Dead & Company

John Mayer and Bob Weir onstage.
Article in Rolling Stone, 2013
"John Mayer on His New Voice, Summer Tour and Dating Katy Perry"

PD: Have you been writing new music?

JM: No, but I’ve been listening to stuff and just falling in love with certain things. I’ve been listening to the Grateful Dead nonstop. Mark my words, the Grateful Dead are gonna make a comeback, because of how that music cleanses your palate. When everything is processed and quantized and gridded out – to hear “Tennessee Jed” played with that lope is a real palate-cleanser. They take their time, sometimes too much. This free expressive sort of spirit – I listen and I want to find a mix of that openness. I kind of want to go to that show, if it still existed. But I wish that there were tunes that I was more familiar with. I wish that I could be the singer. I wish I could have harmonies. And I wish that I could make it seven minutes instead of 13 minutes. Now I’ll get the opportunity to kind of try that.

Interview with My Stupid Mouth forum (2015)
Conducted by founder Richard Young

RY: How much of their extensive catalog will you be learning?

JM: I’m learning as much as I can, obviously starting with the ones that are the most iconic and the ones that are the real bedrock of the live shows.

I have my own system of layers to familiarize myself with each song — just listening to it, just putting it on in the car, just having it, then picking it up, and finding out where it lives on the guitar. Then learning how the arrangement goes, then learning how the solo works — basically, the theory on the guitar for each song — and then learning how to sing over it and do that at the same time. 

I’m moving through on an X/Y vertical/horizontal level. Just because I know how the song goes doesn’t mean I fully understand the song. But if I can understand it and where it comes from, then I can understand how to communicate it in a way that it’s a little bit deeper than simply reciting it. If I can understand the theory of it, then I can expound on the theory of it. 

There are songs that I’ve known how they go for four months but I’m still going deeper and deeper and deeper into them. And I think that’s a testament to that band and Jerry Garcia and those songs that you can just keep peeling away the theory behind them.

It’s a real master class.

RY: You seem really excited for this chapter. What is it about the music and the band members that brings that out of you?

JM: The first thing that excited me about it was that it felt to me like what musicians used to experience in the jazz world in the ‘50s and ‘60s — when they would do time in other people’s bands and they would come up through those bands. 

To me, this is no different as a guitar player in this band than it would be for any instrumentalist to be in Miles Davis’ band. If you were in Miles’ band, you got your own band after that. It meant something. You became a better musician forever because you learned from Miles.

That’s the way I see this. I can learn from these musicians and then always have that on any other project. It feels almost like taking a year off to go to school or taking four years off to go to college. It’s another lesson. 

When this is said and done, I can’t imagine not being a better musician, whether it’s technically or philosophically, and that really inspired me. 

As a solo artist, I have my pretty set paint colors to work with. And this guarantees that the palette that I have to make my own music will keep widening and diversifying. And that’ll mean I can keep putting records out where I don’t repeat myself because I have new vocabulary to work with. I don’t ever want to get to that place where it’s the same vocabulary, just in a different order. 

And with this band, oddly enough, there’s a real youthful energy to this right now. It’s really youthful. Everybody is sort of putting on their parachutes and we’re going to jump. 

For my whole career, I’ve only wanted to do that — I’ve only wanted to take the thrill ride part of it. 

Now I also want to go through my career in the scenic view. I want to go up the coastline and look at the water and I want to take extra time to do it because it’s really all about that trip. It’s not about getting records out on time. It’s not about making sure that the cycles fall where they’re supposed to. It’s really about a journey and I can’t think of a better journey to take right now.

I’ll always remember how to make John Mayer records. I don’t think I’ll forget [laughs]. That’s always going to happen, so that’s why it was very easy to follow this path wherever it leads.

Nobody’s quite sure where the future is going to take us and that’s all I ever wanted to do when I made music. Ever.

I want to be reliable but I don’t want to be predictable. How about that? Reliably unpredictable is exactly where I want my career to live. You don’t know where I’m going to go, but you’re sure I’m going to give my all to you. 

RY: Jerry Garcia's guitar playing was different from yours and obviously you’re not trying to replace him. I'd love to hear more about your approach to his sound and his playing, as he was an exceptional improviser with a deep-rooted knowledge of scales.

JM: It would take six guitar players to cover a show to come even close to being able to cover all of the influences that Jerry Garcia was drawing from. There’s nothing else like it. 

I think the way I can approach it so that I don’t completely panic is to find the balance between where the guitar lives under my hands, what these songs dictate, and where Jerry Garcia’s playing melded into the composition of the songs. I’ve tried more than a couple of times to play stock “me” over these songs and it doesn’t work. They sort of die on the vine. 

