John Mayer: Battle Star
GW When does it get weird?
MAYER It gets really sick when you begin thinking in paragraphs about things you’ll read about yourself doing—thinking about them either before you’re doing them or as you’re doing them. And then you become very self-critical, so you start imagining how somebody else will misinterpret it before you do it, and everything takes on six possible outcomes. It’s a demented game of chess.
GW So why embrace the new media at all?
MAYER Success as you dreamed it is never gonna show up the way you saw it. By the time you have it, times will have changed. The people who have the hardest time are the people who are fighting the future. There are certain artists that I ran into when I was starting out that were very upset with their record company and very upset with the way things were going. You’re not gonna hear me complain about the record industry or downloading because my complaining isn’t gonna change it. All you can do is ride it. Everybody wins for a little while, and then they don’t.
GW New media is the new reality, and all young performers will have to come to grips with it.
MAYER It’s MySpace. I haven’t been handed a CD in a really long time. I’ve been handed a piece of paper with a MySpace link. That’s already become commonplace, and it’s important if you’re an artist and you want to promote yourself.
It used to be mailing lists. I used to go to Kinko’s and bring my Zip disk to the Mac tower to open up my Photoshop file with my little postcards about an upcoming show. I’d print them out, photocopy them, cut them, put stamps on them, and mail them. That went away, and then it was about programming HTML, so I learned HTML so I could build my first web site. And then it was about going on message boards and promoting yourself there. An artist has to accept that this is a constantly changing environment.
GW It’s better to respect, understand and control it than just let it invade your personal space.
MAYER Overall, I think it’s been helpful. It’s been at the sake of some of my sanity, but sometimes it’s gratifying. Some of the most daring or controversial thoughts I’ve posted were the best received. The fun thing is that people like a little irreverence—they enjoy it when you shatter your own pedestal. The day of being a hero is over, because as soon as you become a hero, people can’t wait to take you down. People want to see you shake your own cage and say, “I don’t take this seriously.” I wonder if a new Eddie Van Halen could even exist these days, you know? Somebody would come out on a message board and argue that he’s not all that.
Buying a record used to be the end of the equation, but now it’s the middle of the equation. The end of the equation is the fans’ reaction to it. It’s the “voracious discussion” about it. A record is not the product anymore—it’s the catalyst. It’s the beginning of the discussion.
It can be a good thing, but I think sometimes you have to say to your audience, “Let me handle this.” You can’t be so much of a co-op that anybody could say, “We want you to be more like this,” or, “Could you please do this,” and you’ll do it. I enjoy the push and pull of public opinion. People come up to me and say, “Why don’t you play more blues?’ and people come up to me and they say, “You jam too much.” And, eventually, as I switch from one music path to the other, everybody gets satisfied. It might take a couple years, but I do like the idea that I can say, with a slight bit of good-humored contempt, “You’ll get it when I give it to you.” I think that keeps everybody interested.
GW Do you think you really know when to stop letting the public into your personal life?
MAYER Do I know when I’m giving too much away? I just found out. I found out in the last three weeks of doing press. I thought if I just kept being as completely honest as I could that it would bring me to a higher ground. But I don’t think the media give a fuck if I’m vulnerable and I’m honest; they’re just getting their lines. They’re just taking away the tasty morsel. I was trying to approach each interviewer with a pure heart, but after doing 12 interviews a day, where you really are truly entertaining every stranger’s notion, I discovered it just messed my head up pretty bad.
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