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Who Says

Interview with Steven Smith on Fuse
On The Record: Fuse

SS: Now, the first single, "Who Says" has more of a Tom Petty type feel to it. Is that something you were going for?

JM: Yeah. Tom Petty and Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, you know, moving out to California to make the record I couldn't help but fall in love with that sort of really easy melodic straight to the point sort of a vibe. So that's how I knew that I wanted it to be my first single. Most people's first singles, most of my first singles, if not all of them, have been the biggest thing you can find on the record. What's the biggest, loudest, tallest, sort of largest thing you can find. And this was sort of like, I wanted to go under all of that. You have to go back to that place that's very pure and simple and connected. And so, "Who Says" was sort of like grabbing people by the collar and bringing them close again and going nope, it's just you and me.

Appearance on VH1 Storytellers Episode
Recorded in Brooklyn, NY

I think it was like around the time that I was making Continuum. I was having myself a little sex, and listening to Miles Davis' "In A Silent Way." And I was naked and I was playing the guitar. Post-coital. Mid-Miles Davis' "In A Silent Way." And I think I was tinkering around with a guitar and I went [singing and playing guitar] "Who says I can't get stoned, [scatting] duh na duh na the shades alone, who says I can't get stoned."

It was lovely. And I'd always played it for the last three years straight—to my friend and roommate and front of house engineer Chad Franscoviak—and I would say, Check this out, [plays part of "Who Says"].

He would say, You need to do that. You need to do that. And I went, I'm nervous about the stone thing.

And then I always had this other thing that went. [Sings chorus of "Who Says"] "It's been a long night in New York City. It's been a long night in Baton Rouge"—because we knew a girl [who] was from Baton Rouge, Chad and I.

And that's all I had. I had these two pieces and I thought they were very strange. They were very unlike one another. The verse and the chorus are very much unlike one another. And when they went together it made this really mystifying sort of concoction.

And I played it for Steve Jordan. Steve Jordan. Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Jordan. Worked on Continuum and Battle Studies.

And here's the thing about songwriters: they always have more songs than they're playing you. There's always another song behind another song behind another song. We sort of played everything on the record that I had and I went. Well, here's one. And it was in the performing the song for him that I faked the arrangement of the song. And I had one of those brilliant moments of being a songwriter where you just know you're going to finish it up that night.

And it was a certain moment in the song—songwriters have a certain moment in the song they know they've done something. And the entire song would be a joke if I hadn't sung, "it's been a long time since 22." And when I sang, "it's been a long time since 22," the whole song made sense and I sort of got choked up, because it has been a long time since 22. And I do mean to be the same person I've always tried to be and I don't expect to have any different a set of circumstances than someone else or anyone else who'd gotten very successful, very well known, very well paid. I don't suspect that there's anything that's happening to me that hasn't happened to everybody else except I want to control the destiny of that, you know. And to be able to say, It's been a long time since 22. And I don't know if you guys agree with me, but has it not been a long time since 22?

And it starts with singing this to yourself, Who says I can't: fill in the blank, everybody. Who says you can't? I know there's a couple crazy people in here who are like, No the law still says you can't. But for most people nobody is saying you can't be yourself.

If you put something on you look in the mirror and you like it, go out in it. And when somebody looks at you and they say, Why are you wearing that? Instead of going, like don't even look down, go, I like this, why you wearing that? Watch them run away. They'll never bother you again because the world is full of bullies.

Just remember, it's bullying. Stand up to bullies. And "Who Says" is my stand up to the inner bullies in people. And I hope you enjoy.

Interview in Guitar World magazine
Published in Guitar World (February 2010)

JM: It doesn’t break new ground, but I think the lyrics push it forward. If the lyrics were different in “Who Says” it would just be a pleasant folk song. They put a different spin on the music and give it edge.

GW: What do you mean by “edge”?

JM: I don’t mean a controversial edge; I mean it perks up the music. It becomes a compound. I really like it when music has at least two different elements that come together to sort of react to one another. The lyrical phrase “Who says I can’t get stoned?” gives it a little bit of a punk/irreverent thing. If instead I sang, “Come with me where I go,” it would fall over, because it would be too cliché. That contradiction is a theme that goes throughout the album. Most of the lyrics are very “late night” and desolate, but the music is “everything’s gonna be alright.” If the music was desolate and the lyrics were desolate, I think it would bring people down too much.

Interview at the Grammy Museum
"An Evening With John Mayer"
I think "Who Says" was the song on Battle Studies that sort of opened up and Born and Raised came out of it.
Interview and performance from Google+ Hangout
Promoting Born & Raised album
This is something that sort of, like, was premature in terms of where I was going musically, because it’s on the Battle Studies record, and when I first wrote it, it blew me away. I was like, whoa, I can have that one, or I can go that direction too. And there’s nothing else on the Battle Studies record like this. And then kind of everything on Born and Raised is like this. So this is the one that kind of I take off Battle Studies and it’s like the JV soccer player playing on the varsity team. Hanging out with the seniors. And this song is responsible for a bunch of cool people, but people that I don’t know, coming up to me asking me if I want to partake in smoking marijuana. Which, I don’t. I hardly ever, ever do. And that’s actually what the song is kind of defending, you know.
Interview with My Stupid Mouth forum (2013)
Conducted by founder Richard Young
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.
Appearance on Bob Saget's podcast
Bob Saget's Here For You podcast

JM: Yeah, I love that song. I thought that song was gonna be huge. The day I wrote it and listened back to it I couldn't stop listening back to it, I couldn't believe I owned it. Oh my god, I own this now. And I drove across town the next day to play it for a friend. Listen to this song. Oh my god, listen to this song. I said, I'm gonna play this song around the world. This song is gonna take me around the world. And it didn't. But—

BS: I thought it did. Because it's an anthem.

JM: So it didn't until it did. Meaning—and this is a different conversation—but the scope of view that people have for the success or lack thereof of something that's released, whether it's a Netflix special or a movie or a song, is relegated to just the release week and the commercial moment. 

BS: And where people are at in their heads. 

JM: For that month. So forget about release month. I learned to forget about release month. Now more than ever. Where does the song end up? And I remember I went on tour, this time last year I was in like Indonesia. And I was playing that song and that song was being sung back to me as if it was the biggest hit on the radio that ever existed. And I remember being like, I was right that this song was special. It just didn't—the read-out didn't come until ten years later.

BS: Yeah I've had that with everything I've ever done.

JM: But you learn to trust that.