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The John Mayer Interview
By Chris Van Loan
(more articles from this author)
2000-08-20
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I've picked up an exciting new hobby - gold mining. I pan for musical gold on the various music sites that showcase the music of unknown bands. This hobby can be a long and arduous activity. A lot of sand, soil and fool's gold but as soon I'm about to delete my mp3 player and take up needlepoint I find an artist like John Mayer (pay dirt!!).

This 22-year-old can play a mean guitar. Unlike most hot shot guitarist John also has a great voice, writes great songs and has a musical maturity that balances all of his talents.

John will open for Dave Matthews at the Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta, GA on September 10th. (Dave better watch out, this kid is coming on strong).

I asked John if I could interview him for MusicDish and he graciously said yes.

[Chris Van Loan] John, I'm really impressed with your guitar playing. I hear shades of Tuck Andress and George Benson in your style. What guitar players have influenced you?

[John Mayer] The one main influence on my playing is Stevie Ray Vaughan. You might not be able to hear it in my playing now, but every guitar player, whether he knows it or not, is inspired to stand on stage mainly by one person. I hold the guitar and look at the neck the way I do because of Stevie. I'm also profoundly influenced by Charlie Hunter, who has totally rubbed off on me as far as rhythm and overall control of the instrument is concerned. Tuck Andress, definitely. I really haven't gotten into Benson's stuff all that much. I'm sure I'm listening to people who have, though, and that's where it comes from. Some other players I'm inspired by are Robben Ford, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Cray, and Dave Matthews, who is one of the most innovative "mainstream" guitar players to come around in a long time.

[CVL] I've noticed that when you scat vocally and solo that you often scat a counter melody unlike George Benson who scats in harmony with his guitar solos. Is the counter melody thing something you did purposely to be different or did it just come to you naturally?

[JM] It's probably just me trying to scat all the notes I'm playing and messing up (laughing) .

[CVL] How long have you been playing guitar? Have you had much formal music training?

[JM] I've been playing for about 10 years now. I had a year of music store lessons, and I went to Berklee College of Music for a year, but I didn't get much more out of it than the ability to be surrounded by music for 24 hours a day. I left because what I was doing was kind of frowned upon by Berklee. I play a lot with the thumb of my left hand (fretting hand) and I had to pretend that I didn't when it came time for exams. I'm sure there's some merit to the "learn the rules before breaking them", but I couldn't wait to do my own thing.

[CVL] How about singing, have you always sung or did that come later?

[JM] Singing came much later than guitar playing. For the first 6 or 7 years of playing guitar, I never sang in front of people. I never really wanted to see myself as becoming anything else than a guitar player's guitar player. I was so immersed in the music of the great instrumentalists for so long, until I realized that who I really am is about words and vocal melodies.

Guitar players can get caught up sometimes in wanting to make other players drool, but what it's really all about (I think) is making people say "thank you. I don't need to know why, but that sounds great." It's taken a while, but I think I'm just now starting to become a decent singer.

[CVL] I have to ask you about the song "Comfortable". I was blown away by the song is it autobiographical?

[JM] Some of my songs are truly autobiographical, and some are not. All are emotionally autobiographical, even if some aren't line for line true to my life. I don't really like to say which ones are which, because it tends to make people listen to it differently. And if you think I might be bending towards saying "no" to the question, I would have answered this way about any song. (laughing).

[CVL] That's cool. I don't know if you realize it but the line from "Comfortable" that goes "she thinks I can't see the smile that she's faking as she poses for pictures that aren't being taken" is something really special. That's a well-written lyric. Did you have one of those eureka! moments when you wrote it?

[JM] I think the whole song was like that, lyrically and musically. I don't remember being stumped at any moment, as I usually a at some point with a song. I have to say that my friend Clay Cook helped me write the music to that song, and it was one of the most special moments in my life.

[CVL] I understand the strings on "Comfortable" were recorded in a college dorm room. I thought „Comfortable‰ was a full studio production with strings for hire. How did you pull off such a great recording on a budget?

[JM] The whole song was recorded in our dorm room. It was at Berklee, so it wasn't hard to find who and what we needed to record it. We knew at least 3 players of every instrument, so finding them was very easy. On the other hand, playing in your dorm room isn't allowed at Berklee, so we had to be sort of stealth. I distinctly remember looking out for resident assistants at all times during the recording of songs in the room.

When it came time to put it on "Inside Wants Out", which had been recorded at a professional studio, we talked about re-recording some things like vocals and fixing guitar flubs, but it was obvious to anyone who was in the dorm room that night that it was such a special moment that people needed to hear the song "as-was". As for the reason the recording sounds like it does, his name is Matt Mangano (the recording engineer).

[CVL] Are you excited about the Dave Matthews gig that's coming up?

[JM] Absolutely. That's a whole lot of people to play in front of at the same time, and could definitely do the work of 50 shows, as far as exposure is concerned.

[CVL] Well John, I hope all the MusicDish readers in the Atlanta area make it out to see you play live (the Dave Matthews show is actually sold out). In the meantime folks around the world should check out a couple of the tunes that are available on your web site (http://www.johnmayer.com/) and then follow up with a CD purchase.

We'll all be able to say we knew you when. Take care and keep making great music.

[JM] I'll be here for a while. I have so much farther to go before I'm where I want to be. I'm still just a punk kid.


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