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
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Go figure: Matt Parker, wearing the binary code scarf knitted by his mother
comedy Mathematician is using comedy nights to teach and preach sums
Arts and Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'
filmReview: Ryan Gosling is still there, but it's a very different film
Arts and Entertainment
Urban explorer: Rose Rouse has documented her walks around Harlesden, and the people that she’s encountered along the way
books Rouse's new book discusses her four-year tour of Harlesden
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Aida' at Milan's famed La Scala opera house
operaLegendary opera director in battle with theatre over sale of one of his 'greatest' productions
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
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.

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes