John Mayer: ‘I Want To Be Competitive’

John Mayer never relied on multicolored lighting, confetti and pyrotechnics to help him during his live shows, like some of his peers.

John Mayer
Victoria Will/Invision/AP
– John Mayer
Poses for a portrait in New York, NY.

But the singer-songwriter-guitarist wanted to step up his game, and he said watching Drake perform live encouraged him to beef up his stage production and take more risks during his concerts.

Mayer will launch the second leg of his Search for Everything World Tour on Tuesday in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The new live shows have been a departure for the Grammy winner, who now performs with a colorful and futuristic L.E.D. wall and floor.

“I wanted to have a really big show. I want to be competitive. I want to be in the world where people are creating bigger and better shows,” Mayer said. “I think there’s a healthy competition involved in it. I went and saw Drake’s show and … real artists say, ‘Wow!’ And then they go, ‘(Expletive).’ Right? Because you see something that wows you and as an artist yourself you go, ‘I want a little of that.’“

The 39-year-old recently wrapped a tour with Dead & Company, his supergroup with Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Bob Weir. His summer tour wraps Sept. 3 in Noblesville, Indiana.

But Mayer isn’t only playing big arenas: He announced Tuesday that he will join the Dive Bar Tour with Bud Light for a show in Los Angeles on July 26.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Mayer talked about stepping it up with his live shows, attending Grateful Dead University and enjoying new albums by DJ Khaled and Calvin Harris.

AP: The production level for your new live shows has really changed. What’s that process been like?

Mayer: We have an L.E.D. wall and a L.E.D. floor. In a way it’s really minimal … but from there you can go anywhere you want to go. It can be abstract. It can be superminimalist. It can also be super-real. … I even want to go further with it. … I have an idea maybe next year to do like a 2.0 version of it where it really goes down deep into my dream, but that’s a lot more trucks and buses. I’d go broke from that tour but it would be incredible. It would almost be Broadway-like.

I want to be modern day and I want to play by modern-day rules and excite people, but I also want to do it the way I would do it. Everything that I’ve ever picked up that was a technology in some way or another, I’ve always found, I think, my own voice with it. And so I’m doing the big, bad L.E.D. show, but in a way that tells a story about me.

Your album The Search for Everything was released in April and it’s been four years since your last release. Why so long?

Mayer: Well, when I turned 30 (in 2008), I looked at my 30s that were coming up and I said, ‘I want to make as much as I can in my 30s,’ so I started to. … The Search for Everything would have come out, and I haven’t done the math on this, it would have come out in 2015, but then this beautiful opportunity of Dead & Company showed up at my doorstep. And I’ve never pressed pause on a solo career before, but I knew that this was worth pressing pause for. And that’s been really interesting because the (new) songs are really powerful, but I’m also two years removed from the emotion of it, so it’s a very interesting thing to go out on tour with songs that have been gestating for three years.

John Mayer with Dead & Company
Owen Sweeney / Invision / AP
– John Mayer with Dead & Company
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa.

What have you learned from performing in Dead & Company?

It seemed to me almost like taking a break to go back to school, right? It was like, ‘Take a break from this solo thing and go back to the university.’ And I’m getting my degree from Grateful Dead University. That’s all I ever wanted was musical experience that equated to becoming a better musician. … It’s a little boring to be a solo act for like 50 years. For me personally, I’m way too fidgety.

Who else would you like to collaborate with?

My next collaboration, I think, is going to be more on the producer side than on the artist side. I’m very interested in and intrigued by the idea of working with certain producers.

… I also like the idea of the ensemble record; I see where that’s going. The (DJ) Khaled record, the Calvin Harris record – that’s like a life hack that’s taking place before our eyes. And it’s a thoughtful, artistic response to the industry going the way it’s going, which is like supergroups. … So I see that working, too, like ‘John Mayer Presents…’ – where I’m a little less the singer and the upfront guy, and more the guy making tracks and saying, ‘I really can hear this voice here.’

What can we expect for your Dive Bar Tour show?

You’re going to get that small club, intimate … high energy, sort of bluesier side of me.

Do you remember playing in bars early in your career?

I came up in coffeehouses and listening rooms. Later on I would play more sort of dive bar-like venues. But I got my start in these, either in open-mic nights, or a coffee shop where basically it’s you against the giant coffee grinder. And in the middle of your song the coffee grinder can be going. And I remember playing gigs where there was nobody there and the only applause would come from behind the bar. It would come from the employees. … But getting on a stage, even if there’s nobody there, puts you in the mindset of performing and teaches you how to perform.