JOHN MAYER FULL LENGTH INTERVIEW
Recorded January 25, 2002
Chris McKay: What's been up with you since the last time you came through Athens?
JM: We've just continued touring with a little bit of break. I've just kept touring across the year. I've taken the latter part of December off and it was supposed to have been a month. I've just been kind of resting up and doing all the stuff I know I won't be able to do once I get on the bus.
CM: I read in Billboard you were taking a month of to grow a beard (laughs)?
JM: I couldn't do it (laughs).
CM: What, you couldn't get the month off or you couldn't grow the beard?
JM: I got stuck in the Donnie Wahlberg stage. It was kind of a "Hangin' Tough" thing.
CM: So can we expect the John Mayer/New Kids look in Athens?
JM: Oh, I couldn't deal with it.
CM: What is up for this time? Is it true that you're filming a video here in Athens?
JM: Yes, we're going to do it at Georgia Theatre. We're going to do a video for "No Such Thing" and probably tape some of the show for some other media entities that...it's been explained to me, but it hasn't registered with me yet.
CM: Why did you choose Athens?
JM: I think everybody just knew that out of all the spots on the tour that Athens was the one. I think they value what's going on with us. Every place I'm going to, I mean we're "feeling the love" but Athens is, I think on this tour, the one area that really values it because I'm from here and there's just really sort of a true appreciation for it which, hey, probably comes through on tape.
CM: Is this the first video you've done?
JM: Yeah. I think it'll be fun. We'll probably do it before (the actual show). It's not going to interfere with the show. We're not going to be stopping anything except for maybe "No Such Thing" which before the show even starts, we're going to do.
CM: So you're going to do the whole shoot before the actual performance.
JM: I think so. Yeah, you know, I don't want to confuse people. I don't want to have things get in the way. I want to play a show. We're there to do a show. So they're going to co-exist peacefully.
CM: Why are you doing two consecutive nights here with one at the Theatre and one at the 40 Watt? Is it just ticket demand? I figured it might have more to do with the video.
JM: No, not really. We're just accomodating as many people as we can. As for these clubs, the seating arrangement gets bigger fast and I don't want to fill half a room up and have the sound bouncing around.
CM: Well, you've got the Theatre and the 40 Watt, so you've got both.
JM: Yeah, the 40 Watt's a good space for me. I'm a big fan of keeping alliances. Alliances is probably too heavy-handed a word as it's an art of war term. I don't like to forget and hopefully I haven't at all forgotten the people who helped me out. The 40 Watt has been amazing to me. I played the 40 Watt before I even made enough money for them to pay for the lights. It's kind of a way of remembering people that made it possible for me to play Georgia Theatre.
CM: I originally reviewed (the independent debut CD) Inside Wants Out a couple of years ago and obviously there's been a huge leap since then. What was it like working on the major label debut Room For Squares and re-recording some of the older songs?
JM: It was okay. The ones that I didn't re-record are the ones that I didn't think were good enough. There is a certain amount of magic in Inside Wants Out. I think people understand, which was not even the design. The design was that it was just kind of a demo. It was something that would go away after a little while. People would have it at shows until the "real record." It kind of took on this charming life of half-demo, half mix tape. But "Back To You" and "No Such Thing" and "My Stupid Mouth," those were the songs off that record that I felt like were not done.
CM: You just weren't satisfied with them.
JM: Yeah, and I always knew I'd be re-recording them. I didn't think that I'd be throwing those songs out. There are a couple that have been (thrown out) just out of growth, but those are songs that needed to get their fair shake. In the case of "No Such Thing," as soon as I wrote that song I knew it was going to be my first single if I ever had the oppportunity.
CM: How old is that song now? How long
have you been doing it?
JM: I think that song is from the summer of '98. Yeah.
CM: That is a great little pop song.
JM: Thank you. Thank you. I like it exactly because it's a pop song but it doesn't use pop tricks.
CM: Yeah, and you've got the dense, introspective lyrics that hopefully take it to another level.
JM: Hopefully, I mean. I just like watching the thing kind of go.
CM: You seem like a perfectionist...
JM: Yeah? I think I have a talent for knowing when it's good enough. I think if I was a perfectionist I would never have released an album. I never would've finished a song. People who think the perfectionist way are people who don't have anything to hand you.
CM: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean, but there are varying degrees of perfectionism.
JM: Oh yeah...perfectionist is a close definition, but I guess what we're both trying to say is that I have a pretty clear vision of what I want to do and I know I'm not done until it meets that vision.
CM: Do you feel that your vision came through on Room For Squares?
JM: Uh...eleven times out of thirteen (laughs). Yeah, eleven times out of thirteen. There are a couple of songs on there that I won't ever say what they are, but there just a couple that feel like I wrote them when I was 21, recorded them when I was 22 or 23 and now I'm going to be 24 and if I could make the record today...actually, I...wouldn't probably record them again. They're like commercially viable and all, but...I think I'm pretty close to a good record, but hopefully my best record hasn't happened.
