John Mayer Talks Going to “Grateful Dead University” to Prepare for Dead & Company

August 5, 2015

Billboard has published their full Q&A with John Mayer upon his selection as guitarist in the Dead & Company, a new project featuring Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge set to make its debut on Halloween at Madison Square Garden.

The guitarist says his introduction to the Dead’s music came thanks to online streaming services. “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?'” Mayer also namechecked SiriusXM’s Grateful Dead channel as a useful tool. “The Grateful Dead station on Sirius is its own experience, especially if you drive,” he said.

Mayer also recounted meeting Weir and Hart for the first time at Capitol Tower in Los Angeles along with Don Was, who produced Mayer’s last two records Born and Raised and Paradise Valley. “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,” he said of the meeting.

When he finally got in a room with the rest of the ensemble, Mayer says there was a “vitality” to the jamming. “Something about it was valuable,” he said. As for his current practice, Mayer said, “I’ve been going for a while and 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.”

Among the other musings in the Q&A include some of Mayer’s favorite songs to play (“Sugaree,” “He’s Gone,” “They Love Each Other,” etc.) as well as some he struggles with (“Slipknot”). Mayer also said he thought Trey Anastasio was “great” at Fare Thee Well, of which he attended all five shows. “I was so proud of him as a guitar player,” he said. “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.”

Mayer added, “He did something incredible to the legacy and didn’t leave it any easier for me to pick up the baton. I consider myself no different than any other fan. I don’t think I’ve had a more profound experience than anybody else discovering this music except that I have this reach on the guitar.”

As for what he’ll bring to Dead & Company, he said, “The way I look at this is carrying that spirit forward. I feel like it’s the responsibility of any musician who cares to not let great, important music die. There’s a lot of people who don’t know what that music is yet because they weren’t exposed to it culturally. They don’t know that there is that swing and that groove you need in your life. Being a deadhead or being a fan of the music sits completely separate from any other walk of life you may identify with. That means everybody can feel this pulse. It’s about carrying this music forward because these songs will change your life.”