It’s my Hall & Oates jam. Philly soul thing. Gonna talk up to the post again.
BB: Who do you run your songs by? You write one, you go, “hey what do you think of this?” Boom. Who’s that person?
JM: Me. And there’s even people I run my songs by and they go, “that’s great," and I go, “no it’s not.”
So again, big feet. Big strong head. Most of it's in-house. I don’t necessarily collaborate very well. But I kind of know what I know. I don’t finish songs that I don’t think will make records. I don’t usually have any extra songs left over that don’t have parts falling off of them when I’m done with an album. So I know what makes a me song now and what doesn’t.
And there are even good song ideas that I have—like really cool things—I listen back to it and I go, “I don’t buy it.” Like, I know myself well enough now. I can do more stuff than I should do. I can do more stuff with a guitar or with a band or with drum programming than I should have as music that is called my music. It’s really weird. It has to pass a lot of tests. It’s like a four-quadrant test. Is it good? Do I like it? Which is different than, “is it good?"
So you can have a song that’s good that you don’t like, you can have a song that’s not good that you like. Is it me? That’s the third. It can be good and you like it but if it’s not you then it’s like, “I don’t know if I want this to be my thing.” And the fourth question is, “do I want to play this every night when I go on tour?” And if it passes all four of those questions, then I know it’s a really good song.
I don’t know what a hit is anymore, but I know what is one of those songs where you’re like, “oh this is bulletproof, let’s go around the world with this.” And "Rosie" it’s like, anywhere you go—[sings drum intro]. People—they don’t necessarily cheer for the recognition of the tune, but they cheer because it feels so good. So I’m pretty good about being my own A&R guy.
BB: Do you play all your instruments on your demos?
JM: Yes. Yes I do. And sometimes that’s tricky because the ignorance of my playing a certain instrument that I don’t really play predominantly adds to the certain, uh, je ne sais quoi of it. And then you bring a really good musician in, and then you gotta be like, “will you play it a little dumber?” [Laughs]
And then you gotta be like, “can you do it with just your left hand?” “Can I hit you in the head once with a vase and then can you do it?” I go with the "väse," I don’t say "vāse." I’m fancy. So I have people try and replicate that kind of half-awake way of playing.
Daily Routine While Touring
BB: What is your day like? Cause you wake up at what time? Touring.
JM: Depending on the time zone, anywhere between 10 [AM] to noon.
BB: And you do what when you wake up?
JM: I dive into the excitement of the day via Instagram, Twitter, text, email. And I do—I go around and around for like an hour. You know like—I was thinking of this literally yesterday—if you want to offend most of the world with how good you have life you wouldn’t talk about how much money you have, you would talk about how you haven’t been underslept in like months.
You could say like, Yeah I have a G4 jet. People would be like, Yeah good for you, you be like, I haven’t woken up tired in a month, people would be like, How dare you?!
So I don’t really wake up tired. I just wake up at whatever time my body says to wake up.
BB: So no alarm clock?
Amy: That’s amazing.
BB: You wake up whenever your eyes open?
JM: Yeah. It’s the only way to do this for a living. The only way to do it for a living is sleep has to come first. Sleep is like water if you’re in the survivalism of it. You have to have sleep. I quit drinking, so I don’t have to deal with hangovers. And I’m a dangerous man without a hangover.
BB: Why’d you quit drinking?
JM: Two things. Voice. And I knew that if I didn’t want to cancel shows—for either health or mental health—that I was going to have to be excited every time I woke up, to be honest with you. And I’d have to be fully pourable as a human being. And we’ve all been hungover on an airplane. Those are long flights. Those are long sweaty, trembly flights. So, I wake up in the morning and I’m ready to go. I’m psyched.
BB: Do you still practice? At all? Like, do you practice?
JM: Very good question. [Laughs] I think that I’m about to practice, and then I plug in and I’m like “no, I’m still good.”
And then I put it down. Cause I’ve already started—like when I was younger I practiced, but now I play with the best musicians in the world. In the world. That I can brag about. And then to go home alone to play without that sound, it’s more like “yeah just checking, still good”, put it down, and then go do something else, what am I gonna practice?
