John Mayer: Battle Star
GW You’ve been a solo artist for your entire career. Do you ever wish you had a band around you—some sort of support system that would take some of the focus off of you?
MAYER Since I first started playing, I always wished I had a community. It’s starting to get there.
Being a guitar player, sitting in your room, making friends with CDs, making friends with the dead, making friends with your heroes, you begin to create your own universe. And if you’re lucky to have a little bit of talent and you work really hard at it, you become recognized for that talent, and your own little universe starts to take shape. So now the things that you dreamed are happening, literally. You go in your room, you shut the door and disappear. You don’t play by anybody’s rules. And all of a sudden people start to notice you. People start to want to listen to your music. So you’re taught through that success that this is the way it works; this is the way it always should work.
You go through your twenties, you keep churning out hits, you’re touring, and people think you are the shit. Meanwhile, you don’t realize that all you’ve been doing your entire life was just creating your own support system of love and synthesized attention. Because you’re onstage, you still haven’t paid attention to the fact that you’d imagined everything in your life. It’s all come out of your bedroom, it’s all come out of your own architecture, but it’s not rooted in any reality except that the money’s real and the album sales are real and the respect is real. Meanwhile, you can’t have relationships with people because you’ve invented everything in your head, and the only place you’re really happy is the place where you control everything.
From the time that I was 14 years old, I’d made myself control everything, ’cause I couldn’t control high school, I couldn’t control what people thought of me being a guitar player, I couldn’t control not having friends. The only thing I could control was being this thing. However, at certain age, being by yourself and controlling everything is no longer very satisfying. You begin to want to bond with other people and establish real, mature relationships. Unfortunately, it was difficult for me, because for a long time I had no proof that my controlling everything didn’t work—because it worked! It actually does work in everything, except relationships with people.
GW …because most people have minds of their own.
MAYER And God forbid someone should respond in an unexpected manner. We’re talking about ultimate masturbation. Not just sexual—creative masturbation.
I’ve had to come out of that other universe of imagination that protected me. I’ve realized, Wow, being a great guitar player, going into a room and dreaming up a song that everybody loves, being wacky and interesting and left of center doesn’t mean anything when it comes time to really connect with somebody on an emotional level.
GW That’s why being in a band is a healthier situation. In a band, people call you on your own shit.
MAYER That’s right. And as a solo artist, there are positions you can’t take. For example, when I hit that stage every night, I can’t say, “I’m gonna blow those people’s minds.” But in a band it’s perfectly okay to say, “When we go out there, we’re gonna blow people’s minds.” A band can be cocky. A band is the tribal aspect of being a musician.
But I will say the one thing I can do as a solo artist is be completely authentic and tell people exactly where I’m at. I made a commitment when I wrote “Why Georgia” [from Room for Squares] to ask, “Am I living it right?” So I think there’s something nice about staying narrative, staying honest and saying every record falls in a different place. Battle Studies is my weird, get-your-shit-together album. This is me learning how to connect to the things I never connected to, so that I can be a normal person for the rest of my life.
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