I’m doing this with the utmost respect also because this is a respect thing and not just a science. It’s a very spiritual thing where I’m respecting these notes because they won’t ever die. That’s Jerry Garcia’s genetic code in all of these songs and in all of that playing. It’s really interesting how his music can do that. It’s so expressive.

I’m learning how he thought and how he felt and where he was coming from, so I want to deeply respect that and also not hyperextend myself to try to go for something I can’t get. 

It’s a lot of playing and listening. Because I want to be authentic, I want to sound alive and organic but I also want to respect what those compositions were and that guitar playing has so much to do with the feeling that it gives the audience. I’m learning new things about it all of the time. 

It’s one of the most intense pursuits musically I’ve ever been on, maybe the most because there’s so much to look at and there’s so much to dissect.

How do I build using the pieces that I have here and some pieces that I can build based on practice and study? How do I put together this thing that in its own way is vital but respectful and authentic and true to what that music is?

So it absolutely is one of the most fascinating, frightening, rewarding experiences of my life. I am 100% online as a musician right now. All of my brainpower and soul power is devoted to music.

And I thank Bob, Billy, Mickey, Oteil, and Jeff for giving me that opportunity to put all of my energy into music. To make me care this much. It keeps me on my toes and it makes me listen to more music than I’ve listened to in a decade, honest to God. It’s its own amazing study. 

I’m already on the journey. The journey doesn’t begin October 31st. I’ve been on the journey and there’s nothing else like it. It’s going to be great. All I’ve ever wanted out of music is to look forward to waking up the next morning and seeing what’s going to come out of the guitar and what I’m going to figure out and what I’m going to create. 

RY: It seems like you're in an interesting spot because you have your own fan base, there is the Dead fan base, and then you have the Dead & Co. band members, all of whom may be expecting different things from you come show time. It seems like a lot of pressure, too! How do you find that balance of trying to please everyone while being yourself?

JM: One day at a time. One day at a time. If I looked at the whole thing at once then I would get too scared to leave the house. I have pretty good instincts. I care a lot and I like to make cool stuff and I usually don’t settle for less than cool stuff. I just work harder to make sure it’s cool. No pun intended, I trust myself to figure it out. 

And here’s the thing about being in a band — you have these other guys to help you. Everybody can help each other and that’s what is so great. Everybody is going to take a corner of the couch. I’ve always wanted to be in a tribe where everybody can work together and you can rely on other people. You can go, “WE will make it happen” and I am one part of “we”. That is all I’ve wanted, man, for the longest time.

I want a diverse experience in my life as a musician and I am only guided by the stuff that I love. I don’t think anybody could deny that I’ve been trying to get this feeling in my own music in the past couple of years. It’s proof that I’m pure of heart in wanting to play this music and cover these songs during my shows — trying to access some of that spirit for my own music because I love it so much. 

And now, to be able to go straight to the source is a whole other story. I have no idea how that happened. I am along for the ride and it can only be great for me.

John Mayer on Playing With Dead & Company: ‘It’s Like Catching Air’
Article published in Rolling Stone

DF: When I asked Bob if Dead & Company had a future in the recording studio, making an album, he suggested an interesting proposition: combining new material with songs he felt the Grateful Dead never fully realized in the studio. Are there songs you feel you are shaping and changing as a member of this band?

JM: That would be the most treacherous thing in the world for me to do. I have to be careful to never look at this as placing myself in someone else’s shadow or spotlight – [meaning] Jerry. If there was a way to do it that was loving and not revisionist history …

DF: Just paying it forward.

JM: That sounds really exciting – to do half that, half new stuff. I’d like to see what the vibe is by the end of the summer. I have this feeling-slash-dream – that the shows, as they go this summer, will attract more people. There’s something about a summer Dead tour that people have to see to understand.

DF: You’ve also had the test run last year. Now is your chance to fly.

JM: I’m gonna fly by flapping my wings just a little slower and a little less – just let the wind take me. I listen back to the tapes from the last tour and go, “OK, that’s a little verbose. Let’s get to the point where the guitar is more like a trumpet, more Miles Davis.” That’s what Jerry was doing a lot of the time, not getting exceedingly verbose on the guitar. A lot of his comping was on one string – he wasn’t even playing chords.

That’s what’s so great about this music. You get one DNA strand incorrectly, and it’s not the Grateful Dead. It’s not their music. I’m on a journey of finding out what is essential to the mix and how I can do that – which part of my voice I can add and which part of the original voice needs to be there.

