John Mayer preps new CD, tour

-- For JAM! Music

, Last Updated: 3:10 PM ET

TORONTO - "Aw man, I'll come to her," John Mayer says slouching back into a dark armchair in his Yorkville hotel suite. "I'll come to the lady."

Only days away from launching a joint tour with singer Sheryl Crow, the 28-year-old singer-songwriter is coy, though, when he's asked which songs the two might pair up onstage to sing. "I will sing," he pauses, and then smiles, "whatever she wants me to. Lady's choice."

After spending the better part of last year writing and touring with Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino in his bluesy side-project, John Mayer Trio, the shaggy-haired, Grammy-winner, is preparing to release his third studio album - "Continuum."

But with more than 8 million records sold, and three Grammys under his belt, Mayer found himself at a musical crossroads when writing began on the album over a year ago.

A proven marksmen when it came to penning syrupy, acoustic-driven numbers, the guitar prodigy was now faced with rethinking his gravely-voiced tales of twentysomething angst from an entirely different musical perspective.

Originally conceived of as being in more of the pop-rock vein that infused 2001's "Room For Squares" and 2003's "Heavier Things," Mayer says that "Continuum" underwent a slight musical overhaul after the Trio finished touring last fall.

"The Trio," he pauses, "is the bubble under the paint. It's the pea under the mattress. It's there. Everything after the Trio, even if you can't see it, is influenced by the work I did with Steve and Pino."

Remarking how the threesome "clicked" after playing together at a Tsunami benefit in January of 2005, he says the Trio allowed him to realized what he likes best in a composition.

"I always loved how jazz composers write for the band. Their compositions change based on who's in the band and how many people are in the band.

"Playing with Steve and Pino I realized how much I liked the idea of my compositions changing in the rock and blues element that is so present in all three of us.

"So, more than anything, the Trio tour really allowed me to figure out what I like about certain things, what lives longer, what is a pipe dream for me in terms of what I want to be, and then come back in the studio and apply it."

Playing with some of the greats, including B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton, he concedes, also pushed him to branch out. "It helped me 'cause it gave me the confidence to progress through a style of music whose fans don't let new people into so easily."

Joined by Jordan, who shares a co-production credit on the album with Mayer, in Los Angeles, New York and Memphis, the Connecticut-born artist set about making a disc of soulful introspection. But, having been termed the "voice of his generation" - a moniker he finds hard to take by the way - Mayer says he wanted a grouping of songs that would resonate with his fans without seeming to be whiney.

"I've never held back," he says, threading his hands through his wavy, dark hair. "I have no problem sharing emotions. If someone tells me my record's got them through a tough time, they don't have to tell me what it was because we share a connection and that, in itself, is a beautiful thing.

"When it gets whiney, though? I'm not into that. Whiney is being aware of your place.

"I appreciate thoughtfulness," he pauses. "A song like 'Stop This Train' (in which Mayer jitteringly cries, "So scared of getting older/ I'm only good at being young/ So I play the numbers game/ To find a way to say that life has just begun") is probably the most emotional song I've ever written, but it's delivered in such a way that it's not self-aware of its sadness.

"Similarly, 'Heart Of Life' (a Beatles-esque track that builds a simple melody around the lines, "Pain throws your heart to the ground/ Love turns the whole thing around) is a ying yang song. It's a black and white cookie.

"I've had people tell me, 'That song's so sad,' and I've had people tell me, 'That song's so uplifting,'" he says with a trace of a smile.

Looking down he adds: "It's an incredible insight into how someone's life is going. If you're more of a 'Love can change everything' kind of person, then you're going to like that song. If you're more of a 'Pain can really mess you up'-type, then it's going to be a little rougher.

"That's what makes music beautiful to me."

With his college-aged fans now morphing into the responsibilities of early adulthood, Mayer supposes he could have written a boxful of love songs and been done with it, but having interacted with audiences, he found himself faced with a group of people whose place in the world is often overlooked.

"As a songwriter, I try to stay calibrated to the people," he says.

Talking about the record's first single, the Vaughan Brothers-sounding, "Waiting On The World To Change," Mayer says he was hoping that he was enough of a layperson that he could articulate how young peoples' perceived apathy is really a resounding political statement.

"That idea," he says, "of feeling the cards are stacked too heavily in the other team's favour? I was hoping that I was so much of an everyman that if I felt this, other people would too. And it was exciting to come up with this notion of 'Waiting On The World To Change' and just have faith that other people shared that idea because I feel it.

"Besides," he adds with a shrug, "capturing these feelings, these emotions, that's what's interesting to me. I don't think there's anything on the record that's patently upset. I'm just... sort of creeping into things.

"It's the Curious George of emo music."

With "Belief," another politically themed track that features fretwork from Ben Harper, allowing Mayer to murmur the snarly lines, "What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand? Belief can," fans might be wondering if there's still room for the kind of relationship songs he's famous for.

Classic, Clapton-like guitar riffs and falsetto come-ons like "Down to the wire/ I wanted water but I'll walk through the fire/ If this is what it takes to take me even higher/ Then I'll come through like I do/ When the world keeps testing me, testing me, testing me" (from the sexed-up "Vultures"), and the smoky-ache of "We're going down/ And you can see it, too/ We're going down/ And you know that we're doomed" (from the blistering "Slow Dancing In A Burning Room") answer that question solidly.

"Right now, I'm in between having no emotion and being like a teen-punk, 'sorry-I'm-not-perfect'-type thing," he says. "I'm trying to state emotions without being emotional. If you can report on an emotion, without being emotional, you can draw a lot more people in.

"I held on to the DNA of this record," he continues. "I couldn't forget what this record needed to be. I couldn't just go day to day and whatever it ended up, it was. I needed to keep in mind how the record needed to finish and what I wanted it to say.

"I want each of my records to go deeper, so I had to sign off on everything. To be the signor," he says with mock sophistication in his voice, "you have to have such a great vision for what it is you want to do. You don't want to sign off on something that's just impulse.

"I guess what's missing in me, is that feeling that what's sad or depressing or bittersweet is something to get away from," he says. "But that's the blues man. Blues is finding the power in the sadness and finding the hope in the sadness."

With a pre-tour warm-up gig at Toronto's Mod Club Theatre last week leaning quite heavily on the to-be-released material, Mayer says he's looking forward to playing the new songs in a live setting, but he's also enjoying reworking some older studio favourites like "Something's Missing" and "Daughters."

"It's nice being able to go back and pay tribute to some of the older songs," he says. "These newer songs, though, they're taking me to someplace different.

"I'm having so much fun, playing these songs that I want to explore this record," he says, before adding that his two month tour with Crow will be followed by a series of solo-headlining dates.

"Then, I want to make an acoustic record out in California and I want to have the album based around my life. I want to make the record in the afternoon and go out at night."

"Heck, maybe," he smiles, "I'll make a whole record of happy songs.

"I like doing the opposite of what I've just done. If you've had enough John Mayer Trio, the next thing you want is John Mayer. When you've had enough John Mayer, maybe the next thing you want is John Mayer with just an acoustic guitar, like it was in 1999.

"When it's all said and done, even if you aren't crazy with what I'm doing right now, if you wait around long enough I may come up with something that speaks to you."

"Continuum" is in stores September 12th.

John Mayer and Sheryl Crow play Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum on Sept. 22nd.


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