John Mayer in His Own Words

The guitarist on his biggest hits, tabloid enemies and endless search for love

By |

In our new issue, John Mayer opens up about his hunt for "the Joshua Tree of vaginas" and harshly critiques his own albums. Here's bonus interview from Erik Hedegaard's chat with the guitarist:

Check out Mayer's most outrageous moments, from his Borat mankini to impromptu jam "Bare Ballin'."

On his early ambition:
When I first sat down to solicit myself for a record deal, I did the rounds at all the record companies in New York City in 2000. The label heads would ask me, "What do you want as an artist?" and I said, "I want to be the guy who plays The Tonight Show, [and then sits] on the couch, making people laugh." There were only two men who were musicians who could truly sit on the couch at the time I came up: Chris Isaak and Harry Connick Jr.

On his biggest hits:
My hits are not hits. "Your Body Is a Wonderland" is the biggest hit I've ever had, maybe ever will have. There wasn't a ton of music in that song. It's a novelty tune. I don't have Lady Gaga-sized hits; I'm trying to get hits on my terms, hits without selling out the musicality. "Waiting on the World to Change" has all of its roots in Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. It's "We're a Winner" and it's "People Get Ready" and it's "This is My Country." "Who Says" is no different than a Lyle Lovett song, except it has the phrase, "Who says I can't get stoned?" which is a little bit like, "They say I've gotta go to rehab." It has a little bit of fang on it.

On becoming a staple of the tabloids:
It's so interesting how success hits people and how they react to it. I remember reading Pearl Jam saying that after Ten, "I wish we hadn't gotten this big." I read that, and I go, "Well, then give it back. Someone else will use it." The idea that phenomenal success is something to wish away... I don't understand it. I hope I sell 100 billion trillion copies of whatever I put out, but if you're that guy, then next time out, don't write a hit song.

I love being a famous musician but I don't like the [intimate details of my] relationship to be known. It just makes me severely, severely uncomfortable, as I believe it would make anybody uncomfortable. How did we get to where we actually say this: "Why do I watch that? It's like a car crash, you can't look away." Guess what? I look away at car crashes, and I know people who look away at car crashes, because it makes us uncomfortable to watch other people in pain.

Personally, I want to watch somebody entertain me safely without the sense that I'm going to fall through the net and crash with them. Personally, I want to see somebody who is a trained professional entertaining me — Alicia Keys entertains me, she's fantastic. That's why I liked Norah Jones selling as many records as she did, that was a "well done, America."

On Perez Hilton:
If you meet Perez Hilton, you realize this is not anyone the world should be scared of. He's not a very bright guy, and I also think he has some sort of clinical ADHD — he seems to exhibit some sort of post-traumatic thing. He's uneducated and highly opinionated. It is the worst combination in a human being.

On the Susan Boyles of the world:
I'm not in the business of criticizing other people's tastes, because God knows, you can criticize the hell out of mine, but I believe that Susan Boyle — not her as a person, her as a construct — exemplifies everything about the last decade: the reality television, out of the box, the underdog. If you put the Susan Boyle record on and you didn't know who she was, would you call her a fantastic singer? What we're saying is this only exists as an extension of a television show and a back story. We're asterisking it, saying, "For a girl who never did this before, that's pretty good," but I don't want that. I want "For a girl who worked her ass off on this, this is pretty great."

I would be really pissed off right now, if I were a trained singer, and I saw somebody who won a contest on a television show and captured the hearts of... who fucking cares? Why not Renée Fleming? Why doesn't she sell 700,000? She's better. The answer is right there. Do you think anybody did something to screw up the old way of just being really fucking talented and working on it? Garth Brooks is natural talent with fierce dedication to his craft. Eminem — natural talent, fierce dedication.

On finding a girlfriend:
I wish I could stay home with my girlfriend and watch Seinfeld. I'd like to hang out in bed and watch TV and play guitar. I would love that. I'm willing to make compromises based on someone I think is the one, but I think it's psychologically important to people when they're famous to be the only famous person they know. That's something you don't hear people say that they should be saying: "I want to be the only famous person in my family." I would like for fame to be my thing and graphic design to be my wife's thing, or editing, casting, or helping people in some actual, real way. You are as much a doctor as I am a famous person, and you will tell me about your vocation in the way that I will tell you mine — not my experiences with the same vocation we both have. I'm smart enough now to only consider coupling with people who are smart, worldly, capable, and are capacious intellectually in some way.

On how he sees himself:
I remember reading biographies of my favorite musicians [when I was in Atlanta] — Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy — and I always knew growing up, "Let's be really badass and really nice," because if you're badass and you're nice and you're engaging, then no one else has an excuse. It became part of the thing I wanted to do — to be excellent and kind.

It's ridiculous to be able to have a $20 million vintage watch collection, and it's also ridiculous to be able to have somebody climbing the hill across from your house and taking pictures of you. And it's ridiculous to worry about your friends from high school, them getting upset for you not calling enough, then denouncing you. I used to want to repurpose the word "douchebag." If somebody's going to keep calling me one, I'm going to own it.

On his planned TV show:
The TV show is still in place — CBS, prime time, buttoned up. We'll still call it John Mayer Has a TV Show. It was left off while looking for the right personnel to run the show, but I'm told that all the paperwork involved in getting the show off the ground is in place. I want a large-scale sound stage with depth and large interchangeable sets so that music can look big again and sound big again, and it still will be a high quality music performance show, where I could also steer it a little bit. It's about there being a bastion of artists being made to look good and sound good.

On appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone:
I almost didn't do this interview because I've gone through so much discomfort on a profound level in speaking my mind and telling the truth and being taken advantage of by the truth. I was feeling preyed upon by people who wanted to know what I had to say about things. I had stopped doing press, I canceled my U.K. trip, I canceled any Canada press, and my manager said, "Does that mean that even if we get a Rolling Stone cover, you wouldn't do it?" I said, "That's correct, I wouldn't do it."

Then I decided, "Let's do this one more time," but after this, I have nothing else to say. There is nothing more subterranean than this, so I think I'm ready to be done and just play music.

More John Mayer: