John Mayer Reveals Stories Behind 'Battle Studies'
By Steve Baltin Posted Nov 18th 2009 05:00PM
John Mayer's new album, the smart, sophisticated, and sweet 'Battle Studies,' has just been released. And no one is happier than Mayer himself. "I have no problem releasing it into the open and letting everybody have at it, poke the bear with sticks -- and that's the fun of it," he told Popeater when we went to visit him at the Burbank, Calif., studio where he was rehearsing for an upcoming tour. Mayer, of course, is used to having every aspect of his life poked with a camera these days. He spoke with Popeater about why he can't complain about that in song, how the whole music industry may one day be working for Taylor Swift and his epiphany moment with the new record.
Congratulations on the album.
Thanks. I had my fun with those songs, so I'm happy to see them go out in the world and be consumed by others. The greatest times I have ever had making a record are driving home from the studio with the rough mix in the car. That's my time with the record; it's me getting to know the tunes. The more we rehearse these songs, the more I step into them as the performer, the less I want to hear them. When I get offstage, people go home and I'm still me, so I've had my fill of "Wow, look at what I can do" -- probably for the rest of my life.
Isn't that where other artists come in, though, having music to find and discover?
Totally, and I'm not sick of playing songs. I will have the time of my life playing these songs for people, watching them react and sharing them with them. But I'm not going to put it on in the car; I've never done that. I was in a restaurant about a week ago when 'Vultures' came on. I went, "Wow, I haven't heard this song in, like, three years."
So what's on the travel pack right now, musically?
Pretty much my whole iTunes library, put it on shuffle; when you put 27 days of music on shuffle, it's sort of fun. I'm trying to not take on any more pursuits than I already have taken on because I don't have enough time in the day. When I go on tour, I think what I want to do is get in my room, set something up, some contraption, and work all night on some other thing. It just kills me every time. So I am going to put all my energy into playing, and unfortunately talking about playing, no more playing hotel-room 'MacGyver,' plugging things up and not going to bed. Recreational slumber is gonna be my new hobby. One of the worst feelings in the world is painful exhaustion; it's a terrible, terrible feeling. So that's what I'm gonna do: Get in my room, order room service, "That's it, there's nothing else to see here, please disperse."
There's a line I love in 'Who Says': "I don't remember you looking any better/But then again, I don't remember you."
I know what the line means to me. I just think it's sort of about laying it on a little thick with somebody when you first meet them, like meeting, greeting. That song is sort of the equivalent of the "back off and leave me alone" sort of song" without being a "back off and leave me alone" song, because when an artist does that I think they sort of show their hand a little too much. It becomes really defensive, and it's not actually fun to listen to. There are two kinds of songs I don't think have ever been successful, which is, "Why can't you just leave me alone" in terms of the media and "Daddy, stop drinking." Those two songs, I've never heard them work. Lindsay Lohan has a song, 'Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father).' They all have the lyric, "Put the bottle down." [But] it is an organic ideal that comes up in somebody who says, "I'm going to use my music to take back the power and say, 'This is not for you, this is me. I am mine, I belong to me.'" And I just don't think those are particularly good songs when they happen because they're so self-indulgent, but there was something about 'Who Says' where I said, "Wow, this is that song for me personally." But it's not so literal that people are basically waiting for me to be done yapping about how hard I have it so they can get on to the next song.
I think that works for a lot of the record; it's very personal as well. When you, meaning most artists, pull out the acoustic guitar, does it become confessional?
I don't have any interest in writing something that's not something that I feel and it's gonna be a knot in my stomach unless I say it. It's just always been my M.O. to try and explain something. I can explain something into the ground. I don't think I would ever pick up an acoustic guitar and go to write a record and not try to find the ideas that are so planted in my heart because they're real. I'm interested in the songs where I can go, "Yes, I got to explain that." 'Half of My Heart' is lyrically one of the most fluorescent songs I've ever written. It's basically all about indecisions, but it's really about compassion to that idea of somebody going, "I don't know which way I want to go. Don't think I can do this much longer." But it's not sinister. I like approaching ideas that would otherwise be off-putting to people in a way that you sing it and play it in a very sweet way and they go, "I know what you're saying. It happens to me."
What songs are you most looking forward to seeing how people respond to them?
'War of My Life' is gonna be really interesting because I feel like that one just fuses into people's life; it's almost like a horoscope that's designed to make everybody go, "Oh, my God, that's freaky 'cause that's my life." It's written in a way that's like the most vague horoscope of all time because everybody feels like they're in the war of their life, one way or another. 'I'm excited about 'Perfectly Lonely' 'cause it sounds just like the record. That's what's cool about this record: Most of these songs we play them, they sound exactly like the record. I think fans like to see the elements of the songs they listen to so much on a record come to life onstage and be able to see the parts working and how it all goes together. That's originally how music was designed to be, the sum being greater than the parts.
I was gonna say aren't the parts always greater now, but there are a few singer-songwriters who've had success: Colbie Caillat -- Taylor Swift is like that, too.
Taylor's great. I don't portend to know her all that well, but from what I know you can tell she's fantastic. She's sweet and she's the complete package. I think if Taylor's manager came down with the swine flu, Taylor could manage quite well for herself. If Taylor's stylist came down with the swine flu, Taylor would put her own clothes on and be great. If Taylor's PR rep were to have swine flu, Taylor would step right in there and do her own PR. If the marketing guy at the label had swine flu, she would just start making Web banners to send to people to put on their Web site, she'd just start charging ad money. She's one of those artists that has such a grip on everything that we're all gonna be working for her one day.
What do you take from the final version of your record?
I had a beautiful moment listening to this record; I'll never forget it, and that's probably the last time I'll put it in to listen to it. I was in the pool in Palm Springs[, Calif.]; just burned the CD off what I had downloaded from mastering, pulled myself a margarita, jumped into a heated pool, stayed in there all night listening to the record twice and I went, "Wow, OK, it's up to snuff." I just care about up to snuff. I'll let everyone else figure out what their favorite song is or did it go more this direction. But I just want to keep the general pedigree up to a certain point. And then we begin, not very long from now, having new ideas people haven't heard yet.
I thought you were gonna let those gestate while you sleep.
Yeah, but you know what? People haven't found a way to break into my brain yet, so I enjoy the solace of having a thought that no one else can see or hear. So I will probably start doing that in the next couple of weeks, going, "Wow, what would be the next idea I want to write?" But I won't write it.
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