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07/18/2007 11:07 PM
Interview v.2007 took place in Indianapolis on June 30th in John's
dressing room prior to his set. It was just the two of us - no publicist or anyone else listening in on our conversation.
For the record, this is interview #7. I asked John and he confirmed that no other journalist had interviewed him as many times (I'm not a journalist, by
the way). I don't know if this is the best interview I've done with John, but I think it's my favorite.
As always, big thanks go out to John and his people for their continued enthusiasm for the annual interview. They always make the whole process so seamless.
Truly, it is an honor to be able to conduct these interviews each year.
With that said, here you go. As with past interviews, it may seem lengthy for some, but I know many don't mind. Enjoy!
JM: I actually haven't figured out how I feel about it yet, but it would be a completely different story if I hadn't been playing music the whole time.
I feel like celebrity is an applied science; I don't think in that language. The design of my life is completely the same. I also understand what the
question is; I'd probably be a wreck if it wasn't for playing music. So, all that has really happened is that there'd be more to lose if I
hadn't been playing music. If it wasn't celebrity, it would've been trying to find a place to live or trying to find a job. Music has kind of kept
me centered through any kind of struggle in life.
RY: With the Continuum record you decided to write about some current events that may be seen as pushing the
envelope, at least for you. What ultimately made you decide to go that route?
JM: It was absolutely as organic as any other idea I've ever had as a writer. I think I said before, it's not so much me making the trip out to where politics are-it's politics making the trip to where I am. I think Waiting and Belief are kind of written with the same parameters that I'd
[use when] writing about anything else. It's kind of tepid, not throwing down the gauntlet. If you want to throw down the gauntlet, you can watch CNBC or
Fox News. I wanted to write music that was going to get into people's heads first musically, and if it carried a bit of a message, great. It wasn't
message-first writing. I think message-first writing is not very good music.
RY: As I'm sure you're aware, the music industry is rapidly changing and the record business is not in the best shape. Pretend for a minute that
Room for Squares is about to drop in September 2007. How successful do you think you could be and how difficult
would it be for you to build a career?
JM: There are two sides to this answer. The first side is [that] building an audience is always going to be building an audience. So I think in that
respect, I'd like to at least humor myself and believe that if you build an audience in any year-no matter what the technology is-you could still show a
record company that you're worth having around. The other side of that question is in where the record company has to do their part, which is making a
video, getting [songs] on the radio and getting it to take off. I don't think Room for Squares would work at
all [today]. If it didn't have that American Idol sound that everyone was looking for, it probably
wouldn't have worked. There are two ways to make it-you can be a part of the culture and slip in or be a counterculture and be iconoclastic. But, I do feel
like it would be a hell of a lot harder. I got grandfathered in. No Such Thing really took a very, very long time
to take off. It's almost the equivalent of CPR, where you just push a few extra times and then you get water spit in your face. I don't know how long
Columbia Records or a record company would press on the chest these days. I don't think it's that long-I don't think you get CPR anymore. I think
you get a big epinephrine shot to the heart and if that doesn't work, you're dead.
RY: So you're 29 years old, you have more Grammys than most musicians will ever see, you've sold millions of records, lots of sold out shows, and
you've played with some of the best musicians in the world. What makes you not want to hang it up at this point?
JM: I just don't think there's any place for hanging it up. I was dreaming about making music my whole life before I ever saw a Grammy or
dreamed about a Grammy or dreamed about playing with anybody that I've been lucky enough to play with. Win or lose, I'm just going to keep playing
because that's what you do. Especially being a musician, it has such a flexible strategy. I think my answer would be different if I didn't have so many
other things that I could do to accommodate my brain. I have hobbies that are just mine that I don't ever tell anyone about. They're great pursuits and
I don't feel like making them as public as I've made music. Standup comedy is a hobby and it happens to be slightly more notable than I wanted it to
be. It's keeping all of those other things to do and I'm really not worth all that much after playing guitar and singing.
RY: Do you feel that when it comes time to make the next record, you'll have the same fire and passion as you had with Continuum?