Amy: So then what’s your hobby? If—I mean that’s your job, but what do you do with all this, like—you wake up when you want, you don’t have to practice.
JM: I burn large swathes of time. Just to kill it. Just to—I’m a murderer of time. You’ve been on the road before. You’re just trying to get to the show. The show we love, the show matters. And you’re trying to basically encase yourself in the protective seal in between shows and do whatever it takes so you’re rested and you’re healthy. And for me I’m not necessarily into the Anthony Bourdain of life. Like “oh I have an off day? Oh, what kind of food do they have here?” No. I pump the room to like 75 degrees, stay in my pajamas all day, use every towel.
That’s what I say, “use every towel.”
Cleaning ladies come in—I call them the bad idea clean up crew. They just come on in “you used every towel?” Yes I did. “Did you use this one as a napkin?” Yes I did. Ever use a bath towel as a napkin, Bobby, in a hotel room?
BB: Yes I have. And a Kleenex. Both.
JM: I call it the everything towel.
BB: I call it the Luxury Kleenex.
JM: I get it.
That’s why we’re horrible people in hotel rooms.
Amy: Cause they leave those notes to be conscious of the earth and you use one towel.
JM: Right, towel on the rack means I’ll use it again, towel with barbeque sauce means I hate my life.
BB: We're having a debate in this room before you came in—and you may not want to answer this—which song are you just tired of playing?
JM: Um, I'm tired of playing "Waiting on the World to Change."
BB: Boom! What did I say?!
Amy: Pay up!
JM: What, that I would have one or that it would be that one?
BB: That it would be that one.
JM: Really? Yeah.
BB: Why do you think it is? I have a whole different reason. Why do you think it is. I have a reason I'm tired of hearing it. Why do you think?
JM: Oh that's funny, let's go, let’s boogie. Here we go, I’m leaning into this one.
BB: Why are you tired of playing it?
JM: It's—honest to god—it's just a tactile thing. It's just after a while like—by the way you're gonna be like “oh, well I hated the message”, I was like “I just didn't like the way it felt in my hand.” It's right outside of my range. Like when I had a vocal surgery then I had a procedure and like it cost me like two or three notes and I needed those notes for "Waiting on the World to Change." So I kind of had to sneak around it, so it's not exactly the most comfortable thing. So weirdly enough like all the songs that became very popular are very difficult to sing for me.
Meanwhile all I wanted to do is like have a hit with like [sings part of "Who Says"] and just wake up at 5:00 in the morning and be able to do it. And so it’s out of my range. It’s also musically pretty circular, you know? So there’s not a ton of room in it—you kind of get into it—you have to say your piece and then get out. It’s not necessarily meant for exploring the musical space of the song. Now you go, why don’t you like "Waiting On the World to Change" anymore?
BB: I felt like it’s not in your range anymore, like you lost a couple notes.
JM: Are you kidding or are you just saying exactly—
BB: I’m just lying.
Now I’ll tell you what—because on that record I felt like that’s the one song that’s different than all the rest. Sonically. Listened to the whole album, and I go, Man, that one can go on a couple other records.
JM: That could be true.
BB: I feel like that was a radio song. Did you write that to be on the radio?
JM: No. You know, talk about running by somebody, a dear friend of mine at the time I sent it to her and she said, “I don’t hear it," and I was like “I think it’s going to be huge!” “I don’t really hear it. I don’t think it’s going to be huge.”
I’m weird when it comes to hits, man. Like I don’t know what makes a song of mine a hit. Like, you do stand up. You know, like, your middle funny joke to you is your funniest joke to the crowd.
BB: I never know what joke is going to be the funniest.
JM: It’s the one you’re least excited about. Like it’s your throwaway they love.
BB: It’s the accidental or the throwaway.
JM: That’s right. Because you are interested in the upper ranges of your mind—like, How can I be more clever, How can I be more interesting? And then somewhere in your middle is where the crowd kind of grabs onto what you’re saying. The crowd probably applauds and you go, “oh, that? You like that? Cause that didn’t feel like anything coming out of my head.” It’s the same thing with music. It’s like all the stuff where I’m like “oh my god this is so complex and interesting, and people are going to love it”, they kind of don’t. It’s the stuff that for me I feel like is a little bit—it bores me just the slightest bit. Whatever I find boring in it, people find accessible in it.
