Race Taylor: Our guest is working on his third single from the Continuum CD. You've got your "Waiting on the World to Change," we've been loving "Gravity," and now a very piano-based "Dreaming With a Broken Heart." Somewhere in a closet are five Grammy's, he's sporting abs of steel, and he has a plan to save the world as well. Please welcome Mr. John Mayer.
JM: Good morning. Or evening or whatever.
[Performs "Your Body is a Wonderland"]
Race Taylor: Very nice. Welcome John. Nice to see you again. It's been a while. We had some nice times at the China Club. Last time we had a chance to have some hang time with John Mayer, Waiting on the World to Change was just released. He was set to play the Conan O'Brien show and he met us for fifteen minutes in the green room. And we had a major technical malfunction.
JM: Oh right, that's okay, Well you had an antiquated piece of equipment that didn't do its job ever correctly. And you thought it was war ready and brought it into the room and it didn't work out. And we did it again, right?
RT: No we did it one time. You stood holding the thing over your head pinching two cords together the entire time.
JM: Oh yeah. Beautiful.
Playing With Eric Clapton
RT: Our first question which comes from Michelle Williams in Bergenfield.
Q: When you were playing with Eric Clapton the other day, what was going through your mind to be singing and playing with such an icon?
JM: Well you know I've played with Eric several times, and it's an interesting balance that you have to strike when your friends are people you've admired your whole life. So I never want to get into, Oh my god, because then you stop having dinner together. When you turn into like, "Oh my god guy."
So it's an interesting thing. So as I'm playing I'm trying to hold the whole thing together because I'm observing the fact that this is obvious something that I really love doing, and it's always as impactful as the last time or the next time.
So I'm trying to both appreciate what it means but also keep my head down musically because if I were to observe too much then I would stop doing what I was supposed to be doing on the guitar. So it's a little dance that I have to do to enjoy it and forget it while I'm playing.
RT: Did you grow up playing to Eric Clapton CDs?
JM: I'm sorry, what? She was introducing me to her daughter. What else is new?
RT: Did you grow up playing along to Clapton discs? The record goes on and you just pull up the guitar and sit on the bed for an hour?
JM: Yeah, yeah. I would just keep playing the CDs over and over again. And for years I would pretend that guys like, Buddy Guy, or like anybody playing guitar, I would pretend—and I think the other guitar players up here would tell you that we had an amazing ability to forget there was a guitar track on the record we were listening to, and pretending that what we were doing was the only guitar on there.
RT: We were watching your performance at Bryant Park and I think you took the first solo when you and Eric played together. And we both said almost at the same time, If I turned and looked next to me and said, Hey Eric Clapton is playing rhythm guitar for my solo, that would be it.
JM: [Laughs] Well you know we tried it in rehearsal both ways. I originally said, You go first. I don't know, it didn't work out that way. We tried it and I went, You know what, the fun of playing with you is coming in and crushing what I started. So it's like I start the solo and it's like, Well here's my version of how it's done. And then Eric comes in and goes, Eric smash! And shows you actually how it's done.
Which is more exciting than like he does his thing and I go, And I have something to add!
Performing at Live Earth, Madison Square Garden Show
RT: We enjoyed your performance at Live Earth, Giant Stadium. Not very long ago. Tell us about what that experience was like for you both on the stage and I know the message that was made that day.
JM: It was an interesting day. For as much as the one sentence message wasn't quite yet decided upon—and maybe still isn't decided upon—the feeling of it, as a placeholder, people basically saying, No my heart is in this and I'm ready to kind of create a solution. The vibe backstage was unbelievable.
And normally, you know, you've been to a lot of radio shows, they're kind of a circus back there. There's crush of egos and schedules and whatever. It all sort of falls apart in one way or another. And this show everyone from the front of the stage to the back of the stage can confirm that it ran so well, and it really was in tune with the feeling of the day.
RT: We were thinking probably one of the biggest shows of the last year for people who are fans or people who were gonna say, Man I wish I was there, was the date in February, Madison Square Garden.
JM: That was a great one. It was like a Bar Mitzvah. [...] It was great. There are these moments that come in your life and sort of sum up the work that you've done up to a certain—it was like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, you get to a certain point where you can't lose the money. That was like my sixty-four million dollar answer. It's like, Okay now I know that I can sell out Madison Square Garden. And at least that happened once in my life, and I can go on and do other things. Maybe be a little more ambitious musically and push on others things.
