The John Mayer Interview
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
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
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).
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
[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
[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
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.