John Mayer interview: Big mouth strikes again

But this time it's with his music. John Mayer tells Tim Walker how he holed up in Montana to leave car-crash interviews and provocative tweets behind

It's a cool Saturday night in LA, and John Mayer is nearing the end of his sell-out show at the Hollywood Bowl. Pausing between two bluesy guitar shreds, he cups the mike in both hands as if to kiss it, and delivers a rambling, heartfelt thank-you to the capacity crowd. Wrapped in his gratitude for their fandom is a clear acknowledgement: that to openly enjoy Mayer's music is to defend it, and him, from your more sceptical friends.

Until a couple of years ago, the punch-line to most anti-Mayer jokes was his cheesy, acoustic breakthrough single from 2002, “Your Body is a Wonderland”. But the rap sheet steadily grew longer: the singer-songwriter stood accused of being a celebrity serial monogamist, a “douchebag” and a love-rat. The last of these charges was most infamously articulated in “Dear John”, a hit song by one of his former conquests, Taylor Swift.

When we last met, during his 2010 tour to promote his fourth studio album, Battle Studies, Mayer was a great interviewee: talkative, thoughtful, funny, always tiptoeing to the verge of indiscretion. Weeks later, he stumbled across the line in a pair of conversations with Playboy and Rolling Stone, published almost simultaneously. Recklessly frank about his porn habits and his past relationships, he also used the “N”-word in a bold but failed stab at semantic sophistication. His critics saw merely the racial slur, and the proverbial hit the fan.

Until that moment, Mayer had been an active – if divisive – presence online, always ready with a quote or a pithy tweet or a YouTube video. Confronted by a gossip reporter with a video camera, he'd casually discuss his latest break-up. He sought incessantly to convert those who doubted him. “Haters were a conquest to me,” he now admits. “I always felt as if I was a day away from figuring out the vaccine for the hatred.”

But in the aftermath of those interviews, overwhelmed by the torrent of online vitriol, he withdrew from public life, and vanished from the web. “I'd wanted to for so many years,” he says, “but I wasn't strong enough to step away. It took that nuclear blast to blow me out of it. I couldn't even stomach a Google search after that. It wasn't like I picked a day and said, 'the diet starts tomorrow'. This was like somebody coming in and stapling my stomach in the middle of the night.”

So Mayer deleted his Twitter account and holed up in a New York studio to record the stripped down (by his standards) Born and Raised, released last year to widespread acclaim. Yet just as he was preparing for the subsequent tour, disaster struck again: after being diagnosed with granuloma, the singer underwent two throat operations, followed by Botox injections designed to paralyse his vocal cords so they could heal. The preternaturally verbose star became literally, mandatorily silent.

At the Bowl, Mayer dedicates a song, “Speak For Me”, to the man who saved his voice and thus his career, throat surgeon Dr Gerald Berke. These days, the 35-year-old believes his enforced hiatus was, in fact, a blessing. Not only did it allow him more time for reflection, but it also led him to the corner of the north-west USA after which his new record, Paradise Valley, is named.

Following his vocal surgery, Mayer set off with some friends on a road trip that took them through the town of Bozeman, Montana. His producer and sometime roommate Chad Franscoviak happened to pick up a real-estate magazine, which Mayer flicked through and got to thinking. He called an estate agent, told her the sort of property he'd consider buying. “She said, 'I've got one place that I think you're going to like'. She showed it to me at dusk, and I just knew.”

Originally intended as a vacation retreat, that house, set in 15 remote acres on the banks of the Yellowstone River, has become home. Mayer shed his LA property and is in the process of selling his New York apartment, leaving the two largest cities in the US for one of its least-populated states. It was, he says, “like throwing a dart at a map and saying, 'that's where I'm going to live'.

“There's all these struggles and stressors and conflicts every day [in the city] that you don't even notice,” he goes on. “But waking up happy and going to bed happy, with contiguous happiness throughout the day, is very rare. You think: 'I'm sure they're saying my name somewhere. Somewhere, some hideously underpaid blogger is typing my name, and they're either saying I'm great or I suck, but I don't hear it and I don't see it.' It's the most remarkable feeling I've ever had in my life – to be truly content, and to have that contentment not up for grabs by other people.”

Paradise Valley is no major departure from Mayer's earlier work, but, taken alongside Born and Raised, it represents a turn away from the ultra-produced blues-rock of Battle Studies and its predecessor, Continuum, towards more rootsy, raw, folk-inflected territory. Mayer name-checks Neil Young in “Queen of California”, the opening track on Born and Raised; he covers a Grateful Dead song at the Bowl; and, during our conversation a day earlier, he cites a new collection of Bob Dylan demos as his preferred listening of the moment. “You get to an age where, all of a sudden, Dylan resonates,” he says.

His sense of being settled and mature is attributable, too, to his current girlfriend, Katy Perry, who appears on Paradise Valley in “Who You Love”, for which she wrote her own verse: “My boy, he ain't the one that I saw coming/ And some have said his heart's too hard to hold/ And it takes a little time, but you should see him when he shines/ 'Cause you'd never want to let that feeling go.” The song has the pleasing effect of rebutting the “love-rat” haters. “I think it came out in a really loving way,” Mayer says. “It was really interesting to produce an artist I respect so much, and also to know that it could bleed over into home. It's not for the faint of heart, but it was great.”

For my money, though, the most affecting track on the album is “Dear Marie”, a deceptively simple acoustic blues about the singer's vain attempts to track down his high-school sweetheart online. Marie is a real person, though not by that name. “I'm not the only person to say it, but in some ways you're forever the age you were when you first got famous. And there was really only one girl I ever went out with before things got complicated by my holding a guitar onstage.”

Nowadays, Mayer suggests, he's content to ply his trade, ignore the haters, and stick to the sidelines while others suffer the sort of treatment he's managed to put behind him. It's not a stretch to suggest he's referring to the likes of Rolling Stone's most recent cover star, Miley Cyrus.

“There are people in public life right now who are trying really hard to recalibrate people's sense of them,” he says. “They get called douchebags, and maybe they're behaving like douchebags, [but] these are ambitious people. And I have a lot of sympathy for ambitious people who don't know when to stop.”

'Paradise Valley' is out now

John Mayer plays the O2 Arena on 20 October and Wembley Arena on 26 October. Paradise Valley is out now.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?