JM: Absolutely, because I'm just never happy. It's not unhealthy, I don't think, but I happen to have some sort of a void that prevents me
from being like everybody else. As evident in my answers, I don't feel like I've explained anything enough. [With] Continuum the moment hasn't come yet where I think, "that's not what I wanted to say." I can feel it
brewing. I can feel what's "wrong" with Continuum coming up in my body right now, but I can't
tell you specifically what's wrong, so that's why I'm not making the record yet. Wrong in black and white because it's not now. And that's
why artists keep making music-because it's not now. Continuum isn't now. It's still now-ish. But
someday, I'm going to say, "Continuum is not what I stand for right now." So then you have to make a
record for now. That'll keep me going.
RY: I'm sure you've received advice from many people in your life; is there a piece that has really stuck with you?
JM: Elton John once told me, and I don't remember the exact verbiage of it, but it was something like, "Welcome to the world of bullshit my
dear. You have arrived." I think it was the first time I ever complained about a tabloid. It was way before anything in the last year or so. It was my
first experience with it. And Elton just said, "Welcome to the world of bullshit, my dear. You have arrived." After that, I got it. That was a pretty
good piece of advice.
RY: What is 1 thing you don't have in your life right now that you wish you
JM: I have a lot of great stuff going on. The
only thing that would make it perfect would be to throw out all of the parts of [my] brain that are occupied by who is out there tonight and who is here. I
don't like it. I'll probably wish back for it 10 years from now. I don't know. I'm better off in heart and body and
spirit and all of that stuff just not getting on stage and wondering who is out there tonight. I just want to shut that part down in my brain and I like when
it's shut down.. I'm really telling you about the one thing that money can't buy- I'd like to shut that part of my head down. That stupid,
young, cologne reeking, club-going part of my brain that I hardly give into but when I do I feel stupid about it.
RY: How would you describe the relationship you have with your fans at this juncture?
JM: Efficient. And I have to qualify that because it sounds really cold. I can't pretend to stand at the merch table after a show and sign for
everybody. I do everything that I can, but it's not everything. But when I get on stage, it's the best show that I can possibly put on. I'm saving
all the friendship and handshaking for the stage. I think people would agree that I'm having the most fun on stage [on this tour] that I've ever had. I
can't meet everybody, but when I do see everybody [while I'm] on stage, I hope that nobody doubts that I absolutely adore everybody and I'm so into
them being there and so sincerely glad to have them. In fact, "efficient" describes everything on this tour. I sleep really late, I work out, I eat
right, I only do 3-4 radio things in the afternoon now on this tour. I'm not doing press. You haven't seen me do a press interview in a couple months
now. When I get on stage, it's all focused. That's where the crowd gets to meet me. That's the only meeting that matters. It's the one on stage
where everybody gets to feel like it's just me and them if it works right. I'm playing for each person all at once.
RY: Is there anything exciting upcoming for you that we don't know about that you'd care to expound on?
JM: They're all surprises, but they're cool ones. I have booked a studio for October and November for the next record. Whether it's Trio or
not, I don't know yet. I've got to get in and see what the music becomes and I'll know pretty quickly. I'm going to spend most of my time in
the studio and make a record that is a little less portable. Maybe trade off some of the ability to play it live. As they say in the Blue Oyster Cult cowbell
video, "Really explore the studio space." I'll be on the east coast and I'll be a New Yorker for the fall. I'll be turning 30!
RY: How do you feel about 30?
JM: I feel great about it. Stop This Train was 30. When I wrote that, I turned 30. I'm just 30 minus
RY: 30 is the new 20.
JM: 27 was the new 30 because 27 sucked. 27 was terrible and just a lot of spontaneous crying. 27 for me personally was youth just tipping behind the
horizon. Come back! But there's nothing really great at 27 either, so you're kind of stranded. Then 28
will come in, and you'll be like, "right, I got it." When I turned 28, I kind of understood kids. I kind of got it. A little cellular changeover
in my body and I kind of understood bouncing a kid before [going] on stage instead of smoking a cigar.
RY: Do you feel like you have anything left to prove?