DF: Trey told me he studied for months, on his own, for Fare Thee Well, before he got to rehearsals. How deep was your study?

JM: I studied for a long time, from April to October, pretty much until we went up [onstage]. I approached it geometrically. Guitar players think in shapes. I’m still picking out stuff. We’re all made out of choices, and those choices are made out of things we’ve heard. You go “Why that?,” “Why there?” and reverse-engineer it.

The thing that is particularly interesting about Jerry’s playing is that nothing is stock. These are newly minted, artisanal ideas, created on the spot. And there are a couple of things in there that are essential to the music floating and not sinking. They are easy to learn but take a lifetime to master. You have to remember it every time you play. It’s so much slower than you think.

When I was growing up, everybody said it was noodling. There is a little noodling. “Space” is noodling. But I was listening to Jerry play [Jimmy Cliff’s] “The Harder They Come.” In his solo, he plays the melody line – the vocal line. It’s the most tasteful thing I’ve ever heard. Just when you’re ready to put the label on him, there’s another song that makes you write a new label.

DF: How did you take all of that study, the lessons from the permutations, into rehearsals and performance when you had to play with the rest of the band – put it into context with Bob’s guitar or the double drumming?

JM: The best way to put it is it’s like being on a horse. You get thrown off, and you’ve got to chase after the horse and get back on it. And you have to do it within a measure. And you can’t get in your head about it. Here’s another analogy: If you’re boxing with a trainer and you get in your head about it, the trainer’s gonna hit you in the head because you dropped your guard. I would record these rehearsals, go back to L.A. on the weekend, play them for people and go, “Look, there it is.” It would be there for eight seconds in a solo, like “Estimated Prophet,” then disappear again.

The “it” is some sort of fluid phrasing that is totally embedded in the spirit of the song – that is interesting but not histrionic, interesting but not repetitive. It’s like catching air – floating. What I’m trying to do and what Jerry was so brilliant at – I told Bobby one time, “Man, I was watching [footage of] Jerry playing ‘Bird Song’ last night. This guy hung out in the same part of the [guitar] neck for so long.” Jerry would set up camp for the night in one part of the neck, cooked the meal, took his tent down, put out the fire – and then moved on to the next part of the neck.

A lot of the great Seventies stuff, especially 1977 and ’78, is very mellow. The guitar has this wonderful breath, this inhale-exhale to it. People have already made their judgement of whether I can cut it. I’m not saying it’s all gone. But the people that are going now are going because they like a particular aspect of what I’m doing. Now I can make this the sequel. I’ve introduced myself. Now I’m interested in having a concert where I can point at the [amplifier] speaker and go, “Look, it’s a bird that doesn’t need to flap its wings. It’s just flying. Listen to that.”

DF: How are you and Bob choosing which songs to sing, especially those originally sung by Garcia such as “Dark Star”?

JM: Bobby is singing “Dark Star.” The delegating of songs falls into two rules. If Bobby sang it originally, Bobby is still singing it. If Jerry sang it, if my vocal range can get it, I usually go for that song. And it’s really sweet. There are a couple of songs Bob wants to hold on to half of the blanket with, so there are some songs that we share.

DF: “Standing on the Moon” [from 1989’s Built to Last] is one of the Garcia songs you sing.

JM: The version I first heard was a very weak, ill Jerry. To hear that song delivered in that porcelain, beautifully broken voice – I got emotional when I first heard it. It’s so vulnerable. Bob sang it the first time [with Dead & Company]. He was so connected to the song. And he sort of taught me how to sing it, by going the first time. Every time I sing it now, I get choked up. There is something about that song that is so free of the songwriter’s ego. It’s such a one-directional love letter.

Charlie Rose Interview
Interview from appearance on The Charlie Rose Show

CR: I want to talk about two things that you went through, one is obvious, the four years. But secondly, touring with the what's left of The Dead. What do you learn from that? I mean, a group that is so part of the American culture for certain people?

JM: Yes, for lot of people, and I think they're a lot more accessible than their fans would like—like, they're a lot more accessible, but people like the barrier to entry. I get it now. If it's presented to you in the right sequence of songs, I mean, it's phenomenal stuff. I seem to see this sort of fraternal loving thing that feeds a bit off people not understanding it.

CR: Right. 

JM: You know, there's a value to looking at someone and going, you wouldn't understand. And if you would like to make your way into it—talk about learning something on your own—you really do internalize it. And you find your way to the top of this mountain where the rest of Deadheads are and they go, welcome, you've made it. 

[Laughter]

But I don't see necessarily Deadheads working hard to recruit. I think they like the—

CR: You have to find them.

