Here is the annual JM/RY MSM
interview. The interview took place July 15, 2008 at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. The interview happened during Colbie Caillat's set in John's dressing room. We
were joined by a special guest, my little brother, Andrew. As always, props to JM and his entire crew for always making
these interviews so easy. Thanks to Jocelyn as well for some editing assistance. With that, I leave you to
RY: So you have a new live album/DVD out now called Where The Light Is. I know live releases are a tricky thing for you because you're such a perfectionist. Have you watched or listened to it in its entirety and if so, what are your thoughts?
JM: I have not watched it or listened to it in its entirety. I've seen parts of it. I've watched Free Fallin'!
RY: Are you surprised that Free Fallin' is the most popular single download off the album?
JM: I had never thought about it so I didn't see it coming; I guess that's what being surprised is. I'm learning where to put my stamp on something and where to let other people who are better at stamping certain things do their thing. I think that's the secret to that balance of putting out really good stuff, especially on a live record. I put the show on and I think that watching it gives me a view of too many angles of myself. I really want to focus on putting on the best shows and I stay the hell out of it; that's why I think it's the best live documentation that's ever been done of my music. I want to be able to take someone's word for it when they say, "That was a really cool thing I saw." Otherwise, if I see it, I'll want to argue about it with them or not believe them. I want to believe people when they say "I really enjoyed that" instead of saying, "You did?"
RY: In terms of a new record for you, I know you have a few finished songs you've talked about in the recent past. Are there any further updates?
JM: I would love to have one. I feel like I'm getting more out of designing the show night after night than I ever have before and . . . . I'm getting all of my creativity out on this set.
This band turns on a dime. The other day, Carl, my brother, came up on stage. I was watching AC/DC on the bus and I thought, "How must that be to play guitar with your brother on stage?" I decided I was doing it that night! I've always fantasized about playing in a band where I don't have to think about singing; that's how Panama came about. Within two hours, we figured that all out. I really feel like I'm a producer full-time now so that when I go on stage at night, we're producing that show.
The record is going to come. I'm excited about where it's going to pick up from. It's almost like a storyline; at the end of Continuum, our protagonist was lamenting about having to Find Another You. In those two and a half to three years, where does our protagonist appear? That's the literature writer in me. I'd like for it to pick up somewhere in Spain. Like a Bourne Identity, James Bond-type thing. [voiceover voice] "When we last saw him, he was presumed dead in New York City." Then the beginning, the typewriter crawls on the screen and I'm in Barcelona, Spain working at a small fruit stand (laughs).
RY: Earlier in your career, you eagerly released albums and music in a formulaic way, with the traditional album cycles and such. More recently, you've put things out on your time, when you feel they're ready. Can you explain why that is and what your thinking is?
JM: Yeah, starting with the Trio record. And if you look recently, it's become even more segmented with Say and if Free Fallin' matters to people, then that would be another off-season offering.
It's a much deeper question as to what is "on" and "off" now for a performer or entertainer. I have to revise my feelings about that. Traditionally, I would've said that this is seriously hurting my effectiveness by being around so much.
When I was growing up, I didn't want too much of something because I was afraid I'd get sick of it and now, I can't stop getting enough of this and that. All that bobbing and weaving feels like I'm on Survivor and I don't want to get voted off the island, so I'm moving around and making alliances. Sometimes I'm on TMZ, sometimes I'm playing a ballad on stage, sometimes I'm writing a goofy blog and sometimes I'm trying to do good in the world. I think that's what it takes. It's a weird thing to me to know that when I "disappear" to go make my next record, you'll still be able to watch my hair grow, but it's not weird to you, so I'm going to make that change in myself so it's not weird to anybody.
RY: I was listening to the expanded version of Michael Jackson's Thriller and Quincy Jones mentioned that he loved that Thriller took risks. Bringing that full circle to you, how important do you think taking risks is as an artist and how would you apply that to you and your music?
JM: That's a great question. I don't believe in taking risks for the sake of it. You know you're onto something if you feel something in your heart is the way to go. When you say, "I know this is right and no one else does." I have the choice to either change that, or to comply with everyone else, or I can assume that everyone else doesn't know what they're talking about. I hope I always take that risk and always make that record that somehow inches forward, at least sound-wise.
I'm starting to figure out how to do it. I've got more than three songs and I've got a lot of song ideas. It's going to be interesting because I don't need to do the same thing twice. Digital media allows all the music to be as crisp today as it was ten years ago. The risk is in trying to put out something new while retaining your original DNA-what people know you for. I think that's what makes the Coldplay record so interesting. And I really mean that as interesting. I don't mean it in an equivocating sort of way as 'in-ter-esting.' The band did a lot of DNA splicing . . . and I think people find it interesting. The big question is-how much DNA should you be splicing and how much should you just wear a new hat?
RY: You've previously talked with me about the balance between working and having fun and not overindulging with the fun part. How do you feel you've been doing with that?
JM: Or overindulging in the work part! (laughs) I've been absolutely fine with it. We live in a world now where when you begin to have a good time, people hit the stop watch on you and count down the seconds until they're going to see you in a mug shot. If you're sophisticated, and God I hope I never have to take these words back, but I think if you're sophisticated, you can have a really great time. You've got to know when to call it.
After the Jones Beach show, we went out and had a great dinner and drank these wonderful beverages called Patron Café. Last night I had work to do and I had a Monday night off in New York and stayed in. Tonight, I'm just going to go home and play guitar.