BB: Here’s the joke I’m thinking about for the Opry tonight, tell me if it’s funny. I haven’t used it yet. We’ll have to bleep it out.
BB: You see the guy who got caught pleasuring himself in the movies to the emoji movie?
JM: Yes. This is good.
BB: Well it’s not that good.
Everyone is freaking out about the guy doing that to himself in the theatre. I’m just wondering which emoji he thought was super hot.
So that’s a setup, that’s not a punchline yet. So you break it down.
BB: Right. Is it the salsa lady?
JM: There you go.
BB: And in the end I go, I end up with the purple—the zucchini.
Amy: The eggplant. It’s the eggplant.
BB: Right, but I don’t think people are going to think that’s funny as I start rolling through emojis. Like I think that’s funny.
JM: It’s funny if you can break it out and—I hate that I’m on your radio show telling you how to be funny.
BB: It’s okay cause I was telling you which songs I think are good. So we’re in a good place.
JM: There we go.
Yeah I think there is a place to go there, sure. Like basically you’re talking about the emojis as represented as fetishes.
JM: See, I should join you on the stage at the Opry, we have a thing going. Two mics.
Controlled Danger (Dave Chappelle)
BB: By the way, you and Chappelle do that. You do it in San Francisco.
JM: We did that in San Francisco, Atlanta, we did Red Rocks in Colorado.
BB: What do you do though?
JM: So I go on stage and I play for like 25-30 minutes. He comes out—and he’s working on his new hour, he’s almost done with his new hour which is phenomenal. And then he calls me out and I’m sort of a DJ. It’s like two guys at a party who found a guitar, and I’m the DJ, like a joke DJ. So he loves music—Dave loves to joke about songs and he’s almost like this savant where he’s a musical MC as well, it’s really strange. He’s performing music but he’s not singing. It’s really hard to explain. He’s a genius—obviously—and so we throw ideas back and forth, and I can kind of play anything if I’ve heard it before. So he can throw a song to me and I just kind of know it. So it’s a little bit like, he throws a song idea to me, I do it, and he works it into this brilliant—like basically it’s like watching the Chappelle Show.
BB: So it’s like jazz with jokes?
JM: Yeah, that’s right. And we’re starting to develop things that we know work, so it’s like two people thinking with the same brain now. Like the way you build a file cabinet of jokes in your head, we’re building a file cabinet of jokes based on songs. Like there’s a Footloose joke that’s just super funny because I’m playing the Footloose lick [sings guitar riff], and with his mind he takes it into, you know, how out of place that would be in the, you know, quote-on-quote hood.
BB: Which song when you start do you get the biggest pop from? First note, second note.
JM: You know what’s really weird—in keeping with the conversation of like who knows what makes a hit of mine — "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room." Like I play "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," and if you haven’t heard any of my music you’d be like “oh, was this his massive hit?” No. Deep album track.
BB: And it wasn’t even a single.
JM: Wasn’t even a single. I mean, there are things about me that I don’t envy other people for having to work with. And one of those things is like, I don’t put records out where you’re like—like first of all, I’m not technically a pop artist. Like I don’t hand in a record where people are like “oh this is a smash”, it’s hard to be my record company. Like, not that I think that they’re like “brilliant this time out," but we do live in an ever-shifting landscape. But it’s really hard to be my record company.
I give twelve songs to you, four of them are like R&B bangers, four of them are like what someone else would call a sappy acoustic ballad. So I don’t know what makes a hit. But this is my new record The Project.
BB: Oh, that’s that Lindsey Ell record.
JM: Can we get a shoutout for my new record The Project. Part of it was because—you know they didn’t really recognize me on the cover, but this is who I—this is my new record. I went by Lindsey Ell. And uh, can we play a cut off that?
BB: Sure. Sure can. Here we go.
[Plays beginning of Gravity in background]
JM: There it is. This is a great recording.
BB: You’re asking me, like, seriously?
JM: Yeah, it’s a great recording.