RT: Well you've done everything from small rooms to festivals now. Garden and arenas. Is there one of these settings where you are more comfortable, more at ease? It is better to be tot face to face to see a sea of humanity?
JM: You know I have as many different styles of a show—and I think fans can probably attest to that—many different styles of a show as there are different kinds of carnations of a show. So when we're playing like, PNC, that's somewhat of a larger, more dynamic performance. Where when I'm paying a smaller club, that changes. It can be a little more intimate. It can resonate a little more because there's fewer people to consume it. So everything can be a little bit more—it's hard to explain. Am I making any sense?
JM: Everybody can cut a piece of it and have it when there's eight hundred people in a room. And when there's 30,000 people in an area, it's a different sort of transmission.
[Performs "Waiting on the World to Change"]
RT: Fantastic. [...]
Hobbies, Live From Abbey Road Documentary, and Stand Up Comedy
We are looking for Tara Christianson from Queens.
Q: What do you do in your spare time if you have any?
JM: I do have some spare time. I only am really busy when people call I don't want to talk to. Like anybody else. Suddenly the touring schedule becomes so hectic. People go, Oh I understand! Meanwhile I'm just sitting around for six hours. Shout out to the people I say I am busy to!
Playing music is still as much of a hobby as it is a professional because there is so much of what I do as a profession gets cemented as, Okay here are the songs from your record, here is what you do. That going home and playing anything else or new songs or songs I just admire about other people, that becomes its own hobby. Because it's actually the opposite of playing my own stuff after a while.
And then after that, I just look for things that stimulate my brain in a different way than music does. And number two I really like hobbies that bring me to other people who don't know my music, or don't really need to or not all that much care. And it's really interesting to hang out with people who know I do this thing but aren't really that tuned into it. So I kind of like that on a social level too. So I feel pretty well-rounded, I think.
RT: Are you a writing all the time kind of guy?
JM: No. I mean I'm a thinking all the time kind of guy. But I want to slap the writing all the time kind of guy. He's always asking for a napkin and a pen. You can never just eat at the diner with him. He's always like, "Hold on a minute, I heard an amazing conversation over there. That's a title." I don't like that. I live my life and it all kind of comes out a year later.
RT: You did the Abbey Road thing on Sundance. That place is sinked with history. Did you do all the touristy stuff? Get your picture taken and walk across the cross walk and get your picture taken like on the album cover?
JM: I didn't do that, but I was really interested actually to see the equipment that's still there that that music had passed through. I know it's almost mystic cause it doesn't really matter. I mean it matters but to the equipment it doesn't—the equipment doesn't have a personality or an imagination. But you stand there and you look at it and you go, Wow that piece of machine is privy to more than I'll ever be in terms of the Beatles.
RT: For those of you all that don't know, Abbey Road, the famous studio. All the recording. There's a book out now—
JM: Dick Cheney is the vice president too. In case you were in the dark about that too. In case you were getting ready to do some j-walking.
Q: Other than doing improv at the Comedy Cellar, do you intend on furthering your stand-up career.
JM: Uh. I think probably not. Every time I do it I feel terrible. And there's two types of terrible. You're supposed to feel terrible cause you just suck when you start doing it. Nobody just gets up there and starts rocking it. You just have to start from zero and start it going. Which I'm fine with. I'm drawn to a learning curve that is incredibly steep.
The problem is this other type of beating myself up. That is more the artist, the fact that I've already made it. People know my name. I'm really not able to crash and burn. Which I love crashing and burning. And I'll know that a week from now I don't hear anything from my publicist that tonight was okay.
So it's kind of like duck and hope you don't get hit by something you said. Because when you're writing comedy you're just riffing, you can be someone else. You can say the craziest things that come out. So it's either I'll never do it again, or I'll just get home after this tour and just want to annoy the hell out of the world and then just do it every night. And just say deal with it world. I haven't figured out if I'm ready to do that yet. It's got to be all or nothing from this point on cause I can't do it every ninth Monday, I can't get good at it.
RT: Have you seen Seinfeld's little documentary?
JM: Yeah, yeah. It's great. I look at it and it may be the first experience in my life where wanting to do something doesn't line up with the talent to do it. And I just think that's interesting too. I'm not getting 20,000 people over to the Comedy Central. I sneak up on stage cause I just to creatively like to take a beating. I just like it. I'm masochistic. I want to get that burn in my chest like, You can't have everything Mayer, go home and work.
RT: And you can kind of hide, a little bit, behind your guitar. If you were to show up some place tomorrow with you and your guitar, you've spent so much time behind it, it's part of you, you're comfortable. But put you on the stage with just a microphone and people who need to buy two drinks to be happy.