JM: Always. You always have to prove that you can do it now. You put a record out and the tabloids get you. Something. The question is can you do it now? Smash hit. Tank. Can you do it
now? Now you're 30, can you do it now? Now you're 31, can you do it now? The stakes get higher every single time. And now, kind of plugging back into
the LA or the celebrity answer, the stakes are higher. They are absolutely higher as a musician. You make your choices and you've got to be happy to live
with [each] choice, either way it goes. No matter which way it goes, it's an informed choice and I'm fine with having made the choice. There will be
plenty of other times where I'll make an informed choice or an uninformed choice. Welcome to the world! Welcome to
being a human being! Who knows? You pick forks in the road and you're not always going to get the ones that are right or maybe they are and you
don't know it yet. But then you have to prove again that after what you've done in the time between the last record and the pending record, you can
still do it.
RY: Are you at all surprised by Continuum's success? It's about to hit 2 million sold and in today's
marketplace, 2 million is a lot of records.
JM: I'm really happy. I don't want to answer yes or no about surprised, but I'm really happy. This record-more than any other record
I've put out-has kind of latched on into the air. It really still has an emotional footing with people and that's amazing. I don't even know how
many it's sold. As long as it has that emotional footing, where when we go on stage and play I Don't Trust
Myself (With Loving You) or The Heart of Life, there's a real "here we are now" kind of thing.
And that's lucky and you don't get that with every record.
RY: So at this point, in terms of the next record, you don't have any ideas or any clue in what direction it's headed? I recall last time we spoke you
talking about making a record that was a lot of chords and a country record, but not.
JM: I thought about that and it probably gets boiled down to a song. The interesting thing is had I'd been able to go in the studio at that time, I
would've made that record. But because I have to wait so long to go in the studio, I'm on a whole different record now. It's weird. If I
could've made a record at that point, it would've sounded like piano and Ryan Adams. Now, it's moving to kind of a different place. I just want to
make a really dense record.
RY: Do you feel like earlier on you were more of a touring kind of guy and now you're more a studio guy?
JM: No. It's hard to explain because I'm having a BLAST on this tour. I've never had a better time on a tour, honest to God. I've never
planned a camping trip on a tour. Normally, I'm in this kind of bleary-eyed grind, but I'm really awake on this tour in every sense. I'm just
really becoming careless again. I had a period of time where I tried to take myself seriously, and I wore these jackets every night and was really shadowy.
That felt good for a minute because I didn't feel like talking. It's fine and I want to defend that-sometimes you just don't feel like dressing up
and going out. I've kind of returned to that. I keep saying all the time it feels like its 2002 again! The stage is set up now so that I can turn to my
left and see JJ, or if I want to, I can look at Harris because everyone is kind of turned in. I get up there and it's breezy and I have fun and it feels
like a rehearsal. I love touring, but I'd like to find a place for it that's in a different place. I'm not going to let this whole touring aspect
of life get me which would just mean numbing myself out in one way or another. I love this tour, but afterwards, I'm going to go home and then I'm
going to go work on my next record. So, it's perfect.
RY: Do you feel like in the future you'll tour less?
JM: I don't know. I think it's a matter of doing more with less. That's what great about now-I can go out and play fewer shows because
I've played so many shows in the past. I don't have to wake up and do radio and play No Such Thing 4 times
and then do an interview with AP. I could do a summer tour every year, no doubt about it. What else would I be doing? Nothing. It's just a matter of
finding a place for everything. Places change. The place where you put things changes. The place where I put touring now has changed, but for the better. I can
give more to it because it's smaller. Because I don't soundcheck anymore, I can get to the venue at 6PM if I don't feel like being there. Show up
on stage and get on there and just play my ass off because I haven't been on output all day.
RY: What do you feel is the best thing that has happened to you so far this year?
JM: I thought the Grammys were pretty cool. I thought the Time 100 was pretty amazing. The tours have been great and I lived a lot this year. I lived a
hell a lot this year. It's not over yet, but I certainly wasn't hiding, was I? I had never gone on a vacation in my life until this year.
RY: Do you see yourself vacationing more in the future?
JM: No. it's not really my style. I'd rather come home. I'd rather stay home for a month and do the same thing over and over again.
That'd be my vacation.
RY: Do you think there is anywhere else you'd like to try living?
JM: I'd like to live in Boston for a little while. Maybe in a suburb. But I don't really get a chance to live in New York! I don't really
live in these places. I'm there for like 2 months with the exception of making a record. I bought an apartment in New York in 2003 and I can't wait to
go home and start living there. There are all these interim periods of living. I need to take a good break, but I'll just jump back in the studio so what
the hell am I talking about? I don't really have it in me to do anything else but play music and try to piss people off by doing things that aren't
RY: At least now you seem to be taking the opportunity to live it up every once in a while.