BB: What’s the difference? Why do you say “recording?" I just hear a song.
JM: The way it was engineered. It’s gorgeous. It’s the best—"Gravity" is the best record. You know it’s the difference between “song of the year," “record of the year” at the Grammy’s? Like, this is a quite a "record." Listen to how spare it is, if I stop talking. Well now I’m just going to keep going cause I’m so close.
BB: Now you’re going to post it.
JM: This is "Gravity," from Continuum. Check it out.
BB: When I went to your show in Minneapolis you didn’t play it, I was sad.
And I know you get that at every show cause you can’t play everything.
JM: No well you saw me at the beginning of this tour when I just played whatever I want. And the crowd was adamant that I play "Gravity." And you know, it’s cool to be that artist where, you know, there are things that people identify with you so much that you have to play them. I dig it.
And I’ll play "Gravity" every night for the rest of my life. That’s a song I’ll never get tired of.
JM: Yeah, no, there’s something about it. It’s simple, but you can insert however you feel. And "Gravity" can be different every day. When you sing to it. It can be emotional gravity, it can be your time spent in space.
BB: Literal Gravity. The movie with George Clooney.
Amy, what’s your favorite song off the new record?
Amy: Oh, well you know I have the one about—
BB: She doesn’t know any words to it, just just knows parts of it.
Writing "Still Feel Like Your Man" [36:00]
Amy: No I know about how — I just think it’s really clever about how you keep the shampoo in the shower in case—and romantic.
["Still Feel Like Your Man" begins playing]
I just think that every girl sort of would want a guy to sing that for her.
JM: I’ve got sticky hands, man. It’s hard getting out for me.
Amy: It’s good.
BB: No dude wants to have to write this song, though.
Amy: Yeah but it’s about being vulnerable. Enjoy it.
JM: Listen to this. No one knew what to do with it, but listen. What are you gonna give this song to—and this is like the "In the Blood" conversation—like, if you’re a station, that’s like a triple A station that plays John Mayer music, and all of a sudden Columbia is like “here is the new John Mayer music”, and it doesn’t fit anyone’s radio station.
BB: But does it have to fit —cause I’m the guy, I don’t think everything has to fit radio. I think nothing has to fit radio.
JM: I’m with you, man. I mean, maybe that’s why we’re still filling the places up with people is because I’m not following this sort of format rule. Like I put mixtapes out, I feel like.
Listen to that, though.
BB: So you're here for a reason cause you have a song. And I remember I went to your show and I was talking —and, by the way, Lee Leipsner is—and do you want to explain who he is?
BB: Lee Leipsner died in 1941 and has come back as a ghost to set things straight. Is that correct?
LL: That’s correct.
JM: [Laughs] I don’t know. Sorry. Just pitching movie ideas now.
BB: Lee, for 13 years or so, Lee has been in one way or another with you.
JM: My champion of the stuff that I make. There are times he probably doesn't see where a song could work and promptly stuff that he thought deep, deep, deep down inside him and then returns back with the thought that this song can be huge and goes out and fights. I mean this is a guy—the funniest thing he ever said in his life was about "Still Feel Like Your Man"—cause I thought that it could change stuff. Like I always believed that a song can change a format, a song can change people’s thinking. And we're backstage with Madison Square Garden, Columbia is there. And this is right before "Still Feel Like Your Man" comes out. And I looked at him, we just finished a hug but now we got hands on each other's shoulders. And I said I really believe in "Still Feel Like Your Man" and he said, “and we know that you do.”
And I thought that was just absolutely the funniest thing that a record company—like the funniest—if there was a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style show about my life I would write that in and that would be in the trailer, it's hilarious. “And we know that you do.” That is a guy that can’t lie, man. It was amazing. But listen to the jam. Three days.
BB: Three days what?
Writing "Still Feel Like Your Man"
JM: For three days I lost my mind and I was only thinking about this song. Three days in a trance.
BB: What do you do in a trance?
JM: You're only about bringing the song to life. I was in my therapist’s office and I said “I still feel like her—I still feel like her man.” I went “oh, here we go.” I got in the car, I wrote down “I still feel like your man”, and I looked at that title and I went “if we play our cards right, that’s a major song.”