CM: Something that I noticed from listening to Room For Squares is that is seems like you're definitely in a progressive stage. It is(as you said) perfectly commercially viable, but it seems like there is development and you can hear it and feel it even within the material on the CD.
JM: That's great. That's a really great thing to say. Yeah, it is. I'm writing songs faster than I can put songs down. It's kind of this restraint that I need to practice to not play them for people. We're on stage every night and I've been playing "Neon" for two and a half years. Of course I want to play the new songs. Whenever I do that, though, it just confuses the pace of things. I have a lot of new songs. If I play too many on stage...basically I have to hold back the pace of the output of music. Unfortunately, in pop music the record cycles are excruciatingly slow. I'm not expected to put a record out until late 2003. It's a little bit restraining, but yeah, there is a growth that's happening and I like the idea that I can take my time. If I want to write a song that I don't think is ever going to make a record, but I want to write it, I can do that.
CM: Room For Squares does seem to have a couple of songs that could be "breakthrough" types but the album sounds more like something from a career artist.
JM: That's cool. I hope so. I think everyone around me, myself included, is hoping to shape it that way.
CM: So how did you hook up with producer John Alagia, who's also Dave Matthews producer?
JM: I met John Alagia through a girl who helped me out incredibly at ASCAP. She actually handed my CD of Inside Wants Out to him and he loved it. We started hanging out. It's just sort of a coincidence that John works with Dave Matthews.
CM: How do you feel about all those comparisons to Dave Matthews? It's got to drive you crazy.
JM: Back when I wasn't sure that I had my own base plan, I was really, really concerned about it. I was kind of frustrated by it. I felt like out of all the work that I've done in my life to sort of jockey for position in this part of the music industry right here, this little spot where I want to make new songs...what if the one thing that's going to stop me is my similarity to someone else that happens to sound a little bit like me or I happen to sound a little like him. And as soon as I found out that wasn't a deterrent at all, then I was able to exhale and go, "Okay, cool." And then allowed me to open up and say, "Yeah, Under The Table And Dreaming shaped the way that I think about writing songs."
CM: So you were a big Dave Matthews fan?
JM: Yeah, without a doubt. No doubt. I never bought into the periphery of being a fan. I don't think for anything I've ever bought into the periphery of it, I just liked the music. I went to a couple of shows and I loved what was going on, but I didn't admit that for a long time. I was scared shitless that I was going to be given walking papers and that the world was going to say, "No thanks, we already have one."
CM: Yeah, but there's a more soulful feel to what you're doing and that's not to say anything negative about Dave because he does what he does better than anyone else does what he does (laughs), but there's something in the delivery that is occasionally closer to singers like Seal than Dave Matthews.
JM: That's very cool. I have to say that the Dave Matthews comparison has...I've stopped listening to it for what people mean by it. You know? But I understand that it's usually meant as a compliment. Dave Matthews is nothing but a superlative if you think about it. Have a Dave Matthews day! (laughs) Or..."your car, it's brand new, how much did it set you back. It's Dave Matthews."
CM: Have you found that you have the same fan base as the Dave Matthews Band?
JM: I think that the odd and strange, but beautiful and blessed thing that I have going on is that I think that my fan base is kind of made up of a whole overlapping of a lot of different kinds of people.
CM: That's the pop thing.
JM: Yeah, I hope so. I hope I have the pop engine and the jazz wings, you know what I'm saying? You feel that? Yeah. I definitely feel that there are people who would list Dave Matthews and John Mayer on the same line of what they like, but I think that some of my fan base is a little more open. I think that at times the Dave Matthews fan base can be very kind of closed at what else they want to listen to and I feel like even if they are the same people, it's nice to see people with their antenna up and their antennae in the air saying, "Well, let's listen to this." For a lot of people, Dave Matthews is literally all they listen to.
CM: Believe me, we know in Athens. Remember, we've got the Dave Matthews Cover Band here.
JM: Yeah, and that's all they listen to. Again, I think Dave Matthews Band is great, I just think that sometimes...and I may get a talking to if this ever gets printed, but I don't think it's a negative thing. I think that sometimes some of those fan bases are so rabid that they're very close minded.
CM: I know what you're saying and I bet the people you're talking about know what you're saying.
JM: Y'know, even if they are Dave Matthews Band fans, well God bless them for giving me a chance.
CM: On the other hand, you're getting Elvis Costello and Police references...
JM: And that's cool.
CM: So it's not as isolating. I can't imagine that it's not frustrating for you to hear the Dave Matthews comparisons all the time, but it sounds like you're used to it enough now that when it comes from a fan you can take it as the compliment that it's meant to be.
JM: Yeah, that's exactly what I was saying where it stops becoming the definition of their words and becomes my definition of their words.
CM: What do you think you do? How would you describe your music?
JM: Like what do I think I do in music?
CM: Yeah, what do you think your music is?
