Still Feel Like Your Man
“This is my little engine that could,” Mayer says of the groovy-yet-angular “Still Feel Like Your Man,” a propulsive, minimal R&B tune that’s the musical cousin to “Moving On and Getting Over” from Wave One of the new album. He spent more hours working on revising and improving the song than any he’s ever recorded. The title, however, came to him in a flash, within his first week working on The Search For Everything. “The title itself had lyrics blowing out of it from every corner,” he tells Rolling Stone, and recalls writing pages and pages of ideas, “almost like a treatment for a movie,” before he even attempted to sing a melody to go with it. His favorite lyric – “I still keep your shampoo in the shower, in case you want to wash your hair” – is one of many autobiographical moments on the album.
Once he found the right music to go with the concept, he wrote for three straight days in a near-trance. “I feel like I never touched the ground those three days, like ‘Let’s not worry about what this might draw from and be true to whatever it is.'” Along with co-producer Chad Franscoviak, Mayer deconstructed and reconstructed the song countless times over the past few years, redoing the drums, switching out guitars, working to make it “really punch but also really freaky,” and to give a vibe Mayer describes as “ancient Japanese R&B.” He even has ideas in mind for a video involving CGI panda bears and a sequence requiring him to take dance lessons. “Can I please be Kanye for one video and just yell at people for not being dope enough?,” he jokes.
In sweats at a Hollywood soundstage, Mr. Mayer was quick to pick up the choreography for the ensemble number that would be the centerpiece for his new video. The song, “Still Feel Like Your Man,” is throwback for him: a wistful but upbeat breakup ditty that, like much of his new music, “moves and throbs and has women in it again,” Mr. Mayer said.
It’s also pretty plainly about missing his most recent ex, Ms. Perry, a fact that he acknowledged might get the tabloids chirping again. “Who else would I be thinking about?” he said. “And by the way, it’s a testament to the fact that I have not dated a lot of people in the last five, six years. That was my only relationship. So it’s like, give me this, people.”
For the video, Mr. Mayer wanted to think big, giving the track the best chance to succeed as a single. The syncopation of the guitar riff, he said, reminded him of “ancient Japanese R&B” — which he acknowledged “isn’t a thing” — so the video concept followed suit. “I’m not gonna ever roll around in bedsheets again,” Mr. Mayer added.
On set the next day, there was a makeshift bamboo forest, a woman in full geisha garb and two people in giant panda suits, making up a bizarre tableau that Mr. Mayer called a “disco dojo.”
Yet for someone so attuned to the risk of offending people again — “I have nightmares about a second occurrence of” the Playboy era, he said — Mr. Mayer seemed sanguine about the possibility of a controversy over cultural appropriation, an issue that has dogged other pop stars.
“I think we were as sensitive as we could possibly be,” he said over burgers at the Polo Lounge the day after the video shoot. “It was discussed at every juncture.”
“Part of cultural appropriation is blindness,” he added. “I’m on the right side of the line because it’s an idea for the video that has a very multiethnic casting, and nobody who is white or non-Asian is playing an Asian person.”
The video’s director, who goes by Mister Whitmore, said he and Mr. Mayer “thought long and hard about how to approach” the “fantasy element” of the concept without offending. “I hope there’s an understanding that we were sensitive to it,” he said.
Still, Mr. Mayer acknowledged the current discourse. “Do I think that someone is going to tweet that this is cultural appropriation? Yes,” Mr. Mayer, an internet obsessive, said. “It’s going to be interesting to see.” (And then there’s the dancing.)
CR: What does "Still Feel Like Your Man" sum up?
JM: It sums up musically, first, trying to make a pop song that can be on par with anyone else's pop song. But also being in a sneaky way really hyper-musical. So if you listen to it, sort of across the surface of it, you go, oh, that's a nice little groove. But if you go down into it and figure out what's going on with the bass and drums and these really very clean, tidy, sharp, staccato syncopations of things, it's almost like a parabolic curve or something. It looks like a curve when you look at it from afar, but it's really a lot of very, very, very straight lines [...] [humming rhythm] You wouldn't imagine that could swing. And that's what—when I first came up with this riff on the guitar, I went, oh, this is new.
I don't know if it's good or bad, I'm not so interested whether it's good or bad. I'm interested [in] that it's new because this was my seventh record and you're looking for ways to still innovate. A little bit like a magician in a warehouse going like, well, I've climbed out of the locked box and I've gone under water, what's the next trick, you know? And I thought, for having been thought of in the same sort of category of blue-eyed soul for such a long time, that there is something really unique about the robotic kind of syncopation. And then the lyric—every once in a while as a songwriter you get a lyric, and you know it's great. A title, "Still Feel Like Your Man," and then you immediately get frightened that someone else has already done it.
JM: The thing that follows a great idea is intense fear that it has already been settled on. And you do a search on Spotify or Wikipedia and you go, "Still Feel Like Your Man." It's like a trademark search.
And so I had "Still Feel Like Your Man," and I looked at the title and I went: this is almost like, found in the couch cushions of R&B history. You find that nobody had yet put together "Still Feel Like Your Man". It was very provocative and evocative.
CR: When you wrote it, were you thinking of someone?
JM: Sure, yes, I mean, I think of the person that I left a relationship with, you know. I think of the last person that I parted ways with, you know. I process that very deeply. I get to process that with music, and I was in a relationship that— you know, I don't mean to play coy about not using proper nouns. I like to look out for other people's mornings when they open up the computer. It's too easy to sort of spawn these other stories and then it creeps into other people's minds and makes bad—you know what I'm saying? It reverberates, you know. I have to watch disingenuousness, right? Like, I'm on the alert for disingenuousness because I—
CR: And on the search for authenticity.
JM: Right, I can't play dumb, right?
JM: But I also don't want to sort of rattle somebody's cage on a morning when somebody picks up the story because they love proper nouns, right? However, I can't sit here and say I have not done a duet with Katy Perry. I can't—I won't let myself sit here.
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.