I felt like—and I immediately Googled the title “I still feel like your man,” because I thought someone must have had this idea. Whenever I have a good idea, I'm not even excited about it. I get immediately frightened that someone else has already had that good idea. So I Google that good idea—no search results, that's when I got even more excited. I went “okay.” I'm actually getting, right now like, excited—my heart is racing as I talk about this. Because this is about how you sneak up on an idea, like trying to catch a greasy pig. And you're just like “okay, there it is. Let's not sing it too soon. Let's not just throw some BS cliche stuff on this idea.”
And for a whole day I didn't sing "Still Feel Like Your Man." I didn't make a note with it cause I knew that whatever I sang I was going to start getting attached to. And I don't want to get attached to a dumb idea for "Still Feel Like Your Man." So now I just have sheets of paper and I'm typing all different ideas about "Still Feel Like Your Man." And then I was in the shower and I was like, “could I do it like a Prince ballad?” [sings lyrics in the style of Prince]
You know? No, that's going to be—okay don't even sing it, don't even sing it. And then I'd already had written this idea, these chord changes, and then one day went in the studio, and it was the greatest luck in the world that this one idea that I'd written musically locked in with just "Still Feel Like Your Man" thing. And it became this like weird—I called it ancient Japanese R&B. If you listen to it it’s like super staccato and clean. [sings staccato melody] I never heard anything like it come from me. And for the next three days I did nothing but—it's hard to explain but it's true. If you can feel it, you're a little bit not on Earth. You're like, half of you is in another place. And for three days I did nothing but bring this song into my life. And I listen to a lot of Marvin Gaye. There's definitely like some Marvin Gaye thing happening in the tune that I didn't want to block.
And when I was done with it, I had this really interesting jam that's, like, hopeful, but also, like, has the saddest line I've ever written. I literally cried when I wrote “I still keep your shampoo in my shower in case you want to wash your hair.” That's the saddest lyric I've ever written in my life. Think of how much desperation is in that line—she's not coming to wash her hair at your house. It's over. But the idea of keeping the torch lit, where you say, well, I’m keeping it there.
It's like, you know, there's, like, this dog in Japan. And the dog had an owner. The owner would go to the train every day, and the dog would follow the owner to the train, and then be there at the exact time the owner came back from work off the train. The dog would be waiting on the train platform. Then one day the owner died and the dog still waited at that platform for his owner, for years, until the dog passed away. I love that story. It is true. There's a statue of the dog where the dog once stood himself. And I very much in breakups feel like the statue of that dog. Not even the dog. I feel like the statue of the dog.
Amy: Oh my god.
BB: Fantastic story.
JM: Thank you.
BB: To that I take a drink of water.
Amy: See, but were you, I saw hope in you keeping the shampoo there.
JM: I think it’s lovely.
Amy: Everybody is different. Like for me I was like, that’s so vulnerable and, there’s hope there.
JM: It is.
Amy: But mixed with hope. Cause what if she does come back and wash her hair?
JM: What if she does come back.
BB: She be like, “dang, you still got my shampoo.”
JM: Also the shower is a very vulnerable place, you know? And you stare at it as this sort of totem, it’s still-life. It’s the last—someone’s shampoo is what they use in their most intimate solitary moments. And they’ve brought their shampoo to your place and they’ve left it there because the implication is I’m going to be here so often, it’s worth my time to place some shampoo here and get some more for myself because I feel like I’m really going to set up shop here.
And then, it doesn’t end up working out. But the shampoo, they’re like the kids of divorce. The shampoo and conditioner are like children of divorce, and how do you break it to the kids?
BB: And they’re the ones that suffer.
JM: I have a feeling you and I could bullshit for 6 hours straight.
BB: Let me—I got a couple more cause we’re running out of time here. How about this: The fact that you see colors when you play.
JM: I don't have synesthesia. And people—
BB: Okay. That’s the word on the street. Why would people fake that, about you then?
