Background on Continuum and Born and Raised
RY: It’s been a long time since I last spoke to you. I wanted to start off by talking to you about Born and Raised since I haven’t previously spoken with you about that record. I know you did the Tumblr Dashboard Confession thing last night, and you mentioned that writing Born and Raised was a real revelation for you and an experience you’ll never forget. I was hoping you might be able to expound on that a bit and talk about what was so special with the whole process of making that record.
JM: They are all kind of special. The most special ones, I think, were Room for Squares because obviously I went from no songs to having songs. And Continuum was really special. I remember the culture around it.
The memorable stuff has a culture around it that’s really supportive of writing. Continuum was like riding bikes down Venice Beach and going into the studio and working really, really, really hard to steer the sound of that record as a whole.
Battle Studies didn’t totally have a culture around it. That was a little bit like punching a clock for me. It was the most like punching a clock that songwriting has been. Even though I enjoyed writing those tunes, it was a little bit like, “I gotta write a record, so here we go.”
If you’re a writer, you write no matter what. You put records out no matter what.
Born and Raised, the culture around that, I just remember waking up in the morning, going to the studio, getting a cup of coffee, and never taking breaks. It was the most aggressive work ethic I’ve ever had. Artists do really well when they have something to prove. Sometimes I seem to have, in the past, placed myself in those positions purposefully to have something to prove without knowing it.
I remember waking up in the morning, going into the studio, and there was no wasted time. In New York City, space is at such a premium that they don’t make studios with huge lounges like they do in Los Angeles. So, LA makes it a lot harder to get to work. In New York, it’s like, you kind of want to work because there is nowhere else to sit.
I just remember day after day after day starting out with nothing and by the end of the night, it was like a craps roll, even for things that never ended up as full songs. I would come up with an idea and go, “I’ve got something,” and we’d tap out a click track, which is basically a metronome that you record over. I’d record over it, and I’d come back in and listen to it and I would keep changing and rewriting on the fly and by the end of the night we’d have a tune.
Every tune for me told me more about myself than I knew. So for me, that was a very personal revelation, saying to me, This is a part of who you are. "Born and Raised," "Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey," "If I Ever Get Around to Living," "Speak for Me," "Queen of California," "Fool to Love You," "Love is a Verb." They are all really, really great songs, as far as I’m concerned.
Maybe I shouldn’t be saying it that way, but that tells you more about the relationship I have with songwriting—the songs are sort of my kids. Is it cocky to say that your oldest is now going to Stanford or something?
I guess I can be cocky about it because the songs weren’t really commercial. And maybe I’m biased by the experience itself, but I look back on those songs and I now realize that the life of an artist over 10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30 years is really not for the faint-hearted. You’ll do things that you just sort of throw out there and they become hits, and then you’ll do things when you listen back to them you go, “Well, say goodnight. It’s over—it’s a hit classic record,” and then it disappears. That’s really the buy-in for being an artist for a long, long time—not being able to call it.
Born and Raised was already going to be a difficult thing in the first place, had I even been able to promote it. But now, Born and Raised is going to be a really special little thing for the people who are hip to it. Hopefully in the future, I’ll be having dinner, and somebody will come up to me every once in a while and say, “Born and Raised is my jam.” And I’ll say, “Thank you, mine too.”
Good luck transcribing that, Richard. [Laughter]
Background on Paradise Valley
RY: About Paradise Valley, that record came together lightning fast by your standards. What was your process like with Paradise Valley and how was it different from the Born and Raised process?
JM: Paradise Valley is a record that didn’t need to exist by normal industry standards. I didn’t know that it was going to be a record until March and I realized I wanted more songs to play onstage. And to be honest, I’m glad I did now.
"Dear Marie" sits in the set really well. "Paper Doll" fits well. "Wildfire" was really needed. Look, I’m aware that there are certain songs that I’ve taken off the table. I feel like it’s only fair that if you’re going to take certain songs off the table, you replace them with other songs at a ratio of 1:1.
I love "On the Way Home" and "You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down." And I really—maybe not for the right reasons—but I wanted to put another record out to make up for the time I lost. I said right before Born and Raised that I want to put out tons of records in my 30s. I want to put too much music out.
RY: The Ryan Adams approach?
