How John Mayer Got a Grip on Fame — and Intends to Bring 'Truth' Back to Music


John Mayer’s interior baby is talking, and he sounds scared.

Little John is utilizing Big John’s language, the orderly, self-soothing lingo of the therapist’s sofa, to unpack what precisely went down final night time. But one phrase retains effervescent up from the tar of boyhood dread: “hassle.” Mayer repeats it seven instances in 15 minutes, all the time in italics, as if leaning into the phrase will drag it into the sunshine, rob it of its fearsome, historic energy. “I’m not in hassle,” he says. And: “The most essential factor is that I ain’t in hassle, you recognize what I imply?” And: “It was essential for me not to take a look at the truth that TMZ picked it up as, ‘Oooh, you’re in hassle.’ Finger-point, John Mayer from the fifth grade.”    

It has been a number of years since Mayer, newly 41, noticed any pickup for a sketchy comment. And whereas his quote from a few weeks again concerning the variety of girls he has slept with -- “sub-500” -- resulted in a rash of headlines, the one which TMZ blasts on this early-October day is exclusive within the Mayer canon: “WE NEED A NEW ‘MALE CONTRACT’ ... Screw This Alpha Male BS.”

Last night time, the day after Brett Kavanaugh’s swearing-in to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mayer performed a most cancers profit in Baltimore, and between songs he determined to talk on males’s entitlement. His preliminary ideas, captured on video, had been somewhat muddled: “What’s bullshit is the concept should you’re a person, any girl you see, it's best to be capable of get an erection, and after we don’t” -- lengthy pause -- “that’s the trauma.” As some cheers went up, he continued, apparently in an effort to make clear: “I don’t need it to be the male contract! I’m telling you, that’s the contract, and we now have to tear. The contract. Up.” Eventually, after a lady within the viewers requested the smart query -- simply what, precisely, is the male contract? -- Mayer lastly delivered an unambiguous, if quite apparent, takeaway: “You don't possess the common capacity to have any girl you see.”

This drizzly afternoon, enjoyable on a sofa in his pristine 36th-floor suite on the Four Seasons in Midtown Manhattan, Mayer doesn’t appear like somebody affected by an emotional hangover. Though he's sporting what look like the world’s most costly pajamas: a tender brown T-shirt, draped simply so over his fit-dad body; grey sweatpant-like trousers; and cream-colored canvas sneakers that appear like Chuck Taylor knockoffs however are literally over $500 and made by the Japanese label Visvim, Mayer’s favourite.

And whereas he exudes a cultivated type of serenity, reeling off lengthy and considerate meditations on his present huge themes -- maturity, movie star, the Walmart Yodeling Boy (“I take into consideration him so much”) -- anxiousness lurks on the edges of his speech. He’s undecided the profit was the appropriate discussion board for his message. He’s anxious that he launched an unstable aspect into the intimate house between singer-songwriter and viewers, violating a sacred rule of dwell efficiency. But actually, he’s anxious that even when he does the appropriate factor, he’ll get in hassle yet again.

Six, eight years in the past, Mayer gleefully stirred up shit. Already a tabloid particular person of curiosity for relationship the likes of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, he famously informed Playboy he had a “David Duke cock” and, much less famously, talked to Rolling Stone about looking for “the Joshua Tree of vaginas,” one “you may pitch a tent on and simply camp out on for, like, a weekend.”

“Some individuals nonetheless say, ‘That man’s a dick,’” acknowledges Mayer. “And I'm going, ‘Well, any of that information you’re working off of is admittedly outdated.’ I imply, I can let you know for positive that I haven’t been a dick in a few years. That’s a very outdated take.”

The dick detox started in 2012, when Mayer purchased a spot in Montana and commenced to slowly again away from his ego. Since then, he has launched two albums, Paradise Valley and The Search for Everything, each of which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. He additionally performed to greater than 760,000 individuals on his 2017 enviornment tour of the Americas and Europe, in response to Billboard Boxscore, which is simply the newest instance of the touring prowess that has earned him the Legend of Live Award on the 2018 Billboard Live Music Summit and Awards.

More intriguingly, Mayer has recentered a lot of his artistic power round different artists: becoming a member of Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti in Dead & Company, which performed to over 500,000 individuals this yr on its third and largest annual summer season tour; sitting in on guitar throughout Dave Chappelle’s stand-up gigs; recording and performing with artists together with Frank Ocean, Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes and Travis Scott, whom he joined on Saturday Night Live two days earlier than our cling on the Four Seasons, contentedly giving guitar face subsequent to Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker.

“I simply fucking love collaborating,” explains Mayer. “I’m not making an attempt to do that to suck anybody’s blood. The most dynamic, artistic expertise is individuals making their first, second and third albums. That’s the place the recent lava is, and I simply love being there. I love being there.”

(Scott responds in sort: “It’s a loopy, tremendous journey” working with Mayer, he writes in an e mail. “He brings that pure psychedelic power.”)

