In a new interview with Billboard, John Mayer spoke about his long-rumored involvement with Grateful Dead members in what we now know of as Dead & Company. The band, announced today, consists of Core Four members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, as well as Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti. Dead & Co. will play Madison Square Garden on Halloween.
Mayer revealed much about his new affiliation with the Dead and what the process of preparing for the upcoming shows has been like.
On discovering the Grateful Dead in 2011…
“I think Pandora was to thank. It was kind of a blind taste test — a station that wasn’t far genetically from the Dead played ‘Althea’ and I heard this riff and went, ‘What’s that?’ I actually came in from being outside in the pool, I was dripping wet and had to see what was on the iPod. From there, I went [on] to know a few songs and started recognizing pieces of songs.”
On being a new type of Grateful Dead fan…
I don’t know what those [Dead] shows were like. I have Fare Thee Well to give me a pretty good example, and I can kind of reverse engineer what it felt like, but then again, I’m sure I can’t. So I represent this generation of listener who didn’t go to those shows. There was no sensory bonus for the music. I don’t know how much a T-shirt was or who made the best chili. I don’t have any of that fan show-going experience so I really discovered the music on a totally pure level. … I didn’t come it from the experience of “a friend brought me to a Dead concert in 1987 and I had the time of my life.” I came at it, like, this music transports me to a place in my own imagination.
On the first encounter…
“I couldn’t resist, and I sat down and sort of professed my love. I told them how this music had hit me. I wanted to tell them how much it meant to me [seeing as] I have no cultural tie-in with the music — no preexisting condition, as it were — and this music just knocked me out. I told them that those songs take me to places I’ve never been to that I visit daily and I love going there. So I sort of gave a sermon: these songs are for people who have homes who every once in a while don’t want homes. And I think Bob said to me, ‘Hey, you wanna do our PR?'”
On the first jam session…
We all knew when we got in a room and started playing, there was a vitality to it. I learned five or six songs just to have enough under my hands, and even with me sort of bumping into walls musically, there was meaning to it. Something about it was valuable.”
Practice, practice, practice…
“It has been such a joy to go back to playing guitar for 4 to 5 hours a day. It’s been 15 years since the last time I sat in the room and just tried to get better at playing. It’s what I’ve called Grateful Dead University. It’s like a study abroad — a totally immersive course and a real self-driven scholarship.”
His favorite songs to play?
“I’m partial to the songs with the great R&B influences in them. ‘Sugaree’ is the song I play for people. Also ‘He’s Gone,’ ‘They Love Each Other,’ ‘Loser’ … those songs that share the genetic code of The Band, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Bob Dylan.”
On Trey playing with the Grateful Dead in Fare Thee Well?
“I thought Trey was great and I was so proud of him as a guitar player. People don’t understand what he did — he spent months practicing, drilling on the guitar to play every song one time. He ostensibly isn’t going to play those songs again but he gave it the effort of an expert professional musician. The other thing that was so brilliant was that he was such a tasteful player. He found his spot, his zone, right from the beginning.”
Read the full interview here.