JM: Yeah! I want to put a lot of music out. If you’re a Ryan Adams fan, you’re a pig in shit, man. It’s great. I will never make a record that way again, but I hope I never have the same experience that I had leading up to it, where I couldn’t sing.
I just wouldn’t have been happy going on tour and saying, “Okay, we’re promoting Born and Raised at an amphitheater with 20,000 people—I couldn’t play "Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey" into "Born and Raised" into "Speak for Me." It’s just not the kind of record it is. I don’t want to make records driven by being commercial all the time or having to be super up, anthemic, live show all the time. I want to weave in and out of it.
Paradise Valley came out of needing to make another record. It’s not slapped together, but if I’d spent a year writing Paradise Valley, I would’ve written a song that kicked off "You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down." I would’ve had too much time, and I would’ve thought, I don’t like "Badge and Gun" anymore. And I would’ve put something else on and it would’ve been a completely different record.
So, there is something to be said for putting music out before you overthink it. Paradise Valley is like version 1.0 of that idea and I like it for that. But it’s not multilayered and it’s not multifaceted. It’s a mood record about one mood, really.
Sometimes I like records that have a bunch of angles to them, ones that feel like mix records. And sometimes I like a record that you put on and it’s a mood.
Not every piece of art has to be glacially large, a thousand feet deep, hit you over the head, wow you, make you feel small because of how large it is. This is a very human-sized record and I think it’ll stand the test of time. Especially because it came out in a year where there is so much hyperactivity around putting music out, that Paradise Valley is kind of not trying at all. It’s just being.
And maybe I won’t get credit for it this year, but I think over time you get credit for having always shown up to the party, always having just made music and put it out. The trends in music releasing will always change, but the trends in what people want to hear and what moves people—there are only eight notes in the major scale, you know?
You can revolutionize the release of music or the way you listen to it all you want, but even if Born and Raised and Paradise Valley don’t sell a ton of records, I think it’s a really cool thing to be an artist who didn’t flinch. I think it’s really important that I never flinched.
And it’s tough, because I want to. I want to go, “Hey, I haven’t lost my touch, have I?” I want to be on the American Music Awards, I want to open the show. But not if I purposefully [have to shift my music to make it happen]. Paradise Valley’s power comes from it not being like anything else this year. What’s really difficult sometimes is to make that decision to not work with co-writers, to not go in with some producer who just finished up someone else’s record that we can point to and say, “Well, me, too.”
I made that decision to do something really organic and from the heart. And then doing it is a little bit harder than to dream about it because I could miss opportunities. My door doesn’t get knocked on a ton of times—this year. Just this year.
I feel like that’s my right and that’s actually a responsibility as an artist who started in 2001 or 2002 and everybody said, “You’re going to be around for 10 years.”
Well, if you are, there are things you have to do, I feel like as a real musician, to stake your claim and to really make your offering, as a real lifetime artist. You have to go—I don’t want to say up and down, because it’s not a deliberate thing to sell fewer records—but you just have to go wherever the muse takes you to make the next record, and you can’t tell yourself you won’t make that record because it won’t sell enough or because it’s not a thing.
Because that’s not how I made my first record. People have really fuzzy memories in terms of my career, and I don’t. Room for Squares came out, and when I was first shopping the demo, there was nothing like what I was doing on the radio. I remember being told, “It’s P.O.D., man, it’s Korn, it’s Incubus, it’s Alien Ant Farm.” The closest they could come to me was Vertical Horizon and they were like, “We already have that.”
Room for Squares was not a formula hit record. Continuum was not a formula hit record. None of these things are formulas. The only variable is whether they happen to strike that kind of current with people or not. Tons of people would love to sit around and quantify what it would take to do that every time. I don’t know, but I’ll tell you one thing for sure: when you start basing your moves on not missing #1, you’re kind of on the way out.
And so, I’m in this period of time, where I’m not a new artist and I’m not a legend. I’m an old new artist. And that’s a funny time, but that’s the judgment time. That’s when you really find out who’s who. I’m an old new artist. I’m not a newly-minted legend, I’m not the tried and true idol. I’m an old new artist.
And in that period of time, how you make your moves really determines your lifespan going forward. And if you say, “Hey, I’ve gotta work with the hottest producer to stay current,” then it never works and you lose the other thing you built, too. You drown somewhere in between two islands.