JM: You have to find them. They like that that's the requisite. For me as a solo act, I'm just wise enough now to understand what I haven't liked about it my whole life, which is being responsible for articulating your own ideas. I don't think that my own ideas are all that important from time to time. I take the best fourteen and put them on a record, but the idea of repeatedly trying to articulate how I feel when I'm not even sure how I feel or I didn't have an answer for a question someone asked me, over the years you begin to sort of create the best persona you can come up with, but it's not really who you are.

And I was starting to get really distant from wanting to do any of that, and when I joined up with Dead & Company, I realized I don't have to. I'm not responsible for giving the answer about—I can tell you what it means to me, but I don't have to be the physical, human representation of my own ideas. I now understand I can't help you understand me unless I give a "New York Times" interview and the guy says I talk too much.

CR: Yes.

JM: You know, I can't—

CR: Is this the most recent New York Times interview?

JM: Yes. I can't—and I think I have to be done with this mission statement I give to myself before I sit down with somebody that I'm going to leave and you're going to have a map of who I am. It's just not ever going to happen. So when I'm with Dead & Company, they're a part of my life. The band is a part of my life, I'm a part of their life. The fans are a part of my life. I'm a part of their life. I'm a part of the band. I play the guitar, Bob Weir sings, Bill [Kreutzmann] plays the drums, Mickey [Hart] plays the drums. I'm there not as a star. I'm there to help that crowd go to that place.

CR: Yes.

JM: And when you say what remains of the Grateful Dead, on a personnel level, that is accurate. I think the spiritual side of the Grateful Dead is accessible and will always be accessible if you get those people together making that noise—

CR: But that part of it is with Jerry, I assume?

JM: Yes, Jerry is the most alive dead person that's ever lived and died. I mean, I get the sense that—they are keeping him alive. They keep him alive. He is just behind the veil. I've never seen—

CR: Because they're maintaining the capacity of people to remember.

JM: To remember and visit the place that he settled with that band. So he's a settler.

CR: Yes.

JM: And he set up camp, and then he left. But you can still go there. And I think that speaks to how incredible the music is. You can still visit. It just takes people —and it is now sort of a little bit of an oral history. It's a musical hand-me-down. And I think guys like Bob Weir are expecting it to be that. And looking at me as someone they're sort of grooming—I mean, this is never going to be over for me as long as I live, this is—

CR: You will always be part of it.

JM: I will always be part of it and I will always continue doing it. This is a part of my life for the rest of my life.

Interview from Guitar World, 2017
June 2017 Issue of Guitar World magazine

Musically, what is it like to play with Dead &Company?

Most music has defined layers. You have the rhythm section on the bottom, the keyboards come around you and vocals go on top. With the Dead, it's a whole different geometry, and you have to play in the center of it. I'm a drummer's guitarist, but ifI played to just Billy Kreutzmann, I wouldn't be playing with the band. You have to play equally with the entirety of their sound, and that is very different for me. The reason the Grateful Dead worked was because of Jerry Garcia's ability to play all these notes and just keep expressing and expanding. I mean, the Dead could play something like "Sugaree" for 15 minutes and keep it interesting because the notes Garcia played were supported in different ways by the band's cascading drums. The drums are like a waterfall in that song, and they just keep rolling and changing and become more of a melodic support instrument. That's a different way of thinking for me.

"Sugaree" wouldn't be nearly as interesting if another band played it. The song is so simple. It's pretty much a study in two chords, but what ends up happening with the Dead is that everybody ends up inhabiting everyone else's realm at one point or another, and music ends up shifting in beautiful ways. The bass will come up to the vocal register, the drums will respond to the guitar, and if you mute Bob Weir, the world's most selfless guitarist for even a minute, the whole band falls to the ground. The antigravity disappears!

The band is all about musical antigravity, and I'm still not sure how it works, but when it does all people want to do is be around it. The trick for the guitarist is to understand that there is no lead guitar. If you solo like a traditional lead player it sounds terrible. I've heard tapes of my performances with the band, and when I hear myself playing lead like I would do in my own band, I cringe.

Jerry had this ability to play in a very melodic, stately way. You wouldn't call it shredding. The times I've shredded because the moment got the best of me, or because I thought that it was the most efficient way to get the crowd riled up, it does not sound good. The music of the Dead is this shared frequency space between the entire band, and I've become so accustomed to it, it's hard when it's not in my life.

They're more like a drum circle.

