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Podcast interview with Cory Wong

"Mayer is King," Episode 1 of 2 from Wong Notes Podcast

This transcript is excerpted from the full interview.

[Interview starts at 05:20]



Cory Wong: I'm a Halo guy, but I respect Call of Duty.

John Mayer: Listen, I want the world to be a Halo world. I do. But I'm a realist. 

CW: You down with Halo?

JM: I played Halo I so much that I would play right before showtime and I would go on stage frazzled. Chad's in the other room, he was "Paco," and we would play "hang 'em high," and we would play with other bands across the buses using an ethernet cable.

We used to play Linkin Park, they would do a show and then they'd race over to our show. And then after the gig we would park the—maybe it wasn't their bus. [...] So I was a Halo guy. And it was—to this day—the game physics and the game engine is the best game engine of any multiplayer shooting game known to man. It's still the most fair, it's still the most responsive. It's still the most, sort of, consequence based, on the risk-reward.



CW: Okay so, we're talking about expectations of ourselves as the artist, but then managing the expectation of the audience. For them to understand where on the dartboard you're aiming. For a lot of years, my interpretation, you were aiming for the bullseyes, the "I want to be radio star, superstar."  Then for a while, I'm not just aiming for the bullseye, I'm aiming for the triple twenties, I'm aiming for the triple seventeens, cause that's where I want to focus on the dart board. Now here is where I'm focusing this on the dart board. And other people might watch you shooting those darts and thinking like, he's way off, he's way north of where he's supposed to be.

JM: Yes. I get that a lot. I think, certainly this record, I knew not to worry about that anymore. I just knew that by definition—I'm going to say something coarse—by definition of me being an artist, they're wrong, and I'm right.

CW: [Laughing] Go on.

JM: It's that simple, Cory. They're wrong. Now, they may not like it, and they may have a right to not like it. And they may think they're right and they may be right in their heads. But as the artist, the guy who has to call these shots and has to go this path that they know is going to take them to the highest ground they can find, I'm right, they're wrong. Now it's a very sweet, "you're wrong." It's a very loving, "you're wrong." And I think more people should adopt a more loving, "you're wrong," when it comes to making something. My job is to stay just a little bit ahead so you don't like it until next year, or the year after. Like, I've said this before, we look at fashion to challenge us, and we look at music to be exactly what we were hoping for. But everything else in our life is sort of meant to challenge us.



JM: What I was gonna tell you before—what I wanted to save until we started recording was, by the time you're lucky enough to have a classic for your own catalog, you're already dealing with the fact that people are holding it up like, why can't you do another one like this? And I think that's the blessing and the blessing of having a classic.

I mean, do you really think that after someone's had all classics that—do you think that Paul McCartney gets upset when people talk about Let It Be, that they're not talking about Ram

CW: Hey, Ram is dope.

JM: There's a reason I said Ram.

CW: Ram feels like it could have come out today.

JM: Ram is the shit. And again, nobody cared about Ram. Nobody's ever cared about Ram. But you and I know that that [sings Ram On]. This guy could sing about cooking spaghetti. And it's incredible. I just got shivers imagining Paul McCartney singing about, [singing] "got spaghetti on the oven." I'd be like, yes, I'm with you. He can sing anything because his reportage is so beautiful. But I wonder if he goes, "ugh, again? Remember, I wrote No More Lonely Nights."

Have you heard "No More Lonely Nights" in a while? [Sings part of chorus]

CW: Which album is that on?

JM: I don't know, but David Gilmour is playing.

CW: That's David Gilmour?

JM: That's David Gilmour!



CW: How many mix revisions do you usually do on?

JM: That's a great question. They're different every time, but we get up to the teens. "Why You No Love Me" got up to the twenties. 

CW: Really? I mean, what's the difference between eighteen and twenty-six?

JM: When you get up there, eighteen has all the changes of seventeen but the thing back you took out sixteen is back.


So, you know, the most important reference is the one where the mix engineer goes from not knowing the sound field you were imagining, to you properly, or improperly, expressing what it was you were looking for, and them getting it. And you go, okay now we're in the zone. It's when someone gives you something where the reverbs aren't there, or like—we do have a rough expectation.

But also—I hope that more than one person gets something out of this—I don't think that my perfectionism is crazy. I don't think it's ever been crazy. I think revision twenty-three is the best of all of them. Perhaps it's just like twenty-one was but there was one little tick we took out. So, they get better.

I don't swim away—I don't need anyone to tell me, like, so John you're getting in your head. I get in my head about everything in my life, except I know where the record's going. 

We did the drums on "Why You No Love Me" three times. And I remember looking at Don Was going, ooh this is my ego gamble here, cause if this doesn't work, I'm going to lose—not that he would ever hold it against me. But we're people. We have a line of credit as artists. If you say, "follow me," twice, three times, and you don't bring them anywhere, they don't follow you the fourth time.

And I went, no no no, we have to do it again. Brought in a drummer again, same drummer. Aaron Sterling. And I said I'm looking for a snare, and I had to figure out what I wanted it to sound like. I want the snare to go, "thit." And he goes, "thit." Okay, let me work on it. And, I'll be damned, he got a snare that sort of went, "thit." And when he started playing on it, the whole song unlocked. So I know that, as guitar players, we say, ah, it's any old cable. And a lot times it is. The minuscule stuff doesn't matter. I learned that in record making, there's 110 BPM, and there's 111 BPM. And then there's also 110.5 BPM. And that's not crazy, to go to a 110.5.

We are working that nuanced on making records. Where I was working on a song, and I went, the only person who can play bass on this is me. Pino [Palladino] had played on it a bunch of times. Sean Hurley had played on it a bunch of times. I go, it's gotta be me. And it's, "Shot in the Dark." And if the bass were any smarter, the whole song would have fallen apart. And the bass just had to be my, [plays "Shot in the Dark" bass line on guitar]. It just had to be that. And whenever it was a proper bass player it wouldn't work, you know?

So all of these little things. A half a BPM. I've heard it make a difference, it makes a difference. Changing the drums so that the snare is smaller. Everything affects everything and I love the puzzle. 

[end of Episode 1]