It’s a funny year, a funny couple of years. But what I have on my side—my compass—is loving music. And that never goes away. A lot of ideas come and go in my mind, but the idea that I love music — and I gave my life to it—and the feeling of making a record is exactly the same whether it’s my biggest-selling record or my least-selling record. I just follow that feeling. If you follow anything other than that feeling, you’re screwed. Because when it doesn’t happen your way and you don’t have that love of music that you can hold on to, you’re just lost.
I’m still here, I’m making records, selling a ton of tickets, I’m just sort of making the bid for longevity.
Retrospective on Songs and Performing Live
RY: I remember you mentioning in one of our prior interviews that at some point in the album cycle, you start finding things wrong with the album. A deconstruction of sorts. Since you’ve been touring for a while on Paradise Valley and Born and Raised, I was wondering if that was happening and how you felt about it?
JM: That’s a great question. That’s a phenomenally good question. It’s very confrontational [in a good way]. That’s not really happened on these last two records, I have to say.
I had a really hard time with Battle Studies. Everybody makes a record like Battle Studies, where while they’re making it, they think it’s going to last and then they realize it doesn’t play the right way.
I think "All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye" is awesome—it just doesn’t work on stage. "Perfectly Lonely" is a nice song when you’ve got to make a record. You have to make music and put music out. "Perfectly Lonely": could have been "Gravity," but it just turned out to be "Perfectly Lonely."
I remember being on stage like a month into the Battle Studies tour and going, “Oh, this is not going to carry me the whole way.”
But then there is a song like "Who Says," which I play every night. I love that song. I remember thinking to myself that this song had to take me around the world.
I don’t spend a lot of time disclaiming things. If something is cool and I really believe it, I go straight to saying, “I thought that was the shit.” And then I find out it’s not, but I don’t get discouraged. Everything I do and every record I make has a couple of things where I go, “That’s the shit.” And then other people go, “No, it’s not.” And that’s all right; as long as I make the next record with the same sort of excitement, I never get discouraged.
Every new record is like a baseball player up to bat, ready for the next pitch. It could be a home run and that’s what keeps you showing up. And it’s also the other way around. I’m realizing how much there is to these songs. "Queen of California" I just absolutely love. I’m so glad I have that song to play live. Sometimes repetition will burn a song out. Some songs can’t get burned out, and other songs have a little burn to them. "If I Ever Get Around to Living" is just so good to me. I love playing that.
I thought "Love is a Verb" would have a little more guts to it, but it has that kind of "Perfectly Lonely" thing where it’s like, “Great song, what else you got?”
In terms of Paradise Valley, I feel like those songs are always going to be great. I just have to remember the spirit of them. I’ve really got to put a ton of spirit into "Waitin’ on the Day." I love "Waitin’ on the Day," but if I play it and I’m just trying to get done with it, it’s just a couple of chords and melodies. So I really have to emote on that and I really have to believe that, and then it’s great.
"Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey" is a great record and I won’t play it on stage because somewhere in the middle of it, it’s like, “Belly full, what else you got?” That’s how music works.
Then there’s a song like "Dear Marie." Every. Single. Night. Just. Feels. Incredible. "Gravity" feels incredible.
And now what’s interesting is that things are coming around to be sort of retro now. Slow Dancing is like the biggest song in the set and that wasn’t a single—it wasn’t anywhere close to being a single.
Something like Olivia I have to really believe when I do it or else it’s just a bar band song. There are just a couple other things I’d like to play from Paradise Valley if my sets were longer. It’s really hard to be like, here is "You’re No One ‘Til Someone Lets You Down," but I’m going to take away "Vultures" to play it. I’m working on getting those guts to be able to go onstage and send some people home sort of pissed off for the larger good of having the crowd say, “Wow, you never know what he is going to do.”
RY: Like last night with "Why Georgia?"
JM: Yeah, I threw that in the set. I’m a people pleaser. I would love to antagonize people with creativity. [Laughter]
If you come to the show and you want to hear something from the past and you don’t want to feel like I’m turning my back on the music you love, then I want to play something that says, “Hey, I embrace all this stuff.”