... And only those guys can do it. What really excites me, in addition to being part of a great tour, is that they are passing down this knowledge to me, and maybe I'll be able to pass to someone else. There's only a handful of people that will be going forward in life carrying on the scholarship of what this music means, and I'm honored to be one.

Article in Rolling Stone, 2017
John Mayer on Katy Perry, Learning From the Dead, Embracing Pot

Patrick Doyle: It’s your second summer touring with the Dead. What have you learned?

John Mayer: I’ve never had inclusion before. I always created one-man clubs. And one-man shows are very hard to live inside of and inhabit for 50 years. When I was invited into this tribe, I promise you it was the exact opposite of anything you might think along the lines of having to reconcile ego or status. It’s like a basketball team – you are doing your best to help the team win. I’ve never in my life been in that situation, and it’s everything I always wanted. I am a pig in shit.

For me, the accolades change. They’re not these universally agreed-upon credentials like a Grammy or an American Music Award or a chart position. You have to look for them a little more abstractly. To me, being invited into this band is the highest award in the world. You have to be able to roll with it and go, “Ok, the new accolade won’t be that old one.” You’re gonna have to let go of most downloaded or streamed. Continuum, when it came out 10 years ago, was the biggest downloaded record on iTunes ever. Not anymore – and that’s OK.

Twitter Q&A (July 2017)
Twitter Q&A session with fans

what made this summer tour with Dead and Company unique in comparison to the previous ones?

Familiarity with the music (for Oteil and I) and solidarity as a unit. We know how one another works now. I can read Bob's mind on stage.

Interview from The Bobby Bones Show
The Bobby Bones Show: Episode #75

BB: Let me hear one more thing. So you are playing with the Dead & Company, which is fantastic, but I wondered—two things—one, you had to learn a lot of songs.

JM: Lot of songs, yeah.

BB: You had to learn them so good cause you are playing with one of the greatest, ever. So, like, what’s that pressure like? Compared to John Mayer pressure? Cause it seems like it would be bigger.

JM: I think that I always knew that it was always in my heart, that I can do it. I knew that I couldn’t do it the day that I said I was going to do it. But I knew that in my heart that I could do something to it and with it that would be valuable. So I remember looking at it like, okay this may be in October, it’s like April now. I looked at the number of days that I had. I looked at the number of songs there were to learn, and I went, alright that’s three a day, let’s go.

And I just knew in my heart—you know it’s like people ask me sometimes, “will you do this documentary about this person’s life, cause we know you liked them.” And I go, well I liked them, but I don’t really have anything to say. It doesn’t really reverberate inside of me so I don’t really know if I have anything to say about it. The topic of Grateful Dead music for me at that time was like, I want nothing but to think about it, talk about—so I knew that it had taken some deeper sort of purchase inside of me on a deeper level than anything ever had. And all I had to do was take it day by day. And I feel like with my knowledge of the guitar and I think understanding where the music was coming from, even if I didn’t necessarily have that myself. Like, I can play genealogist. Like I can figure out the DNA.

I looked at it like a contractor looking at an empty space going like “yeah I can build this out. You can’t eat here now. But in 6 months I think I can build this.” And it was really cool to become a student. I didn’t tour, I didn’t make a dime. I wasn’t out in the world making a name for myself. I was at home for 6 months and learned those songs. Which I was already learning, it wasn’t like I had forced myself to like something. What a perfect thing that I was already in the midst of learning these songs on my own just as a listener. And it was like at a certain point in my career where you’d think that I’d be done learning, it was like going to school for the first time again. And that was really good for me to not feel as if, “well this is your life John, you just basically play your own music til you die.” That doesn’t excite me. It will maybe at some point when I’m like, look I have a wife and kids I don’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel.

It brought so much more complexity to the life of a guy like me who craves complexity who gets, not bored, but complacent really quickly. It was like a whole new world that I could discover and everyday was exciting. And it still is with those guys. It’s incredibly exciting.

Interview with Steve Jordan
Layin' It Down With Steve Jordan, Part 2

SJ: I know that you've really gleaned a lot of cool stuff from Bob Weir. I mean I've seen it as far as loosening up and doing your thing. What's that been like? I mean, because it's been really successful. Everybody I know, first of all, that has seen Dead & Company with you are like really so happy about the whole situation.

JM: We made the leap. We landed on the other side of the chasm and it was like, Oh you made the jump. And we all did it together over I think a period of three tours, you know, to get where we we're at now. For me personally it's sort of like a hands-on boots-on-the-ground stage thing for me, experience-wise. Bob has taught me the glory of asymmetry.

SJ: Mm-hmm.

JM: I think that's the best overall way to say it. Four times, they should just call me "four times Johnny." Four times nice and square, good. Split in half, still the same thing, great. Bob comes at it from a different way. He's not counting like that. He's feeling it from a whole different place. So even as we're trying to arrange songs at soundcheck and we're trying to like—cause these arrangements are so bendable. You come up with a new arrangement for something at soundcheck. My suggestion is always like do it four times and then "bop!" And we're out.

It's like no, three times and then go into that thing that happens, we'll do that three times and then end and begin on five and a half. Or we do this once. And then go over—There's this thing called "new one," which I'd never heard before.

Have you ever have you heard this?

SJ: [Laughs] No, but this is good. 

JM: So in their planes of the good so basically "a new one" means on whatever hit that's usually a well-known part of the song you just start counting again. There you just start counting again from that instead of calling it a bar of three or a bar five, you go, Oh that's "a new one" right there! Which means forget about counting and just start again when you get it. And I get it now. And I think if you watch, if you have like a hubble telescope on Oteil, the bass player, and my mouth you might see counting from time to time.

SJ: [Laughing]

JM: There's one of my favorite songs, "Playing in the Band," is in ten, so it gets counted off in "five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten." There's this moment in the song that I that I think is like it's three bars of four and then a bar of two. And you just have to go home there's no way you could feel it right but two bars before and a bar of five a new one one new one one new one new one one two three four one it really taught me—

Well the first song that I heard that really roughed me up in terms of being okay with mistakes is "Wooden Ships" by Crosby, Stills & Nash, and there's this run in there that Stephen Stills does. This is raw like by all accounts as a guitar player, it's just a fret off for like two or three, four notes. And I remember being young being like, That's a mistake. It's like, not really. Because you know where it happens when it were recordings give life to choices the repetition of over the playback of a recording gives life to all decisions and all choices so something's off somewhere it might not be off when you finally hear it or when you hear it again thirty years later there's this little run in "Wooden Ships" that to me now it's just the way that goes and that's how you know where you are in the song absolutely and I get that now where I'm usually trying to buff it out I've had a lot of time to buff things out when I work and there are times I want to make highly ornate statements which the search for everything very much is but I want to make one that's a document warts and all. And you start to learn those worts. I learned how to make mistakes from Dead & Company.

SJ: Like a perfect example of that are Rolling Stones records and James Brown; not only do they speed up but when they do whatever wrong chord, every bar band in the world learns that chord and then the song is not right if they don't play it that way.

When the bass player doesn't change key, the rest of the band, if you don't play it like that, you don't know where the song is. You don't know where you are in the song.

JM: That's what I'm talking about "Wooden Ships." It's a moment!

SJ: Even when I'm doing a cover band or a soul band, and we don't do those weird kind of things that were basically mistakes; if you don't do it, it don't sound like the record!

JM: Repetition validates choices when it comes to records. I mean there are massive train wrecks at Grateful Dead concerts and the people love them.

I made a mistake somewhere in Boston—by "somewhere in Boston" I mean it was at a stadium—and I go into St. Stephen and I just left out a whole four bar I mean four six eight bar I may just lost it but and I went, you could hear me in the microphone, "ahh!" The crowd went wild. They're like, Welcome to the fold. They don't care about perfection, they care that you're taking them somewhere you didn't take anywhere else. They care about discovery, they don't care about the mistakes.

Instagram Guitar Q&A (September 2018)
Instagram Story Q&A Compilation

Q: What inspired the change to using a pick less?

Several years ago I realized I could get more touch sensitivity using a certain combo of finger tip/nail. But i switch off with pick all the time. Sometimes I'll play a whole @deadandcompany show without a pick and not even realize it.

Q: How would you describe playing on stage with the Dead?

Art class

Interview with Andy Cohen, 2019
Appearance on Radio Andy show

Caller: For Dead and Company, do you have any say in writing the setlist?

JM: Yes. Yes I do.

AC: It emanates from team Team Bob and then circulates through the band, and then you might say this, that, the other?

JM: Yes. I get a text from Bob's guy, who sends a setlist to me and Bob every morning. And actually it's a really healthy, robust debate. And I'll tell you what makes it work. I represent the new crew. Bob represents, like, let's do deep cuts. And I think it really helps the show to have the setlist pass through both of our hands. So I am the guy who, I can't go too long without putting a pop song in. So I look at the set sometimes, and I'll be like, that whole Set Two is so heady, that people might, like... So it's like, can we please throw Tennessee Jed in there, just to hold it down?