As he allowed his personal lava to chill, give up quote-bombing magazines and cut up from Perry, his final well-known girlfriend, Mayer began placing some sweat fairness into his fame, workshopping a kinder, gentler, extra stoner-friendly “Your Body Is a Wonderland” man, primarily on Instagram Stories. He handed on a suggestion to develop into a mentor on The Voice -- the gold-standard movie star upkeep plan -- as a result of it landed similtaneously the Dead & Company alternative, and apart from the query of whether or not the 2 gigs might “concurrently survive in the identical bio-dome of my profession,” he anxious that taking over each “is perhaps asking somewhat an excessive amount of from the universe.”

Now Mayer’s received a rudimentary however entertaining Instagram Live present on Sundays, Current Mood, with friends like Charlie Puth and Cazzie David, daughter of Larry. That’s the place David extracted the “sub-500” remark in a sex-themed collection of questions for Mayer -- and, barely famous in any respect, he introduced the two-year anniversary since he had give up ingesting.

But Mayer’s not happy with merely reaping some mid-career goodwill. In truth, he has a brand new ambition: restore the function of the singer-songwriter as truthsayer, thought chief and ethical information. “Believe me once I let you know,” he says, “there's going to be a large shift towards telling the reality once more.” Which sounds, popping out of Mayer’s mouth, somewhat bit like hassle.



Last yr, for his 40th, Mayer and a few buddies blew up a Winnebago. This was in Montana, somewhat forward of his precise birthday. Chad Franscok, Mayer’s longtime sound engineer, organized the entire thing, a shock dinner theater-type tour during which Mayer and another “good guys” jumped in a car loaded with paintball weapons to chase some “dangerous guys” to their hideout -- the classic Winnebago, tucked in a quarry. Mayer and Franscok loaded it up with precise explosives, Mayer fired an precise 50-caliber rifle into it, and ... kablooey. Then they despatched their vehicles off a cliff.

Laying waste to the motor residence gave Mayer the identical “so giddy it's worthwhile to pee” feeling he remembered as a child with a gaggle, ditching a boy they didn’t wish to hang around with. It was not, in different phrases, a mellow embrace of center age. Mayer solely made peace with the onset of his 40s after a number of extra months of “kicking and screaming,” however what’s shocking is that he stopped kicking and screaming in any respect. “I most likely had a run in my life the place I wasn’t conscious that there was something I couldn’t have. And it made a monster out of me,” says Mayer, echoing, consciously or not, his feedback concerning the male contract. “And there’s one thing very liberating about you may’t. And that’s about the appropriate age in your life the place you go, ‘Yeah, you may’t.’”

And why would the youthful Mayer have realized there have been issues he couldn’t have? Here’s a man who obsessively practiced guitar in his Fairfield, Conn., bed room as a teen, defied his educator mother and father to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston and, about three years after dropping out, signed to Columbia and formally launched Room for Squares, the debut album that finally went quadruple platinum.

It’s simple to overlook, within the age of Drake and Cardi B, that within the ’00s, “Mayer” was synonymous with “mainstream.” He’s a key determine in late-stage rock, with a report seven No. 1s on the Top Rock Albums chart and 25 entries on the Hot Rock Songs chart, essentially the most for any solo artist. He’s additionally a king of the Adult Top 40, Adult Contemporary and Mainstream Top 40 charts -- the realm of supermarkets and dentist places of work, of on a regular basis individuals in want of a pick-me-up.

Mayer received there not by flexing his dazzling guitar expertise and blues bona fides, however by crafting memorable lyrics that learn particular and ring common, writing poignant melodies with a grand sweep and singing them in a bed room rasp Drake himself would possibly envy. Think of “Daughters,” his No. 19 Billboard Hot 100 hit from 2005. It’s an intimate acoustic observe during which a person basically blames the “maze”-like habits of his crush on her absent father -- and it’s stunning, virtually epic.

“I'd like to make music for the membership,” says Mayer, the identical approach he says most issues: in a affected person, matter-of-fact tone, with a touch of amusement at his personal complexity. “I make music for the omelette on the Sunday after the membership, and I’ve received to be OK with that, and I'm OK with that.”

He additionally says that “the identical factor that I could have [once] discovered somewhat underwhelming about not being culturally tremendous sizzling is identical factor that has given me somewhat extra traction in one thing just a bit beneath that. You may not be the It Guy, however the It Guy has received a greater probability of being picked off.”

This spring, Mayer managed one thing of an It Guy feat: Unburdened of expectations and armed with a brand new fluency in meme tradition, he launched “New Light,” a deliciously easy, virtually campy quantity that hit the highest 10 on Hot Rock Songs and Adult Top 40, thanks partially to a dank, “Bound 2”-style green-screen music video that now has over 21 million views on YouTube.

But whereas Mayer is grateful that the track linked, he realizes he’s not going to be invited to come out from underneath the stage to play it on the Grammys. And as a result of he has let go of “white-hot relevancy,” Mayer doesn’t essentially intend for his imminent new single, “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” to be a success. Instead, it’s a primary step in returning the songwriter to, properly, semi-relevancy.