RY: Which is funny, because that brings me to my next question. I remember speaking to you at the Jones Beach show this past summer and you mentioned that you had a real moment on stage that gave you pause where you just did not feel like the audience was immersed in your newer material the way you’d hoped. I imagine as an artist that you might feel like you are at a crossroads of sorts. What’s your take on the potentially changing demographics and how your audience perceives your new sound?
JM: Jones Beach was a tough show. There was probably one other tough show on that entire tour, and that’s because I was hiding a cough on stage. I won’t say which one it was, but I just had a really bad time because the air was cold and I had this cough for the whole second half of the tour—I was singing and stifling coughs at the same time.
It’s very easy to sort of paint this as some sort of violent whiplash 180 musically, but it’s not. "Why Georgia" is exactly like "On the Way Home." I mean, it’s the same thing. "Why Georgia" is a country song. It’s not that there is anything challenging and different. It’s just newer. It’s not different because it’s an entirely different style of music, it’s just different because it’s another record.
RY: And there aren’t any songs on the radio.
JM: Even if there were songs on the radio, people would say they like that song and don’t like that song. It’s the blessing of being able to be around for six or seven records now, right? The idea that there is some sort of sabotage happening is such bullshit because every artist has fans who don’t like their new direction because the direction is forward.
Part of that is some people go to a show with one expectation and some people go to a show with another expectation. Jones Beach was just a difficult show.
I remember playing the same exact show at Jones Beach in terms of the intent and vibe as I did at any other gig and it just didn’t go over, that’s all. I think every band’s got ‘em.
And then we had a night off the next day, which was a really hard day. Like, a really hard day. I felt terrible because I wanted to win—I wanted to put the ball in the hoop. I wanted to score the game-winning shot, and the ball just wasn’t going in. I used that metaphor the entire time. The ball was just not going in the hoop.
Then we went up to Saratoga, there was a day off, and we did SPAC.
Same exact show and it was the best show of the tour. Those people ate it up. Why? Who knows? Demographics are more than just age. Demographics are like, where you are from, what you think is cool. These are things you can’t put on the U.S. Census [Laughter]. Who is your hero? Who are your idols? What music do you like? What movies do you like? What do you think is funny? What do you think is smart? It’s just different.
I try to read the crowd as best as I can like last night [in Lincoln, NE], I was like, “you know what? This is supposed to be easy for people.” So, it was really like a cost-benefit analysis. If I play "Why Georgia," I’m better off playing it because there are more people who want to hear it while I’m playing than people who don’t want to hear it while I’m playing it. So why not just try to make everyone happy?
RY: I want to ask you about Brazil. I wasn’t there, but I saw videos and photos, and I read about it. And it just looked like such an event and extravaganza. Can you talk about that experience and what was so memorable about that for you?
JM: It was incredible. It was such an incredible experience. It was a revelation for me that there is still so much more to be had in terms of geographically going to places. More to be had in terms of how many people you can get into one area to celebrate one song. It showed me that what I think is the top or the limit isn’t the limit. I have a deep love for that country now.
RY: Was the show in Sao Paulo the biggest crowd you’d ever played in front of who exclusively came to see you?
JM: Yes, 35,000. It was incredible and the same energy was there in Rio. I needed that this year.
Again, I’m an old new artist. Sao Paolo had this moment with "Dear Marie" that was just incredible. It really taught me that there is more out there to dream for.
I can feel a little over the hill sometimes or a little over the hump. It’s just the first hump. Plenty more humps to go up, and that showed me that there is an international hump to go up.
There’s a lot more the future holds in terms of getting on a plane for 12 hours and getting off somewhere and having as big a crowd—if not a bigger one—than America. It’s a very exciting way to see the globe.
Musical Identity and Career
RY: I watched the Jay-Z/Ron Howard Made in America documentary recently, and D’Angelo mentioned how people try to box him in by labeling him as the Neo Soul movement and how he hates that. I was wondering if you ever feel boxed in?
JM: No. I don’t think that’s what he meant. If you’re boxed in, it means you try and you can’t get out. I don’t see boxed-in as pressure to have to stay boxed-in. I see there is a certain box to get out of.
Look, there are a couple of things that are complete misunderstandings in terms of my identity. Some part of each of them is not my fault at all. And some part of each of them is my fault.
But, based on who I really am as a person, they’re really kind of far off, reputation-wise, from who I really am. I wonder if that is par for the course, since I don’t know anyone other than me internally. I just feel like I was born to be complex in a certain way and that was never going to be easy for me because there are thousands of competing ideas and thoughts all the time in my head.