JM: I think it is the most colorful guitar part you can come up...basically it's making the most of the elements that you have to work with. If you're playing your guitar part, well, your whole song is going to be based on your sitting down on the edge of your bathtub and playing and just experimenting so you better experiment with something really fucking cool because everything is going to be based on that. So for me, it's like, get that really colorful..get it so even if there weren't lyrics on it, I'd want to listen to it. At least that's the criteria for my new stuff. And then it's time to sing on it so space it out vocally, melodically so that you could pan the guitar all the way to this side of the spectrum to this end and make it sound really, really wide and interesting and, hopefully, avoid most every cliche in the book and try to be fresh.
CM: And still wind up pop...
JM: I still want enough cliche to succeed, yeah.
CM: Which is cool that you're willing to admit. It seems like part of your goal is to be as accessible as possible and that's not meant in a bad way.
JM: No, no, no. That's a great...I'll have to think about that one for a minute. I think so. I think so. You're right. I think it is, but in a way that makes everyone feel as if they're the only person that likes you that much.
CM: Yeah, it's an inclusive thing...
JM: Inclusive, but at the same time singular. That would be the world's biggest hustle musically would be to do that. I think that, getting back to the Dave Matthews comparison again...I think that when you listen to Dave Matthews, you know that you're one of the many, many people who like Dave Matthews. I think it might be fun, and who knows if it can be done. It might be fun to be on TRL and make everyone feel as if, "John Mayer's on TRL?" If you could keep doing that, you could probably last forever if you could not make it so obvious that you're all over the place.
CM: What do you think of all of this glowing "next big thing" type press you're getting? Has it affected you at all?
JM: Uh, only one way...well, there's two ways. The first way is every once and a while I'll be sitting around and just kind of go "Whoa, that's fucked up. Woah, woah, woah..." and then just kind of come back to reality. You know your mind can snap a little bit every once in a while, but that's only when I think about it too much. You know, when I go like, "Wow, my song is playing somewhere..." The other way is just, it just makes me want to get my shit together. It makes me want to (say), "Okay, everybody's watching. Now what are you going to do?" The whole "what are you going to do to get people to watch", that's a whole different game. "Okay, now you've succeeded at that game so you can throw the play book away, it doesn't matter anymore. Now what are you going to do?" This is the important part. "You've got people watching you now, a thousand people at a time each night."
CM: Yeah, you've made the ten to watch in '02 list from Rolling Stone...
JM: Yeah, that's not bad. That wasn't bad at all. So all these people are going to watch. We're on the radio now. "Now what are you going to do? Now how are you going to do this correctly?" What am I going to do to keep people? I play these shows and a lot of these people are going to see me for the first time. It's the first time they've ever been exposed to me. What am I going to do to show them what this is like? It's just a matter of doing this correctly. There's not a lot of pressure in that either. It's just like...it's like the boss is coming into work today, what am I going to do? You know.
CM: So does it still feel like mostly questions to you or are you getting some answers?
JM: I'm getting some answers. I'm getting some answers and I think that the fact that I have some feedback and some answers makes this tour probably the most exciting thing for me in my life. This is probably the most exciting thing in my life. Yeah, you're right. That's a great question. The fact that I know a little bit more definition wise about what I'm doing, I can stop competing for people's attention. Now that I know people are watching and they won't leave if I play a slower song, I can really take a deep breath. I know they're all in the room at this point to see me. I'm not the opener anymore. Now I can kind of enjoy that space that we created all last year. We were building a house last year and to some degree we'll always be putting additions on, but now I can stand around in my house and go "Welcome to my house."
CM: Do you get back to Georgia much now?
JM: Well, I'm actually in Atlanta right now. I just got back a couple of nights ago and we're leaving Monday. I'll be back on February 6th and 7th.
CM: Do you miss anything about Georgia when you're gone?
JM: I guess it's all my stuff (laughs). Yeah, I miss the kind of quaintness. This is a quaint little city. I miss the quaintness I think...
CM: What do you not miss?
JM: The fact that for some reason, this being the place that I've lived in for the last three years, I don't really have a lot of friends here. Yeah, I don't really have a lot of friends here. I can go to Chicago and hang out in five minutes or Boston, New York, California but somehow in Atlanta I don't have a lot of people to call other than the people that I play with, but when I'm around here there's the "no hanging out with each other" rule while we're detoxifying.
CM: What should the audiences expect on the new tour?
JM: A show that is equally balanced between satisfying the people who heard about me when I was playing Eddie's Attic and the people who heard about me the week before tickets went on sale. It's going to be a little bit planned out instead of just getting up there and feeling it and playing whatever we want. It's going to be a little bit more ...the show's going to have a little bit more of a design. There's going to be an element to the show. Basically, there's going to be an acoustic set inside of the rest of the show. There's actually going to be an Inside Wants Out set that I'll do alone to kind of satisfy the people who wish they had the CD. I wish that I could sell it to them right now, but I'm bound and gagged by the man.
CM: I'm sure you'll be the victim of bootleggings and file sharing...
JM: I hope so.
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