So by the time Bob and I get it, it's that perfect balance of, like, super super purist, and me, like, fighting a little bit to make sure that it stays relevant. You know what I mean? Like, modern-day relevant in the pop world. Not to say it's not relevant.

Podcast interview with Dean Delray
Let There Be Talk, Part 1 of 2, Episode #501

DD: When you start the Dead and Co. and you sit down and you think alright “what gear do I want to do”, because when you're out with John Mayer your gear is so different—I watched a gear breakdown on YouTube from I think '13, but then you know last run it was—when you first were in Dead and Co.—you had that Paul Reed Smith amp and the guitar then you just, it's so simple it's just a Dumble head, what is it ?

JM: I ended up with a Dumble Overdrive Special 50-watt that I adore and [just like three petals] and that's it. The inspiration is a fixed-gear bike; you ever see a “fixie?" That's what I'm trying to be now is—it's part of a deeper thing that might sound artsy fartsy when I get into it but, I want to only focus on my playing. I want to put the guitar out of the equation.
 
DD: So all you got to do is get the flavor the tone of say, the auto-wah. 
 
JM: That's all I need, and an octave thing and a little overdrive and the rest of it is up to me. The rest of it is my intention—that's the gear. I can't stress this enough: the technology, the innovation—you know, I used to love getting a new pedal, plugging it up—“This one's green. This one I got a true tone.” Oh, you just sit at sound check Indian style in front of a pedal board leaning forward still Indian style. Now the technology is “what do you have in mind to play?” All of the energy is now in “are you in your right mind to play these notes?” So I have one guitar, I might take out, there’s a few surprises, I think.

DD: When you first go out you have that custom-made Paul Reed Smith and it had a tremolo, but you never use tremolo.

JM: But I use tremolo as like shocks in a car. So when you bend a note, it comes up the slightest bit. 

DD: Right. It’s softer.

JM: It's like an air ride—but the Paul Reed Smith—so the guitars kind of follow my understanding of Jerry's playing. And I think it's one of the hardest to nail down sounds because it's so complex, and it gets misconstrued and mis—in it's replication. It's so broad and interesting and vast that if you start listening to other people play it, it loses something in translation immediately because it's impossible to clone it.  

DD: Right, like [Steve] Kimock doing his dead thing, Trey doing his—all the different guys. 

JM: If you asked me what I thought Jerry's playing was like listening to the same versions of songs I would have told you well it's "pling pling pling pling pling," and then as I got more into it I'm like, it's actually kind of a Gibson PAF and a lot of that. 

DD: Right.

JM: And a lot of times we thought he was playing the bridge because it was really bright sounding—nope, it was the neck. 

DD: That's wild. I've noticed on your first tour your guitar was pretty bright, and on this last tour you went—I talked to your tech. Not Rene [Martinez], but the other guy.

JM: Jeremy. 

DD: And he said you just grabbed this time a stock Paul Reed Smith at the shop—you went “this is the one," and that fucking guitar and that amp—it was the best tone I’ve heard in years. And let me tell you this—and not to blow smoke up your ass—I've been to thousands of shows, I've seen everyone, and I thought it was some of the best guitar playing I’ve ever seen. At the two Hollywood Bowl gigs [June 3-4, 2019].

JM: Those were special shows.

DD: The Citi Field [June 29, 2019] shows, and both Boulder shows [July 5-6 2019]—particularly the rain night. 

JM: Yes.

DD: And I was like, This tone and this playing, and the third—I guess we're in the third, fourth year.

JM: Yeah, we're in the fourth now.

DD: Fourth—so I was like, This could be some of the greatest music I've ever seen.

JM: Well thank you. And it's me figuring out what these notes really mean, what they really are. And on first pass you're like, oh I think I know how to do this. So a lot of the first few tours were out of phase positions. That's what I thought they were. Well okay, I thought he must be playing out of phase. So there was the two and the four positions, but that's actually too quacky. So a lot of those early Dead and Company shows I'm playing middle/bridge. So I’m playing between the middle and the bridge, and I've got a preamp on—cause I thought he had a preamp on. Well he's got a unity gain buffer, not really a preamp. Well we had to learn that. We had to figure that out. I'm also not trying to like copy it. But what I need to get is a tone enough so that I don't have to overplay and that I can play that much without people fatiguing.

Appearance on Bob Saget's podcast
Bob Saget's Here For You podcast

BS: And I was kind of there with you. We were at dinner when you were running after, I think it was Phil Lesh, wasn't it?

JM: Yeah, oh at Craig's, yeah.

BS: And you were saying, Hey can we put this together again? I'd love to see if the Dead can get back. He was reluctant.

