Q&A: John Mayer on His New Voice, Summer Tour and Dating Katy Perry

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Have you been writing new music?
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.

So that's where you're going musically?
Yeah. My ears are done, cooked, on a traditional rhythm section, two guitar players, sideman playing along with the lead singer hoping they don't step on his toes, and the wailing – the way that everything has kind of gone for the last 10 years for me. I know how I want to live onstage. I know how happy I want to be onstage.

The John Mayer Trio record was very organic in that sense.
Yeah. That was definitely something that I'm talking about that was like, "OK, it's impossible not to have a great time doing this." I just have this great opportunity where I haven't performed for two years, and I've been mostly forgotten about for two years, musically. And why not come back and reboot it differently? No one is holding me to a standard that I set a month ago. That's what's so great. If I don't take advantage of this, I'm never gonna have another shot to say, "Hey, when I start this heart back up, it's gonna be in a different rhythm."

From the Archives: The Dirty Mind and Lonely Heart of John Mayer (2010)

So are you reshuffling your live band?
Not completely. But not just a different personnel lineup, but for me I think it's a different approach to playing live music. I think one thing I would love to do away with is to kind of get rid of this imaginary "Wrap it up" light in my head when it comes to playing songs. You know, extend it if you still want to express yourself. If you still want to simmer on something, just do it. And change things up. Don't be afraid if the crowd didn't cheer as loud for the last song as you wanted them to. You don't have to call an audible and change your set list. It's all right, it's OK.

Would you jam on some of the old singles, like "Daughters," and extend it into a long jam?
No. I think some of those songs aren't designed for it. But that's what I think is so great about Born and Raised. Most of it is designed to be jammed on, believe it or not. It's been very difficult to not tour on, because that record itself tells half the story of those songs, and the other half of the story is told onstage. And I've had the live versions in my head ever since I made the record. I mean, "If I Ever Get Around to Living" could be a 12-minute-long song, and still be very interesting and unique and worth listening to.

One of your band members told me you called them up last summer and they came up and you recorded some new stuff.
Yeah, right before I had my second treatment I had a little bit of voice left, and I thought, "Well, let's have some fun." So the guys in the band came up to Montana, and we hung out and played every day in this barn up on the hill, and actually wrote about two or three more songs that aren't stellar, but it's always nice to have extra songs.

How much time did you spend in Montana?
That's where I spent most of my time. It's been great, and it's all a testament to [the locals'] acceptance, because I know there's got to be a fair amount of skepticism about a well-known guy coming into town. And there's got to be some skepticism, some doubt about what the intent of it is. But they've really been great to me and accepted me. It's just been fantastic. It's sort of the very definition of what a personal life is. It's not just about who you're dating, it's about who you know who works at the place you get your coffee from, and knowing what the high school mascot is of your town. That's the stuff that's been really great, is just connecting with the community.

Before you went away you got some flak for saying various things, and then there was the Taylor Swift situation. Were these reasons why you wanted to get away?
I don't know that I thought of it as a Band-Aid for anything. I just saw it as a protectant from future things. I wasn't running away, because I would have happily gone back on tour. It was like, I want to have a place over time where I can just get away to, and I happen not to be able to go anywhere else, so I'm gonna start living where I was planning on living two years from now because I was going to be on tour. When I got that place, I thought that I was going on tour. That's important to know. I thought that was going to be the place I hung out in between legs of a tour. Then it turned out there wasn't going to be a tour, and I thought, "Well, let me just go start laying down my roots there." I had spent enough time after some tough times in my life right on the street in front of everybody. I was in New York making Born and Raised for the year after and I was in L.A. finishing the record the year after that. So, no, by that point it wasn't like, "Let me go retreat."

Then you started seeing Katy Perry, who's also very famous. That makes it hard to live a private life too. I can imagine that's kind of intensified lately.
It makes it hard to live a life where people don't know who you are, but I haven't had any trouble in my private life at all. The only trouble I've had is maybe people geo-tagging me, but that's about it. To me it's just a matter of people knowing where you are on a given day, and I guess assessing your style when there is no style to be assessed. I don't really call that infringing on a personal life. That's just where I am, when. That's all.

How has the relationship been for you?
It's been . . . I mean, I'm quite happy. I'm happy in all aspects of my life. I'm very happy in all aspects of my life.

And I also think that the way that the media plays a part in everyone's life has changed over the last several years. People are a lot less concerned in what's going on with other people. I think people are a lot less concerned with what's going on with the lives of celebrities, and celebrities are a little less concerned with what's going on with the lives of other people thinking about them all day [laughs]. 

I mean, I used to be incredibly put off by somebody taking a picture, thinking as if in some way it was it was invading my brain. But all it is is you can see where I was last weekend. That's all. So now you got a picture of where I was last weekend. That's not tremendously frightening to me.

On the outset of all this stuff in 2007 and 2008, everybody was thinking, "Well, what does this mean for me? When somebody takes my picture and they put it up on the Internet the next day and they write stuff about me, what does this mean for me? What is this going to steal from me?" And I think time has shown that nothing will be stolen from you. It's just a photograph of you and your dumb scarf that you put on because it wouldn't fit in your suitcase. Cool. If you want to "style police" my day off, that's fine.

Rock musicians aren't typically public figures like you anymore. You're probably the most famous young guitarist who plays the guitar in front of an arena. There haven't been many others since you came out around 2001.
Oh, well, yeah. I would like to think that at least a small part of the reason people care about me in any way is because I'm still trying to put the best music out that I can. I'm not deluded enough to think that everyone who knows my name is a listener. You know, I hope that part of that interest – part of that public interest – has to do with me still making records that people like. Yeah, that'd be nice.

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