Richard Young: Can you talk about the evolution for the direction of your new record?
John Mayer: It's hard to say. I'm still figuring stuff out all the time. With the evolution, there is a responsibility in it. To not evolve for evolving's sake because then you lose people. In that, I've had to really make some hard decisions when I finish a song, or when I’ve just come up with a tune, because I don't finish the ones that I don't love. When I just come up with a tune, I have to listen back to it and I gotta go, "is this really what I want to be?" So, it's really hard to make this record because not only do you have to be inspired to write a tune, but that tune has to fall in line with what the vibe of the record is. That vibe of the record is very clear right now more based on the people who are making it, like Steve Jordan, who is playing drums and producing it with me. Together we're like one producer. Pino Palladino plays bass. They keep it very clear for me as to where it isn't going.
RY: What can fans or listeners expect out of your new material?
JM: I think a lot of people have read stuff about it being a "blues record" or it's "all guitar playing" and it's not. There is more guitar playing. Certainly, it goes back to the Room for Squares motif in terms of songs you can play on guitar. So now we're back to the organic kind of playing. The bridge is a totally different melody and a totally different feel. The reason that's like that is because I have the time to write, and what I thought was a chorus but it ends up being a bridge, and so naturally it might be a different key or a different time signature, and so it's a lot more in one tune. I don't think I'll ever go back to that "sit around and scratch your chin" kind of lyric writing. It doesn't impress me anymore. People can expect the singing to be a lot more open now. The record is about half done, and we're going to LA after this tour to really finish up seven or eight tracks that we're just going to go kill it and it'll be half done. I don't have singles yet, but I know that I have songs that I'll play on stage forever. I've got lifetime kind of things because they feel really really really good.
RY: What do you look forward to the most about your new album?
JM: This is the first record I've loved making. Not to put down any other processes, but this is the one where I'll go into the studio and not know what I'm doing. I just went in with Charlie Hunter and Steve Jordan on Memorial Day weekend. We all get in a room and find a sound that moves us and just feel that certain vibe from those specific players. One of my favorite tunes that I ever wrote came out in an hour and a half. That's always really scary when you tell somebody that you wrote a tune in an hour and a half, because if it sucks they look at you like maybe you should've spent three hours on it. It's just happening. It's so much fun and I'm discovering things musically, as I play them and record them that I never thought I was going to do. So I get all the fun because I never thought I'd hear myself sing on this melody or that chord change.
RY: How about a timeframe for when we can expect the new record to drop?
JM: It'll come out when it comes out. Part of making this record is compression. Take three ideas and it may turn into one great one. I think even when I'm done with the record, which I'd like to be done with by the end of the year, I may go back and do four more songs, and take the best two of those, and knock the worst two off the record. I have a hunger for this record that I wonder if I'm ever going to have again for any other record [Laughs] because there is so much to say on this one.
RY: Any songs you’ve previously played that listeners will be familiar with come release time?
JM: I think the only songs you’ve heard that are definitely going on the CD are "Hummingbird" and a song called “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)," which I think was originally just called Untitled 2 or something. Everything else is new, so new that even my closest friends can’t identify any parts of the songs as something they’ve heard me mess with before.
RY: What is the best thing you've done for yourself since having almost a year off of the road?
JM: Wow, it’s been almost a year? I started to go outside. I started to do some athletic stuff that I hadn't done in a very long time. [Laughs] I did some mountain biking and I’ll probably break something of mine one day. It’s kind of liberating to be going down a mountain at 40 mph and know that you are a lot of people's "golden boy." It’s great to walk back into your ritzy hotel in LA and you’re covered in blood and dirt. I never experienced it before, and I really love it. I guess one of the best things I did was put down the guitar actually. I started writing a lot and often when I put the guitar down. I never did it before. I was afraid that I'd lose touch with it.
Now I go on a trail and I'll just be biking or something. Then, I go upstairs in my hotel room and sit down and bang something out in no time because you’re not always at the machine. When you're always at the machine, you think that that’s how you get it out by looking at your watch. When you experience stuff and are not afraid to put your guitar down, things pop into your head and you write them in no time. The last record [Heavier Things] was beats, pro tools, loops and those kinds of things that I liked bringing songs out of me. Then when it came time to tour it was like, "I can’t play Split Screen Sadness without a machine." Now it’s an acoustic guitar and one of those Marantz compact flash recorders which everybody should own.
RY: What do you miss the most about the road and not touring for so long?
JM: I miss the community. It’s a great community when you’re touring. I don’t miss it right now to be honest, though. I’m more looking forward to going back to LA and finishing up my record. Basically, my schedule is to finish up my record and put it away and then go into training for this Trio tour, which we're going to do in the fall. I have to get back in shape as a guitar player. It’s going to be a lot of guitar playing. For me, if I went out on the road right now to do the Trio tour, I don’t think I’d have the stamina to do it.