JM: Well people misinterpret my metaphors a lot, which is easily done. And I don't have synesthesia. I have probably some interpretive form of synesthesia. Synesthesia, by the way, some people have a clinical—I don't know if I'd call it a disorder, it’s a gift of sorts—whereby words and sounds actually are interpreted as colors in their brain. I have it, but not visually. I'm pretty close. I have relative synesthesia.
BB: Like what are you seeing when you're playing a solo, what are you seeing in your head? Numbers, colors, muscle memory. What is it?
JM: Shapes, colors, geometry, that's actually—man, you're a very good interviewer. Like you're asking really interesting, untrodden-on questions that are exciting to answer. The way that I do it is tons, and tons, and tons of streams of possibilities of shapes. What’s where. Where does it go. And I’ve done it for so long now that a lot of that data is sort of dissolved and it’s all feeling now. I just know where it is. I just—it’s very Jedi now. Like I just know where it is. Sometimes I don’t know how I know. It’ll be different every single night. But I’ve found some weird confluence of what I know and what I don’t know, but what I’m pretty sure is gonna be there. And it’s more fun than ever to play guitar cause I’m not playing it like a student of guitar anymore. I’m just sort of forgetting it all. It’s like a photographer wouldn’t think about what F stop they’re at, you just start shooting after a certain period of time.
BB: Is it easier to go for a jog or to play a solo? Cause I feel like when you move your hands, it’s just happening.
JM: It’s just happening at this point. It’s a whole—it’s its own other world, you know?
BB: Whereas when you run you have to be somewhat conscious of your steps.
BB: Are you conscious of your hands?
JM: No. And there are sometimes when I’m playing I look down at my hands and I go, what is any of this? Like as I’m playing I’m like, what is any of this stuff?
BB: You know like if you say the word “mustard” 12 times in a row, you’re like “is it mustard, or mustard?”
JM: Oh yeah, no no, I did it the other day with the word “certain.”
Preparing for Dead & Company
BB: Let me hear one more thing. So you are playing with the Dead & Company, which is fantastic, but I wondered—two things—one, you had to learn a lot of songs.
JM: Lot of songs, yeah.
BB: You had to learn them so good cause you are playing with one of the greatest, ever. So, like, what’s that pressure like? Compared to John Mayer pressure? Cause it seems like it would be bigger.
JM: I think that I always knew that it was always in my heart, that I can do it. I knew that I couldn’t do it the day that I said I was going to do it. But I knew that in my heart that I could do something to it and with it that would be valuable. So I remember looking at it like, okay this may be in October, it’s like April now. I looked at the number of days that I had. I looked at the number of songs there were to learn, and I went, alright that’s three a day, let’s go.
And I just knew in my heart—you know it’s like people ask me sometimes, “will you do this documentary about this person’s life, cause we know you liked them.” And I go, well I liked them, but I don’t really have anything to say. It doesn’t really reverberate inside of me so I don’t really know if I have anything to say about it. The topic of Grateful Dead music for me at that time was like, I want nothing but to think about it, talk about—so I knew that it had taken some deeper sort of purchase inside of me on a deeper level than anything ever had. And all I had to do was take it day by day. And I feel like with my knowledge of the guitar and I think understanding where the music was coming from, even if I didn’t necessarily have that myself. Like, I can play genealogist. Like I can figure out the DNA.
I looked at it like a contractor looking at an empty space going like “yeah I can build this out. You can’t eat here now. But in 6 months I think I can build this.” And it was really cool to become a student. I didn’t tour, I didn’t make a dime. I wasn’t out in the world making a name for myself. I was at home for 6 months and learned those songs. Which I was already learning, it wasn’t like I had forced myself to like something. What a perfect thing that I was already in the midst of learning these songs on my own just as a listener. And it was like at a certain point in my career where you’d think that I’d be done learning, it was like going to school for the first time again. And that was really good for me to not feel as if, “well this is your life John, you just basically play your own music til you die.” That doesn’t excite me. It will maybe at some point when I’m like, look I have a wife and kids I don’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel.
It brought so much more complexity to the life of a guy like me who craves complexity who gets, not bored, but complacent really quickly. It was like a whole new world that I could discover and everyday was exciting. And it still is with those guys. It’s incredibly exciting.