There are, in response to Mayer, two predominant causes we want singer-songwriters once more. One appears cheap sufficient: Social media and political polarization are triggering nice ache and unhappiness. “The Mister Rogers documentary was an enormous second for individuals this yr,” says Mayer, referring to Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which A.O. Scott described in The New York Times as having a “curious melancholy.” “It was a wrecking ball for individuals, going, ‘Whoa, that’s who I was. There was once hope in my chest. There was once belief that the world was going to be OK.’ And that’s the place the gold is up in these hills proper now: in telling individuals they’re gonna be OK.”

The second cause is the place he flirts with hassle: It’s that music has develop into “sonically superficial,” too targeted on making individuals go “wow.” Mayer, who has labored intently with quite a few high rappers through the years, requested hip-hop super-producer No I.D. to supervise “New Light,” and who cops to his personal obsession with manufacturing methods and “plug-ins,” is however rooting for a wave to overhaul lure, the way in which “California songwriting” like Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills & Nash displaced psychedelic rock.

“This is me being very highfalutin about it, [but] I do suppose there's a excellent case to be made for the allegory between lure music and psychedelia. That’s what we do: We go round and round and round between avoiding the reality and exposing the reality.

“I used to be within the studio with an important artist, large artist who was jamming out to Michael Bolton,” Mayer continues. “Not sarcastically. Because there’s one thing in there that you just wish to get. It’s track kind. And it’s motif. And it’s craft. That’s what means that you can hear a factor over and over and over, as a substitute of this form of one-time pay attention that we’re into. Some of those stuff you solely want to listen to as soon as, and also you go, ‘Can I e mail you a golf clap?’”



It’s a giddy interior baby who presents a few week later at Henson Studios in Hollywood, on Mayer’s 41st birthday. Mayer, sprawled in an Aeron-type chair by the blending board, is right here together with his band, scattered across the management room, and Franscok, manning the pc, to lock within the rhythm components for “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” recorded a number of days earlier. Mayer lazily flashes the thumbs-up, asks for a drum fill to be moved from one a part of the track to a different and says issues like, “Well, my day is made.” He’s sporting patched denims, slouchy suede Visvim boots and a sublime gold watch, however his fashion-y XXXL white T-shirt offers him a boyish facet.

As the playback ends and Mayer begins chatting away, you may see why his pal Stevie Nicks writes to say, “Everybody matures through the years, however John has a stunning childlike spirit that doesn’t change. That’s what makes an important author.” He lights up speaking concerning the 11-year-old Walmart Yodeling Boy, Mason Ramsey, whose Instagram deal with is @lilhankwilliams: “An attention-grabbing case ... What if he’s singing about, like, having cash stolen from him? Him with 14-year-olds -- 14 being the oldest particular person within the band -- and so they’re singing about capturing cube and breaking a bottle over somebody’s head? Yo, I’m in.” And Rihanna: “If you informed me Rihanna was on Easter Island proper now, I’d go, ‘Seems truthful.’ That’s an artist with a circadian rhythm that I love. It’s identical to a blind particular person, man. She would possibly name you at 4 within the morning. That’s an artist.”

When I convey up Tucker Carlson, who on his Fox News present seized on Mayer’s “male contract” spiel to baselessly speculate that it was a preemptive deflection of misconduct allegations, Mayer ignores the title and plows on with an evidence of how he lets trusted buddies filter the media’s takes on him. But he does resolve to zoom out on his personal “person expertise” of fame, utilizing the instance of Kanye West.

As Mayer sees it, he has “failed” the place West has succeeded: elevating his artwork above all else and absorbing the waves of “detrimental power” that outcome from tirelessly stoking the general public’s consideration.

“I feel that he made a really aware resolution years in the past -- that is in protection of Kanye West -- to place extra on the desk than anybody he knew,” says Mayer. “I keep in mind hanging with him in his home, possibly two or three years in the past. I spotted that night time [that] he’s given most of his life to the invention ... I've quite a lot of respect and quite a lot of admiration and quite a lot of empathy for artists who commit extra of themselves to their artwork than most different individuals do.”

Still, the West who visited President Trump within the Oval Office, says Mayer, is like an MMA fighter who “hasn’t tapped out,” and he worries for a nation of individuals conflating their humanity with the pictures they mission on social media. A wearier, extra weighty spin on “Waiting on the World to Change,” “I Guess I Just Feel Like” goals to seize the despair specific to American life across the 2018 midterms. (“The world is altering each 4 weeks. Three weeks, most likely,” says Mayer. “So should you’re not placing a track out inside a month of you writing it, you’re most likely late to your individual social gathering of the way you noticed the world.” Which is why he’s solely writing singles and has no plans for an album.)

Mayer blames a lot of that despair on the “private model”: “one of many least lucky sociological issues that occurred within the final 15 years.” And with the exceptions of Kanye West, Donald Trump and, ought to he resolve to go full Hank Williams, Mason Ramsey, Mayer is aware of the hazard of the non-public model higher than most. The one factor he’s positive of, the factor he retains high of thoughts as he seeks to inform the reality, get a number of laughs and possibly make somewhat hassle, is that this: “You’re not achieved whenever you’ve stated your most surprising factor. You’re achieved when your most surprising factor will get an eye fixed roll.”

This article initially appeared within the Nov. 10 concern of Billboard.