May 11, 2018
Just yesterday we were granted the opportunity to hear a great collaboration from singer--songwriter John Mayer and producer No I.D. on the track New Light. In an exclusive livestream interview Mayer talks about this track being “new territory for him creatively.” He also mentions how working with No I.D. allowed him to change his “vocabulary a little bit while still remaining the musician that he is.” From art aesthetic to synth textures, the song gives a slight nostalgic nod to the 80’s. Mayer opens up in the interview and admits that he purposefully attempted to sing “all the 80’s melodies he could on this song.” Social media even warrants us a cherry on top of all of this throwback goodness by giving us a head shot of Mayer sporting a very 80’s colorful windbreaker. On the heels of our latest 80’s inspired compositions, The 7XD Sample Pack, we felt it would be appropriate to take a closer look at what Mayer revealed about the construction of this record and the collaborative process between him and No I.D.
“He is such an artist in terms of sampling, taking things and moving them around and really turning it into an instrument. His use of Ableton is insane, it’s like a violin for him,” John Mayer states early on in the interview speaking about No I.D. It goes without saying that No I.D. is revered and considered a legendary producer in the industry. A recent feat of his is that he remains an extremely relevant producer making mega hits all while also being an executive vice president of A&R at major labels. His tenure in the music industry is long (almost 30 years!) and he boasts a resume second to none consisting of everyone from Jay-Z, Kanye, Common, Rihanna, Usher and Drake just to name a few. He also is responsible for forming the influential hip-hop collective/group “Cocaine 80s.” How has he stayed in the game so long and remained a consistent force? He explains in an interview: “It’s not about me...it’s a journey to self awareness...about bringing the best out of an artist, helping them grow and develop. One of the greatest feelings in the world is helping someone find themself.” We can surely learn so much from No I.D. in this regard and this recent collaboration with John Mayer displays the fruit of his wise ideologies at work.
As John Mayer goes on to describe working with No I.D. he brings up the interesting point that he had to approach it differently than he was used to. He explains that “Hip Hop has a different harmonic agreement with the world than what I do musically.” This created a dilemma for him in writing over No I.D.’s beats that he had to work through. Mayer said that he would hear the loops and try to create songs over them but harmonically speaking there was nowhere for him to go, he felt he could only put top line on them. Zane Lowe makes a great mention in the interview that only few collaborations between beat makers and singers really work well unless the two find a way to create in that specific space. A great example he gave of recent success in this field is NxWorries, Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge approach the tracks masterfully complimenting each other with a very loose structure. Mayer says that he learned early that he had to approach the beats in a way that had him lay melodic chops that didn’t necessarily define the “1,” making it less constricting and easier for him to build upon. From this realization we get a beautifully executed vocal performance by Mayer over a feel good heavy groove.
“I play with the drums. I’m a drum playing guitar player. I stand by the drums and work with the hi hat...It was fun to play to a machine beat.” The drum loop that No I.D. chooses to use on this record is chopped with perfection and sounds like a live drummer played in the studio. A great trick that can be heard is that the fills, rolls and drum textures are authentic (because most likely a real player was sampled) but the sequencing also accents musical moments, like the bridge, that steer away from complete redundancy that may give way to it being programmed. A small subtle sampled element drives the record in the background while live guitar and bass lock with the drums establishing the sound that we all know John Mayer for. There aren’t many elements in this record as there is much space left for John’s vocals to float over the steady groove, but the synth textures really create the atmosphere of the song. From the warm light pads in the verses to the soft vintage lead lines flying in to establish the 80’s aesthetic. The song ends up feeling like a match made in heaven with listeners getting a cohesive sound that they can vibe to.
In the interview Mayer opens up to show that this collaboration is prime time for him in his musical journey as he admits that for the past year he had been making beats learning on all of the MPC models and drum plugins. This new obsession of his has changed his whole creative process. He says he doesn’t even bring his guitar amp into the studio anymore, instead he brings an MPC and plugs his guitar into it. This set-up he says has opened his mind to limitless creative possibilities especially when he’s writing for other people. In fact Mayer has discovered that he has placed such rigid boundaries on himself as an artist because he knows what is authentically him and what works, but with writing for other people he feels completely free--especially with his MPC.
Lowe asks Mayer about advice he would give to younger artists and musicians/producers, and Mayer clearly spells out where he is in life: “Do your best, do what moves you and don’t worry what other people have to say...when you get to this age  you get to see the lifespan of people’s opinions.” In this collaborative effort between John Mayer and No I.D. we get to witness two seasoned vets in the music industry living by this mantra.
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