John Mayer: Battle Star
GW Let’s shift gears and talk specifically about music. Tell me about “Half of My Heart,” which, as I mentioned earlier, seemed inspired by Fleetwood Mac, with Taylor Swift playing Stevie Nicks to your Lindsey Buckingham.
MAYER Yeah, the rhythm guitar is very Lindsey Buckingham, but the lead line is very Mike Campbell [of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers], and the group is Fleetwood Mac.
GW When you play it live, you even use a Rick Turner guitar, like the kind Buckingham plays. Did you use that in the studio?
MAYER I think I did, yeah. I’ll be honest with you man, we tried a lot of guitars out, but when I played the Turner it was still, “Hey, that’s the sound!”
GW When I’m bringing up influences, I’m not accusing you…
MAYER No! Listen, if a dude plays like Lindsey Buckingham and plays Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar, there’s awareness in it.
GW You’ve been working with drummer Steve Jordan for a while, and he even functioned as co-producer on the album. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with him.
MAYER Steve came in to play drums on a couple tracks on my second record, Heavier Things. To be honest, at the time I was still learning what a good drummer is, but when Steve was playing, I just knew. It was like, Wow, I feel supported. This is bringing life to my ideas.
I didn’t see him again for a couple years, until we both walked in the studio to play on this Herbie Hancock track called “Stitched Up” [on Hancock’s 2005 album, Possibilities]. Until that day, whenever I would record with a rhythm section, I’d always think of my performance as a scratch track that I would replace later. So when drums and bass were playing, I was playing guitar without any consideration for it ever being on the album. Steve, however, insisted that I play my actual take with the band, which was incredibly frightening to me. In the end, however, I discovered it was so much more fulfilling. He taught me that everybody in the same room playing really matters. Getting “the” take.
We worked together again on Continuum  and had an incredible time. I should explain the way Steve and I see our roles: Steve produces the bass and percussion, and I produce the melody, harmony and vocals, and we never touch the other guy’s stuff. We used to make suggestions, but the trust level we have is insane. It’s a really binary existence. It’s to the point where Steve will come in to mix a session at 8 a.m. to get the rhythm section right, and leave. Then I’ll walk in, I won’t touch the rhythm section, and take care of my half.
I don’t believe that I’m the most muscular sort of performer on record. I like sweet sounds. I like the sound of nice sounds stacking up. And when I met Steve and started playing with Steve and Pino Palladino on bass, there was the muscular addition that just gives it the interesting sort of center of gravity. Without Steve and Pino underneath, I think most of my songs would completely float away. “Half of My Heart” would have been a complete pop disaster if it weren’t for Steve’s grit. It’s almost like Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland of the Police—someone’s doing the cracking and someone’s doing the floating.
GW You’ve played with a number of incredible musicians, including B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Herbie Hancock, Eric Clapton, Jay-Z…and the list goes on. Is there a common thread between them?
MAYER Yeah, I think they rest comfortably in their own identity. I’m still a little frantic. I’m still sort of running around, looking for my jacket.
GW You mean they are literally the definition of “cool.”
MAYER And the thing I can’t stress enough about the experience is that nothing really compares to it. You can play along with a Buddy Guy CD, and the information’s good, but when you’re standing on the same stage in the same place with him, for whatever reason you have a better frame of reference, because you’re both in the same moment. It’s hard to describe.
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