I've read things where people allude to having such a good time that they forget to go to work but that's absolutely not the case with me. I have the kind of personality that doesn't allow me to stay still for that long. I can't even take a massage because that's too much time doing nothing. Even if I wanted to take a whole year off and do nothing, I think I deserve that. There's been a lot of work this year so far.
RY: Now that you're in a position where almost every one of your moves/actions/words are put under a microscope, do you find you have to be careful with what you say while still having fun and enjoying yourself?
JM: Absolutely. You can't censor your thoughts, but you can censor your words. There's a way to express your thoughts and stay yourself. It's not easy on your girlfriend when you go on Z100 and say, "Yes, I've hooked up with fans before." Not fun. It wasn't even so much that, but then it ends up in People Magazine and it's taken completely out of context. I could've made this young girl feel stupid and said something ridiculous or I could've said, "I never have." Then everyone I had hooked up with would've said, "What a liar!" and tabloids would've dished out a whole bunch of money to pay people to say "Yes, he did!" By the way, why would someone ask me that question?
It does have an effect on your personal life; if you say something or want to make a joke about somebody or you're just joking, it explodes. It's a matter of staying honest gracefully. I'm an honest person; I represent more than just myself. I represent my family, the people I love, my fans.
There are some times when a direct question gets a direct answer because I have this huge streak in my brain where I will not let people get the best of me. If you try to back me into a corner, I won't let it happen and I'm going to make you feel stupid for asking the question by answering it completely faithfully. But I did sleep with that fan right after the Z100 thing. (laughs) And you can print that, too!
RY: If you think back a few decades, there were artists like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Wonder. Back then, as now, they were artists that were universally loved and respected. Why do you think there's such a great divide in the current era of music between what's considered great music and what isn't?
JM: I think everybody wants to have a constant stream of communication from consumer to artist, artist to consumer and consumer to consumer. It is an absolute web of communication. That's how people really want it and that's how they want to be entertained-with their hand on a buzzer saying, "I like it" or "I don't like it." That's why there's so much delineation between the two. It's Douchebag versus He's cool.
In the days of The Beatles, I don't think there was that much advantage taken of a consumer. Now, consumers get taken advantage of so much that they have to become defensive. It's harder than ever to get an idea in somebody's head without them going, "Oh, you're just making that up." I think partly that's the way they want it and partly, that's the way they need it to be because there are so many people waiting to take advantage of you that you have to be ready to call bullshit at any moment.
People just want to play along at home and I understand it. People want to talk back and now artists can hear it, and maybe people were always talking shit.
I'm going to give you the scoop and I'm going to let people quote your interview. Celebrities read everything. They are their own biggest stalkers; they know every single gossip site, and every single post as it goes up. They act like they don't-but they all do. Celebrities, by that estimation . . . do terrible research because all they ever do is read that without anything else to give them perspective. They're such bad researchers and their science is such shit that they sit in front of a computer for one hour every morning and read one control group. If it were a scientific experiment, it would be the equivalent of only researching what this pill does to pregnant women. There are people walking around all day having only informed themselves by reading blogs that begin with, "Bitch probably." If you're reading a blog that says, "Bitch probably uses a rake as a comb," you're probably on that blog. There's so much other information out there to be had. Read some fan mail; read about the people who said they were sick for half of last year and your music got them through it. We are terrible at not reading all the data, so that's how I feel.
If you're going to go on that stuff and read it, then you'd better understand that all you're doing is hanging out in one wing of the psych ward. You go, "People really are crazy?" No-visit a different floor. Go hang out in the waiting room for a minute and talk to some normal people. It's just as much my responsibility to keep my head out of that, but I read it and I accept it. I also know I can walk outside and somebody will say, "I love your record and you got me through some really tough times." I love meet and greets more than ever because that's the other side of the data.
RY: Since you've been touring less, have you found that it's been good for you as an artist and as a person?
JM: Sure. I'm playing the best shows of my life. I'm playing the longest shows and they feel the shortest. Every night is different. I refuse to play a song that bores me. If it bores me, I won't play it anymore or I will change it. In the case of Daughters '74, I really got into Van Morrison's stuff and I'm sort of covering my own tune. People want to see the artist they love love what they are doing. They're not so hell bent on hearing the song they want to hear if they know you don't want to play that song. The fans know when I get on stage that I'm having the time of my life right now.
Another day alive is another day you got through. Especially when you're 30! That's thirty years of planes landing successfully; thirty years of the car turning into the driveway and the ignition being turned off. Add to that almost ten years of putting out records and people caring. Add all that up and I'm going to go on stage and now I know how to play like it's the last night of my life.
RY: It's been a few years now since I last asked you this question, but I figured now would be as good a time as any. Where do you see yourself and/or what do you see yourself doing five years from now?
JM: Same thing. I see myself at PNC on a different record or in a different band. It may not be my name. I think I could take a break from my name for a minute. I think it's unhealthy to spend that many years with your name as your product, going to bed wondering about the state of the union of your product instead of how you're doing as a person. I would love to be able to say, "Yeah, <insert band name here>, we're kicking ass and this is what I'm doing, but I'm John and this is the band I'm in." It's always going to be music.
RY: Are you itching for any new projects?
JM: Always! I want to go fill in for some guitar player. I want to have to learn 30 songs in two days. I love that stuff! That's like the Van Halen challenge for me. Panama is going to be twice as good tonight as it was last night because I'm at home learning Eddie Van Halen guitar parts.