People like a sort of ease, a sort of consistency, a sort of discipline, in the person whom they are listening to or looking at. And I’ve always involuntarily—meaning it was never a strategy—been conflicting, sort of distracting, if you see one thing you like and then another. If there was less to me than there is, I would probably be more well-liked and understood.
But it’s like, as soon as I start making one type of thinker like me, I do something else, or in the past have done something else, that worked against that, and it just makes people not want to invest anymore. It might be one of those side effects of who I really am.
Life isn’t perfect. If someone came up to me when I was 18 years old and said, “I’m going to tell you something, I’m going to offer you a deal. You’re going to be a multimillion-selling, multimillion-making artist. 50% of the people in the world or the country will know who you are. You’re going to be famous when you want to be famous. Some people will know you and some people won’t, but you’re going be rich and you’re going to be famous. But you’re going to have a weird reputation and people aren’t going to know who you really are.” I’d be like, I’ll take it! [Laughter]
Now, it’s just a matter of mellowing out as I get older and being disciplined and just making my music. I’m boxed in only by the box makers, not by me. I can’t be responsible for the size or scope of someone else’s box.
And boxes are funny, because I’ve met people who have said they put me in the strongest boxes of all time and then after a bit, they say, “I’ve gotta say, I like you a lot.” The box they’d put around me is gone. That’s meeting one person at a time, though.
I think there’s got to be a way at some point—maybe there’s not a way, and maybe it just happens if you are lucky—to have that same moment on a public level. To have that same moment that I have personally with people when they go, “Wow, you’re not a douchebag.”
It’s like, “no, I’m not a douchebag. And guess what? When you were 28, I wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with you either!”
RY: For the last few years, I think it’s fair to say that you’ve made a decision to be much less visible not only in public, but online as well. What have you enjoyed the most from this decision and what has been the hardest part about it?
JM: Nothing hard about it. The only challenge of it has been that I don’t have a way to say to millions of people, “Hey, my record is coming out tomorrow” in one blast.
At the very, very worst part of it, I would be chewing my nails and pacing this room trying to figure out how to word myself out of this thing I just tweeted that I didn’t mean to sound offensive but now it was. Do I apologize or not when a special interest group says, “that is not something you can say”? Meanwhile, I’d go, “Okay, I didn’t know that!”
Then, I’d start wondering, “Do I want to show that kind of deference, or will it blow over if I just let it go?” Celebrities work on this all day. They think, “Do I apologize or just cover the feed up?”
If you look at the Twitter feed of somebody who’s said something that turns out to be offensive—whether they know it or not—you can tell they know exactly when people start demanding an apology. They’ll tweet other things to steer people away from it.
Like they’ll say, “So excited to go to Milwaukee tomorrow.” And you know the offensive thing is on the top of their mind. And when they get pushed hard enough, they have to say, “Hey, I’m really sorry.”
But there is always the offensive tweet, plus 6-8 more tweets designed to push the offensive tweet off the first page and they are the most menial things, like, “Here’s a picture of my cat! Is this wall blue or green to you?” [Laughter]
The bottom line is that during all of that stuff, I wasn’t working, I wasn’t creating, I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t myself, and I was eating my brain away with other people’s potential hatred of me, which wasn’t even hatred.
The real sad truth in all of this is that nobody really had hatred for me, but I thought it was real and I started fighting them like they had it. I started fighting them like I was trying to knock the hate out of them and they didn’t have any hate for me.
But then they had hate for me when I started fighting them. So I made them my opponent when I didn’t have to. I’m glad that I’m not on Twitter where I have to manage crises or micro-crises or manage micro-successes. When they say it’s a micro-blogging site, the micro part is the increments of success and failure.
Here is why I am off Twitter: you can never get a green “up” arrow big enough to make it worth how big the red “down” arrow is. They don’t make Twitter wins as big as they make Twitter losses.
Here is the rule for Twitter: be fucking interesting or else we won’t follow you. That’s morning radio, that’s politics, that’s everything. Be interesting or we won’t follow you.
But, if you are interested, we will give you a little green “up” arrow. If you’re not interesting, we’ll give you a neutral. And, if, in your attempt to be interesting, you say something that could even be construed as negative, your entire life could be taken away from you.