After the Trio tour, I'll come off the road and hang out for another couple months. I have faith that that tour will direct me to a new place or a new phase. I'll write from that new phase and bump it up against the other phases and you get a really varied and textured record. Heavier Things sounds like January to April of 2003. That’s what that sounds like to me. This, I'm trying to make sound like 12 different time periods.
RY: So now your Trio tour in the fall, will it be covers, originals, or a variation?
JM: There's going to be originals. A lot of the stuff on the new record was recorded as a trio. It's much more rocking. I've got ballads though, don't worry (laughs). We're going to do some stuff from the new record, we're going to "Daughters," and we're going to see what other tunes we can do. I think "Something's Missing" would be pretty cool in the Trio format. I'm going to do a three times rule for covers. If it's been covered three times, I'm not going to play it. No "Little Wing" or no "Voodoo Chile." This is very much a band. I've had offers for the band to play when Pino couldn't do it and you can't take the money because that's not the band. I think out of that we'll have a pretty cool set worked up.
RY: If you could have one wish music-related, what would it be?
JM: I think there are a lot of great players who haven't even picked up an instrument yet and I wish they did. I wish I could do battle. I don't mean do battle on stage, just do battle. All those dudes in the '60s were trying to top each other. Hendrix was trying to top The Who and The Who was trying to top The Beatles which nobody could but everybody was trying. Statistically speaking, there just aren't enough players right now, which speaks to the fact that there are a lot of people who have latent ability to play instruments that just never picked it up. When I think about that, it really kind of frustrates me. Maroon 5, I feel great competition with Maroon 5 and they feel great competition with me, and it's great. I hang out with James [Valentine] all the time, and he is on my new record.
For the first time, I'm giving up the second guitar chair and it's like, James, do what you do on this tune. I want to beat Maroon 5 and they want to beat me and we still go out at the end of the night. That's the way it's really supposed to be. Nobody really gets that so much right now. Everybody is too afraid to feel smaller that they don't want to play at all. I want to go out and see someone else, and I want them to make me go home and want to get them.
RY: If you could collaborate with one person in music that you haven't already, who would it be and why?
JM: Nobody. I’m absolutely done. I got to spend some really good time playing, writing and recording with Clapton and that’s it. Clapton would've been my answer to you previously. Now my answer is nobody. Im done collaborating for a while.
RY: What labeling would you say you've received the most that you believe to be false?
JM: That I’m the guy who you play when you try to get your girlfriend to take her shirt off. [Laughs] That one bugs me. I understand it and that was part of the reason why I didn't want to put "Daughters" out.
RY: At this point in time, what would you say is your biggest fear?
JM: When you love something so much your biggest fear is waking up one morning and not loving it anymore. That's always been the biggest fear. You know you really love something when your biggest fear is, "what if I stopped?" What if I just wake up one morning and go, "I just don’t want to do this anymore." I just want to take my money and buy a house and just hang out and do nothing. If you wanted to do that, nothing would stop you. So I hope that never happens. I don’t want to fall out of love.
RY: What would you say you look forward to most in the future?
JM: The next record. I’ve turned down a lot of shows in a lot of high stakes or high notoriety situations because I don't want to be seen until I make my next statement and then people can judge. That's what I can't wait to do. I think it's going to change a lot of people's minds and make people go, "Oh. He's kind of still in the game I guess. Weird. I thought he was gone. I thought he was this, but now I kind of like this. I kind of get what he's doing now." You can't please everybody, but you can try.
RY: Will your new record be filed under "John Mayer" or "The John Mayer Trio?"
JM: It'll be filed under "John Mayer."
RY: Anything you’d like to leave with as you move forward?
JM: I just love making this next record. I don't know how many times I'll have left in my life that I'll dig as deep as I’m digging on this record, so I’m enjoying every second of it. It’s a record that’s based on the "sequence of events" and "vibe". Those two elements together.
So far, I have not overanalyzed, and I have not freaked out. I know if the record came out tomorrow that the radio couldn't play a single tune, and I'll figure that out later. I love being in the studio, and I love the guys I work with, and every time I walk out and into my car and go back to sleep, there is something else that came out that I didn’t know was there. I don’t know how many times you get that in your life. These might be the songs that I play for the rest of my life and people still want to see me play them.
I’ll leave you with this. The reason I know this record is pretty great is because I listen to these demos or these unfinished tunes more than I ever have listened to my demos or tunes before. I have to stop so I don't get used to the way that I've sung them for the demo. I listen to them like a fan because they happen so fast and they come from such a deeper place than Im aware of, that it's almost like somebody handing you a song and going "here, this is yours now." I wake up in the morning and take a shower and put my tunes on, and I sing along in the bathroom and they’re gifts. They’re absolute gifts. I'm kind of approaching it that way.