JM: Well I told him—maybe I just connected with him and then he asked me to come up and play with him at his place in San Francisco. But the Phil thing is separate from Dead & Company. Phil just didn't want to go back out with the band.

BS: But that was in the back of your mind to include him in there as well, correct?

JM: Well, you have kids. So you talk about who you wish you met or what you would have done but then you wouldn't have had the kids you had? And if Phil had come before I'd had met Oteil, who plays bass in the band, I would have thought that was the greatest thing in the world. But it's a funny trade off because Oteil is so great in this band. It's hard, cause of course Phil would make it closer, genetically, to the Grateful Dead. But Oteil is such a great addition, and I think modernizes it in a certain way. I would have been happy either way but, I'm really really happy with the way the band is. 

And it's tough to cancel this tour. We canceled the tour this week.

Long Distance: Paul Reed Smith Interview
From YouTube episode of Long Distance by PRS Guitars with Paul Reed Smith

So let's just change another story, okay so from a macro umbrella level—I know something about this but I think people be fascinated to hear it. John you were known as a singer songwriter but I'm not sure you ever saw yourself that way, I think you saw yourself as a guitar player. And when you joined the Dead that completely converted. Did you feel that happen worldwide? Did you feel everybody look at you as more as a guitar player than a singer songwriter? Did you—knew that shift was gonna happen and I know that you were holding Jerry in your head while you were playing because you told me you were. What about that shift do you remember?

JM: That's a great question.

PRS: I had other guitar players come up—really famous guitar players—and go, "Whoa what's going on in that camp?"

JM: I looked at it like—um, okay. Because of who I am—all the little, I mean you can almost say like people are like frequency, you know, they have spikes and they have dips—because of those spikes and dips as to who I am I can only play a certain kind of music to suit my singing songwriting.

PRS: Right.

JM: So I have little—maybe I've got a big paint bucket of one thing or another—but I only use a little bit for here I can't use that color because it doesn't work here, my vocal range is what it is and my theoretical mental range is what it is, and I'm always into the authenticity of that.

PRS: Right.

JM: Like if I could join—I always thought—if I could join a band and I wasn't limited by the scope of who I am in terms of being a singer-songwriter, there's a hundred other records I could make. If I weren't beholden to who I am as a singer songwriter. And when that got lifted then for me all I remember was being like, oh I can use the full range of guitar playing.

JM: You are who you are, and I see this all the time now with people who are trying to like be a little literal in copying what I do and like “how do I get that like?” Well I've got thumbs that are giant, right? And I played in a way that this became an advantage. But someone else has something anatomical or physiological or mental or creative that gives them that edge. So I'm a little confined by it as I get older but that's only because I've been so lucky to sort of have this thing that I'm able to do kind of go so wide and far. But I was running, I mean, you know you get to a certain level where you just have to keep making this music that you believe coming from yourself and that is a limited thing, but it's not all the music I could make so when I was able to get into Dead & Company I was like, oh I get to sort of have full range of all the colors of paints.

PRS: So the first time I saw the show from the board I went out to the guy who was incredibly good mixer up front

JM: Yeah, Derek is great.

PRS: He was great and he was the only sound man I ever saw stand on the stage for at least a half an hour to listen to each of the amps to make sure that what he had up front was the same as on the stage. I've seen Wind do that, it's the only other person I've seen do that. Anyway, they gave you so much room.  You would start into a solo, if it lasted three minutes that have been okay, had it lasted 12 they had been okay. You had so much room John.

JM: It will never occur that way again that's why I appreciate every single show. I mean you know you hear people sort of lamenting that they didn't make the most of a thing while it was occurring? That has never happened here. I have been aware since the inception of this band that I should be—I wish I had six more eyes on my head to see it all. I wish I had four more brains to remember it all. And so every time I'm involved in it I'm just sucking it up. Taking it in, taking it in. Because there will never be another experience where I will have that ability to fly in someone else's airspace.

That airspace was created by some people many years ago in a way that is unforgettable, will never be forgotten. And I get to fly in this air, in these air currents right, and that's one of the hardest things to do is to compose music that you can play over in a way that's exciting to you and the audience. It's like flying these aerials in these air currents that have already been invented so that all you have to do is just fly in them and try to do the best you can there.

Instagram Story Q&A (August 2021)
Questions from various fans

Q: How extensive was the process of learning the Grateful Dead catalog?

A: I'm still learning it.

Q: Do headphones on the stage during the performance make the contact with the audience limited?

A: Not at all! I've got a pair of stereo mics that pick up everything around me. And I'm getting the front-of-house feed. I'm *IN* the live recording!