I’m not on Twitter because I don’t like those odds. Now, if you told me that there was a way to have the inverse of how bad someone’s Twitter life could be and it could make your life incredible—that riches would rain down on you and you’d walk down the street and people would go, “great tweet, John. Great tweet, John. Great tweet,” I’d probably be right in the mix doing it. But as it is, you’re telling me that if I win, I win $5. But if I lose, I lose $1,000? I don’t want to play that game.
As soon as I got off Twitter, my brain came back. And I don’t think in tweets anymore.
I’m not taking anything away from someone who does—Twitter is thriving, and it was never me against Twitter.
Born and Raised and Paradise Valley are places in my mind and in my soul that I wouldn’t be able to access if I were worried about what so-and-so thought of me or if I was walking around scratching my chin, trying to figure out how to respond in my Twitter war with insert-name-here.
So the answer is, it’s pretty damn good, sir. It’s pretty damn good.
Personal Life and Katy Perry
RY: I want to ask you a personal question. I think you know me well enough to know that I generally don’t ask you about your love life, but the one thing I want to ask is that I’ve never seen you so open about your love life as you are now. I’m just curious—what’s different and what’s changed for you?
JM: Well, I’m not any more open about my love life, really.
RY: You seem to be embracing it or the fact that people are interested.
JM: Well, I’m not upset when they are interested anymore. I just think it would be hypocritical to record a song with Katy and then say I don’t want to talk about it. So, it’s half the song and half, knowingly at this point in my life, entering into a relationship with somebody who is extremely well-known. There is a little bit of, “if you can’t stand the heat—”
Also, it’s a different time in my life. I believe the most I’ve ever said was that I was very happy and that it was a very human relationship. I’ve actually gone a lot more personal than that on some other things. [Laughter] I think maybe what you’re responding to is [...].
RY: Just like you taking a picture of Katy and posting it on Tumblr. I don’t think you would’ve done that 10 years ago with the person you were dating.
JM: Yeah, I think I’m comfortable with my life. I’ll say it again—it’s a very humanistic relationship. I know that there are a lot of other things in play, and I understand it, and I even understand it inside of my relationship.
It’s like what we say about each other. “He was great before I met him. She was great before I met her.”
I was well aware of who she was before we started going out [Laughter]. It’s a very laid back, human thing. The great things are like your great things, and the not-so-great things are like your not-so-great things. But none of the great or negative things have anything to do with media, press, or crowds. I think we’re kind of old pros now, you know?
We can still have a day to ourselves and feel very human about it, even if we’re going through a garage in a hotel and walking past bags of garbage to get to our room. I think we have kind of a bubble around us of humanity that makes it a little bit different.
RY: My follow-up is that almost nine years ago, you wrote a very astute column for Esquire Magazine about Chris Martin wherein you said, and I quote, “So thanks to marriage and a new family, Chris Martin is now fulfilled but facing an age-old artistic challenge: once you're happy, what the hell do you sing about next?” Though you’re not married with a family, you have said that you are very happy. So I’m wondering if you can answer your own previously rhetorical question—now that you are happy, what the hell do you sing about next?
JM: Ha! Well, I’m happy, but I’ve always had a very healthy fantasy life in terms of creativity. There’s just enough fantasy. "City Love" was a fantasy. "City Love" never happened. I also don’t have any unfinished business. I think I looked at that very naively when I wrote the column, like, “Well, you just keep writing about your unfinished business.” But I don’t really have any unfinished business to write about, so it’s not like my girlfriend is going to say, “who is that about?” There are other things to write about.
"Dear Marie"—are you going to get upset because I wrote a song to my first girlfriend? I think I looked at it like you weren’t going to be allowed to write anything once you were happy. There are plenty of places you can go in your mind. I’d like to personally apologize to Chris Martin for that because Paradise is an awesome song.
RY: I want to ask about what’s next for you. I’ve read some different things. I’ve heard you mention the next record will be the final one in the “trilogy,” but then I also recently saw you mention that you hope it’s more like Continuum II. Where do you see things going, when will it be recorded, when do you expect it to come out? What can you say about it?
