May 22nd, 2012
08:26 AM ET
John Mayer scoffs when asked about an "unnamed source" who claims his new single, "Shadow Days," was written as an ode to his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Aniston.
"It's weird because I've never told anybody what a song is about, literally," the seven-time Grammy winner explains to CNN. "There's no sources because no one ever asked! At no time writing the song did the engineer say, 'What's that about?' At no time did (producer) Don Was look at me and say, 'Hey Johnny, what's that song about?'"
But if you listen to the lyrics, you'd realize "Shadow Days" isn't about a woman. It's a mantra from Mayer to himself: "I'm a good man with a good heart/Had a tough time/Got a rough start."
"I think people are under the impression that I sit down with a pen, and I stare off at the wall and I say, 'Someone's going to get it.' And that's not how songwriting works," Mayer says.
"I was singing and strumming the guitar, and I remember singing, 'I'm a good man with a good heart,' and it was really interesting to hear it sung, because it's not arrogant to say that, you know," he continues. "And then I thought, 'Well, if you're going to say that in a chorus, you better explain why you're able to say that. You better explain in your verses why you deserve to say you're a good man."
When Mayer recorded his new album, "Born and Raised," people weren't quite sure where he fell on the "good man" scale. After all, there was that cringe-worthy interview he gave to Playboy in 2010, where he managed to insult everyone from African-Americans to former flames Aniston and Jessica Simpson. In one disastrous diatribe, he went from Grammy-winning Golden Boy to Public Enemy No. 1.
"Shadow Days" documents the soul-searching that followed that fall from grace.
"I think it was an okay time to have a little perspective on myself," he admits. "I think that's probably the only time I did, or will, sort of just write about that crash, that sort of violent awakening into adulthood by way of really embarrassing - now embarrassing - behavior."
Some may call it poetic justice, but shortly after his words were unleashed in print, Mayer suddenly lost the ability to sing or speak. He developed granuloma - nodules near his vocal cords - that had to be surgically removed. As soon as he finished up the new record, the granuloma returned, and he was told he'd need a second surgery, which he still hasn't brought himself to schedule yet.
"I think in singing the record, I lost the ability to sing. Again. Because I sang the record, I wasn't able to go on tour. But if I'd gone on tour, I would have had to cancel two weeks in. I aggravated it again," Mayer explains.
At the moment, he's a singer who can't sing, with a new album he can't promote on tour.
"It's up to the record to kind of speak for me, or tour for me," Mayer says quietly. "Maybe it's kind of cool to find something and not have it jammed down your throat. Who knows?"
These days, you won't find Mayer living in New York or Los Angeles. He sold his homes on both coasts, and has moved to a small town in Montana. His wardrobe consists of jeans, boots and a custom-made felt hat straight out of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." His dark, bushy hair brushes his shoulders. Life is less complicated, but at 34, Mayer prefers it that way.
"Where I am is where I should have always been, which is a singer-songwriter who's not looking to dominate the world," he says. "Let someone else try to think they can beat the game. I watch people do it and I totally understand where they're coming from, and I go, 'Okay, well, I don't want to be the guy to tell them they can't do it.' So I'm going to keep watchin.' I know what he's TRYING to do."
In the meantime, he keeps to himself, sharing his thoughts with his guitar.
"I'm going to make another record. I may have to sing differently - quieter or something, maybe in a different voice," he muses. "Or write the songs with a croaky voice, and then come back and re-do the vocals in a week, six months after the surgery. But I'm OK. I want less of the world than I ever did."
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