It’s not every day that you get to hear John Mayer be interviewed. It’s not every day that you take notes for an interview and at the end see you have nine pages worth of quality quotes. But again, it’s not every day that you get to blog about a John Mayer interview.
Mayer did nothing but charm today’s packed Grand Ballroom at the ASCAP Expo. While the lazy listener might have attributed some of Mayer’s dialogue to his purported arrogance, the more sensitive audience member saw through all this. Mayer displayed nothing less than the relatable, evolving and authentic artist’s personality.
In his honest and often unpredictable conversation with ASCAP's Erik Philbrook, he often looked out to the audience, speaking to them as peers, as creators of music struggling with the same dilemmas as he, rather than speaking to them as what he has become--a rock star and role model for many in the room.
Mayer paid tribute to his early days as an artist in Atlanta, describing how people there “are genuinely excited about finding music and then going to hear it, seeking it out. I was lucky to move there when starting out.” He also expressed gratitude to ASCAP, for their “absolute belief” in his talent and how an ASCAP staff member “was the conduit who brought me to everybody.”
Mayer spoke about the importance of being realistic and enjoying the journey as an artist: “Getting a record deal is not a prize. You don’t win it. Essentially, it’s a way to get more work.” And he displayed an obvious sense of humility, describing how sharing the stage with greats like Buddy Guy and BB King was more of a “master class” than an ego trip: “I played with a couple Yodas.”
John also discussed how he continually strives to stay true to his artistic instinct, selectively choosing song collaborations based on his gut. Referencing his work with Jay-Z and Rob Thomas: “I’ve turned huge artists down because the track wasn’t right. And I’ve played on stuff with people who people didn’t know of but the track was right.”
Mayer let us in on some secrets as well, like his daily hours spent making experimental beats in his home studio, trying to blend the magic of singer/songwriters with hip-hop. He explained: “I’d eventually like to get to the point where I could have the right mix where Bob Dylan meets Jay Dylan.”
As the interview dug deeper, John touched on his own struggles as a writer…how sometimes the songs that become his favorites aren’t the ones that take with radio or the larger audience. He mentioned “Gravity” in particular. Why? “’Cause I got out of my own way and just wrote something and just left it…Sometimes when you write you are just trying to let someone know you’re a good writer...‘Gravity’ was the first song I wrote and didn’t think ‘How is this going to be a calling card for my talent?’”
Commenting on the current volatility of the music industry, John took an optimistic stance. “Everyone in this room, you are at the best possible position you could be in, because nobody knows that they want anymore (which is the same thing as nobody knows the next thing they want yet). The bubble is about to break. Kurt Cobain is coming…Eminem is coming…these people always come on the end of a period like this. We’re not really sure what we want but we’re eating anyway.”
Mayer continued, patting and rubbing his belly as if stuffed. “If you do that, unless you’re stoned out of your mind, then you throw up! Nobody at a label…nobody can tell you ‘what’s happening’ because nothing is really happening right now. When I came up, people thought they wanted another Incubus, P.O.D., Papa Roach. When I hit, everyone looked for the next me!”
He also spoke to his malaise regarding buzz social networking sites like Twitter. Though he’s amassed an impressive 3.5 million followers, Mayer feels like half of them are inevitably “haters,” and often thinks of shutting down his account. “The way we use Twitter isn’t honest…we are constantly tweeting to seek approval. The only positive thing on Twitter…is saying thank you and directing people to nurturing stuff.”
His complaints about Twitter led to his larger reaction to stardom and his disappointment in the seemingly universal human desire to bring down successful people: “They want to see you either triumph or fall…they don’t want to see you just rock for awhile.”
Perhaps what stood out most to the audience of songwriters was John’s genuine passion--and pleasure--associated with the craft. “I buy a lot of stuff in my life and I get happy when I buy stuff. But I’ve never been happier than when I write a new song…I’m floating. You’ve created it you’ve written it and it’s yours. Then you go to dinner. And you have a new song. You’re never going to meet a more cocky me.”
Mayer ended his interview paying respect to Bob Dylan, who displays what he interprets to be a performance style without need for external validation and mass audience approval. He also spoke about his new dedication to help war vets deal with the pressures of PTSD, and the importance of all us to provide support for troops after combat as much as during.
All and all, a true highlight of and ideal closure to the first day of ASCAP’s 2010 conference. Thanks to John Mayer for his thoughtful interview and willingness to share with us.