JM: You need to do it to appreciate—it's almost like double black diamond skiing. You'd have to do it to know how hard it is to stay up on the skis. And I need to follow where the thing goes.
RT: Well we did a little homework and we found some viral video on YouTube one night back in the middle of winter at the Comedy Cellar in New York City.
[plays clip of John doing stand up]
RT: You had a chance to work with Alicia Keys. She made an appearance on stage with you at Madison Square Garden. And I think you may have just finished some writing for her.
JM: Yeah we just finished a song. Sometimes I don't talk about songs I work on with other people because I don't know the fate of them. But this one is a healthy one so I can safely say it's a really good one. And it was unbelievable working with her, and I hope I get to do it as much as possible. I'm in her corner forever. [She's] one of those people, you call me up—you're in Prague, and your voice goes out and you need someone to sing. I'll fly, I'll go anywhere, do anything.
RT: The "Dreaming With a Broken Heart" song is probably the most piano-based thing we've heard from you. Did that start as a piano song?
JM: Wait! Except for my four disc set of sonatas that I did. They were Hyundai Sonatas.
Give it a second.
RT: You will laugh all the way home.
JM: Yeah, it was written on the acoustic. But Ricky Peterson, the fantastic Ricky Peterson, was in the studio. And we wrote it in a day, we wrote that that night.
RT: When it comes time for you to actually sit and write, what inspires you the most? Is it infatuation, is it lust?
JM: Great question. And I'm still trying to figure it out, cause if I could figure it out then I'd know when to close the tab and go home and go to work. I think it all boils down to "pretend." A friend of mine said one time, You have a really good "pretend." I think we talked about making records, and I just kind of go to the record store in my mind two years from now, and I just pick up this record and it's blank. Looks blank, sounds blank, nothing on it. But I'm constantly in my mind picking out the next "me" record. It's up to me to really come up with what's on that record.
So I'm always just pretending what the next songs should be. And again I'm lying to myself. Cause I'm letting myself be honest because I'm saying none of this counts and then it does and I put it out and it's really what I feel. But when I go home just to keep the pressure down I go, Well what's the next song? You don't have to put it out. What would the next song sound like? And it goes a little something like this—I don't know. [Laughs]
RT: Everyone's leaning in now.
JM: What would the next John Mayer song sound like?
RT: Would it be a ballad?
JM: No. I'm putting a strict two ballad rule on my next record. With Continuum there really was a very even mix of rockers and ballad and it just was that the rockers weren't as good, so we just kind of kicked them off. And it became a little bit of a lighter record. But there were songs on there like "Facial Reconstruction Surgery of My Fist," "Ass Hammer" was on there, "Slow Bludgeon Blues." But the focus groups seem to like the ones with the dreaming and the broken hearts.
RT: I keep going to the review after the show at the Garden, and the line that rung out to me was, you go to a John Mayer show and there's enough to woo every woman in the crowd, and there's enough Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar god stuff so that every guy is not going leave cause they're afraid they're going to miss something.
JM: Yeah, you know, I just decided about a week ago, you just don't ever want everyone to agree on you. You got a problem if they do. So may everyone be in disagreement about whether I'm good or bad, pop or blues, whether it's guitar or singing. I just like that. I've found a real comfort zone in people not agreeing upon anything in my life anymore and I'm happy with it.
Fame, Career, and Writing "Say"
RT: What about living your life in the white hot spotlight that has become the last year?
JM: It's not that white hot. In here it's all very much the same. I know it becomes very cynical, it becomes very suspicious. That there's board meetings and round tables and someone's cracking their knuckles and saying, What shall we do? How do we send this next message of how John Mayer has really made it as a celebrity?
It doesn't happen. I don't know anyone in life where that actually does happen to. The truest course of my life lived out according to the plan that I want for myself, and sometimes that wanders into places where there's cameras and sometimes it wanders into places where there's not. If you keep your head down and do your thing, the spotlight doesn't get inside. It may shine on shine, but it doesn't get in you.
My main concern—I think the main concern of the fans—is always been, Is he still going to close the door and make a record that I'm going to be able to relate to? Without being able to really say it, that's what fans have always worried about. And that can be anything. That could be falling into any situation that might be less organic than being the guy who came up playing guitar in little clubs. So that's my concern too, is could I be untainted and un-jaded to be able to sit down and write a song that people can relate to.
RT: I think though what happens to you, because of your talent and because of your songs, all of a sudden as time goes by that escalates and that changes and that becomes something else. For instance, I bet when you were first writing, you never thought you'd have your spread in GQ magazine.
JM: If I had ever thought I'd be in GQ magazine I never would have worked that hard at music.
I was talking about this the other day, the concept that you become a heart throb or something, it was never in the plan. And it still has nothing to do with me, it's all kind of vapor around me that other people are taking in, in one way or another. I really picked up the guitar and practiced hard cause I was like, this is all I got. I'm a technician sonically. If anyone thinks I'm cute, it's a goof, it's like a side effect.
RT: How early did you start playing?
JM: I was about thirteen years old. And I never stopped. I spent as many hours thinking and playing music that day when I was thirteen as I do now.
RT: So there was never the, John get in your room and practice, you have a lesson on Wednesday and I'm not spending fifty bucks for you to not—?
JM: That was only my own voice.
RT: [Laughs] Well cool. Very nice.
So having kids who have watched in heavy rotation the Pixar Cars movie and hearing your version of "Route 66" at the very end, which is really, really cool—
[Performs "Route 66"]
JM: I thought maybe for a minute that I was going to be able to remember the lyrics and give you a good performance.
RT: Very impressive, nonetheless.
Would you write for a film if someone brought you a screenplay?
JM: I'm actually doing it right now. For a movie coming out in the fall. It's the first time. Such a beautiful, gorgeous, I-cried-my-eyes-out-at-the-screenplay, movie.
RT: Animation? Film?
JM: It's The Mummy II.
JM: It's a beautiful movie, and it was the hardest song I ever had to write because it was a deadline. And it will come out in the fall. It's the first time I would ever want to do a song for a movie because I normally just don't really believe movies. If that makes any sense. Whenever I see a cop in movies, it's like the dumbest thing in the world because you know that guy was just sitting at catering eating mac n' cheese in a cop uniform. So for me this was such a beautiful movie that transported me that I went, If I'm worth anything, I should go home and try to write a song for this.
RT: And what's after that? Once this tour is done, once your summer is wrapped up, is there a six-month vacation? Will we see you in a swim suit at St. Barts for the next several weeks?
JM: If somebody wants to sneak there and hide in the bushes and take a picture, maybe. Nothing official for me for a minute. I'm ready to go back and put the next record together and take a break. I mean a year ago I was shutting off my record brain and getting ready to go on tour, so. It's time to flip back in the other direction and make the people some more music.
RT: Life on the road, it has to be—here you're pretty much home. It's a lousy, miserable day. You can come up and hang with us, and then you play tomorrow.
Is there ever getting used to living out of a suitcase?
JM: Yeah. You can do.
RT: Do you ever prefer it? Do you like the escape?
JM: No. But more than ever—because it's summer time I think, there's nothing else. If I were to stay home—everyone is so kind of kinetic and moving around anyway, that I'm actually doing what everyone else is doing for the summer. It's very comforting for me for two months to do what everyone else—everyone else is traveling. If I went home everyone I'd want to see would be traveling. So it's actually really fun for me on this tour to want to be out there—I'm actually having a better time on the road. So I do change my answer, I'm having a better time on the road than at home now.
RT: Do you have an iPhone already?
JM: I find for me that the Blackberry Curve is an all-in-one solution to business, recreation, and lifestyle.
RT: Excellent answer. [Laughs] Have you read the new Harry Potter yet?
JM: I've never read any of the Harry Potters. I've just, I've never—I just don't "f" with that right now.
RT: Guilty pleasures. Contemporary guilty pleasure. Something that no one would know about you.
RT: Musically, books, DVDs, books on tape, shoes.
JM: I just feel like I live my life like none of my pleasures are guilty. I'll just tell anyone anything I'm into. Why be afraid.
Um, I don't know. Let me think for a minute. Now I'm stumped.
RT: Have you opened a bottle of Talisker lately?
JM: Yeah, I enjoy a little bit of scotch now and again. Scotch in good conversation.
Guilty pleasure. I want to get it. I don't think the Kelly Clarkson song is as bad as everybody says it is. Everybody's talking about it like it kills peoples' pets, it has DDT in it. I don't think it's that bad. It comes on and I go, Alright, I can deal with that. Yeah.
RT: Well listen we had a fantastic time today, and we hope you had as good a time as we did. Always a pleasure to have you here. You've been a friend of the radio station I'm pretty sure for five years now. It's gone by in a flash, man. Continued success.
JM: Thank you very much.
[Performs "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room"]