JM: I keep thinking about it. It’s down to those two things. I don’t know yet. I would love to have a third, even more country record. It’s just like any record. I just wait and let the music tell me what’s going on. I was working out the other day and I was listening to "Family Affair" by Sly Stone and was just like, “man, I should call [Steve] Jordan.”
And then I’ll be in the car and listen to "If I Could Only Win Your Love" by Emmylou Harris and Herb Pedersen. I want to do that! “I’d probably wear your wedding ring / if I could only win your love.”
Or I listen to western music and I fall in love with it. All I have ever done is wanted to make the music I fell in love with. I remember even on Battle Studies listening to Fleetwood Mac and listening to all of these tunes and thinking, “I want these tunes. I want pop music, yeah, man.”
It really comes down to—do I want to do that [trilogy] kind of record or do I want to return to the R&B/soul crisp Continuum-like thing? I don’t know yet.
RY: Do you plan to start recording early next year?
JM: Yeah. There won’t be anything out probably at all next year because I have the first part of the year off and I have the last part of the year off. I’ll start a record because that’s what I want to do.
Continuum is Continuum, and I don’t know if people know this, but the reason it is what it is—it’s luck. Both on my part as the writer, and on everyone else’s part for hearing it all at the same time.
Continuum was written in little stages, and we would go in the studio and record three songs at a time, two songs, one song. It took a long time. The first three songs I did were, "I Don’t Trust Myself (with Loving You)," "Over and Over," and "Bold as Love."
We recorded those three at Right Track Recording in New York City or something after the Tsunami Benefit [January 2005]. I wrote "Gravity" in 2005, then "Vultures" with the Trio in 2005. 2006 was "Waiting on the World to Change".
RY: It was kind of like you were saying before about what Paradise Valley could have been. I remember you telling me in the past that you kept throwing tracks off Continuum in favor of newer/better songs.
JM: It just kept going. There’s a whole other Continuum record. I remember sitting at a pool with Steve Jordan and making track lists and we had record one and record two. There’s "The Hurt," there’s a song called "Please Tell Your Boyfriend to Chill," which I think Herbie Hancock played on. There is a "[I Don't] Trust Myself [With Loving You] Part II." There are a ton of songs, but I’m not remembering all of them right now. There was a song that was going to close off Continuum that is a fucking cool song.
They’ll come out sometime. They have to. They just end up coming out. So, Continuum was a very composted thing. Born and Raised was also. There are tons of half-things on Born and Raised that never hit.
RY: Like "Tonight We’re Living Proof?"
JM: Oh man, I love that song.
RY: Do you think that will ever come out? Don Was told me that he wanted you to put it on. He said you didn’t want to put it on because you felt like it could take away from the rest of the record.
JM: Did you ever hear that song? It was a smash. I could put it on the next record, though. We’d open up with it and people would go nuts. But it’s a little young for me now. That’s all. That’s why I have the career I have. I’ve always been authentic with what’s coming out because people can smell it on you, man. If I’m 40 years old and up there talking about hitting on girls in New York City and “Tonight’s the night / it’s all we have is tonight,” it’s not going to last long for me, you know?
I also didn’t have the second verse finished. There’s a song called "Sweet Unknown" that almost made it. There was a song called "Helpless" for Born and Raised that I adored. Everybody did not like it. It was one of the only times where my compass was off.
I loved that tune, man. It was great. “If I’m helpless / tell me now / tell me now / and I’ll stop trying to figure it out.” It was mean and it was cool. I’ve just made enough records now to know during the making of the record what is going to congeal and what is not.
I’ve thrown a lot of things off records that people have liked. I’ve fought for things to go on records that only I liked that people didn’t. But ultimately, the records just end up being the way they are supposed to be.
RY: And sometimes those songs, like you said, come out, like "Go Easy on Me," which I like a lot.
JM: I love that song, man. Love that song. I remember white boarding that. I do a lot of white boarding. It’s like math to me. And Berklee taught me a lot about that stuff. Songwriting class, Pat Pattison. Teaching rhyme schemes. If you have a verse one and a verse two, and you have verse one done, but you don’t have verse two, chart the rhyme scheme.
"A A X A—" write it down next to the lines you don’t have. It’s like a crossword puzzle.
But that stuff takes time. I think the next record will and should have a lot of time to just become a very wide, meaningful, long-lasting record.
RY: Anything else?
JM: Yeah, good luck transcribing all this!