JM: Yeah, a little bit. Friday and Saturday night only come once a week. You can't turn a Tuesday into a Saturday. You should always have something
to drink to. If you find yourself going "it's good to be alive, man," then you drink too much. Work your ass off, have a couple of drinks, smoke
a cigar and go, "everything is really good and I can appreciate things from this vantage point." And then put your helmet back on and get back in the
game. That's a little bit of what the LA trap is. You start going, "It's just good to be alive man!" and you lose your edge. New York is
going to put the spine back up in me through my ass.
RY: Over the last year, do you have a biggest regret?
JM: I regret the Rolling Stone interview. I was not misquoted at all. I wanted to bring a different side
and it really just wasn't genuine. Sometimes you experiment with being obnoxious. That was kind of an obnoxious interview on my part. That's probably
the only thing I regret. That's probably the only thing I've ever read and just went "fudge." It's all Rolling Stone. It's not Rolling Stone's fault. You sit down and if
you're worth your salt, then you've read a whole bunch of Rolling Stones and you know Rolling Stone is where you give the juicy stuff. And [nobody]-I swear to you, who's ever said [they've been]
misquoted by Rolling Stone-[was] misquoted in Rolling Stone. They misspoke in Rolling Stone because Rolling Stone is so cool that if you try to up the ante
and speak Rolling Stone's language, it won't come off right. I didn't come off right because I
RY: Outside of making your next record, is there anything upcoming you're really looking forward to?
JM: I'm excited to be able to play with other musicians and I'd like to do other projects. Just go back into the place where I can turn on a
dime and get a phone call from someone asking if I'm in New York and [if I want] to come to the studio. That's how Bittersweet happened with Kanye. I literally brought my microphone in a case down to the studio and sang over Bittersweet. Other than that, my little hobbies. Maybe try to find a place for comedy, although it's dying in my mind.
Nothing wrong with giving it a few more chances to see how it could ruin my career.
RY: Were you excited to see that Bittersweet finally leaked?
JM: Did it finally leak? I'll have to look into it. That's the fun part. Whether Kanye wants to put it on his record or put it on a bonus cd I
don't know. I have done my part.
RY: It's been interesting to follow because the song was done so long ago and it never leaked and now it's out there.
JM: Good. Well, I hope he loves it. I know the chances that I would put a song on a record that I recorded 3 years ago are probably not very good, and
knowing Kanye's talent, he's probably written things that he thinks put that song to shame. So, you never know. The song I did with Alicia Keys is a
really great song. I'd like to see that one soar.
RY: Is there anything you've been listening to recently that you're excited about?
JM: I've got Fall Out Boy fever. I want to be in a band with Fall Out Boy which is pretty much just me playing guitar in Fall Out Boy. It takes a
lot I think to get on a microphone and sing "Long Live the Car Crash Hearts" and not sound so ridiculously hokey. You got to deliver that shit.
It's like if you're a karate master and you chop a board, you're chopping the board because you're hitting it so hard and so fast that
you'll chop right through it. If you don't hit the board hard enough, you'll break your hand and that whole Fall Out Boy record is just smashing
the board because you've hit it so hard that nobody can say that they don't buy it. I love their record. The James Morrison album I think is great. The
Ryan Adams record I'm starting to give some time to. Going back to this band called the Blue Nile. I highly recommend a record called A Walk Across the Rooftops. It's brilliant and you'll love it. You'll be like, where has this record been all my
life? It came out in '84 and it was way ahead of its time. It's still ahead of its time. It's like Peter Gabriel and Coldplay, but certainly before
RY: Anything else you'd like to leave with?
JM: No, thankfully I don't really care so much anymore. I care that the shows are great. I'm experimenting with not caring but at the same time,
learning the difference between not caring and acting like a jerk. You can still aspire to be a good person and not care about what people think about you. Not
caring what people think about you should not be synonymous with being a prick. Try to be nice, try to be good and stop listening for the echo. I have like 12
people in my life that I really care what they think about me and fewer people are on payroll than you'd think! As long as I'm a nice guy and you
don't hear about me pushing people down an elevator shaft, then I don't know what else I could do for anybody.
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