Playing "In the Blood" on the Radio, "Roll It On Home"
BB: I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad this all worked out to where you could come in. The day I came back from the show I was like, man, you know, some of this record sounds like music that we would play, you know, in this format—and listen I’m not always the most popular guy in this format, just because I do things a little outside of the box—but I was like, man, some of this record, couple a songs on there—"In the Blood," uh, there are a couple—
JM: "Roll It On Home."
BB: "Roll It On Home" for sure. I was like, this is exactly what it is. It’s even more traditional than some of the things being played now. So I was like hey, why aren’t we playing it? So I played it and got screamed out and it was a whole thing. But, now here we come full circle, and you’ve had a little time on other stations, and other people have played it, I think it’s being embraced really well by people outside.
JM: And with you to thank for it. Let me ask you a question. If you had played that song, "In the Blood," without telling people that it was me, would they have objected?
JM: Right, so that—
BB: But—and this is the truth too—
JM: I can handle it man, I can handle it.
BB: No no. Almost nobody—I say almost—man, almost nobody objected, that listened, anyway. The only people that objected were radio people.
JM: Got it.
BB: No listeners were like, “this song’s not country, this song is not anything.” They were like “wow that’s a fantastic song” or, “wow, I love John Mayer”.,
JM: But we don’t play John Mayer; that’s what they’re saying?
BB: That’s what it was. It was just a thing from the inside.
JM: Yeah, sure.
BB: It wasn’t people that wouldn’t embrace it that listen, that consume it. And that’s the weird part. I try to be a person of the people more so than a person of the industry.
JM: I get ya. And, well—that’s why it feels so good. Like you said outside of the box. To give a sense of how different the world is. I haven’t heard the phrase “outside of the box”—no offense to you—I haven’t heard the phrase “outside of the box” in ten years. Everything is outside of the box. Every possible—there’s no box anymore. You know? And I think what you’re saying—
BB: There’s a box here.
JM: Well there’s a box here still. And, you know, people have a vested interest in keeping the box taped shut. And I think it’s very interesting, to say the least, that you’re looking at it going “well why do you need to keep the box closed?” And that just goes to show you there—like when was the last time someone asked to see what’s on your iPod? When was the last time someone asked what kind of genre of music do you like? It’s all completely disassembled, and I, you know, thank you for being a champion of stuff that’s cool and fits. And saying, well whatever your notion is of it, let’s try not putting that as a barrier in front of the song, you know? It’s not not country!
JM: I live in Livingston, Montana. That’s pretty country. That’s pretty western. That’s pretty western. There’s a body in my backyard.
BB: Hey Amy gave me this picture in like 2000 and—
JM: And an old six shooter in the backyard.
BB: For my birthday Amy painted this for me a long time ago.
Amy: When did you have only like one tattoo here?
JM: Uh, long time ago.
Amy: That’s when I painted this!
JM: Then I started doing silly stuff.
BB: And it says “say”. You don’t get to keep it. Yeah, she painted it for me, so if you wouldn’t mind signing that.
JM: I would love to.
BB: And I’m gonna put it back in my room where it has been for—it was a gift from her.
JM: Hmm, Say.
Amy: Like what did you think? Like as an artist?
JM: Like as an artist? I think I can tell it was me.
Yeah, I want that haircut back.
BB: We’re gonna play "In the Blood." Appreciate you coming by. Hope the show is awesome tonight.
JM: Thank you. And yours too. I wanna know how the emoji joke works, I’m giving you—
BB: I don’t think I’m going to do that at the Opry.
JM: I’m giving you my cell phone number. And I want you to—like I have a home number—I’m gonna give you my home, office, and cell phone number. I’m giving you my cell phone telephone number and you can tell me how the emoji joke goes, and you can use emojis for it.
BB: Alright John Mayer, thank you, John. Good to see you buddy. Have you enjoyed this?
JM: This was—you are great. This was great.
BB: Are you being facetious, is this ironic?
JM: I wouldn’t do that. This is like we had a dinner and we’re already at dessert. We didn’t even really get to it.
BB: I agree. Next time you come to town, or I’ll come up to Montana.
JM: I would love that.