John Mayer is early. By nearly an hour. This almost never happens in interviews with musicians, but Mayer is someone who prides himself on being what one might call an "unusualist." I arrive in my hotel lobby to find that the multiplatinum singer has draped his rangy six-three frame (to use the obligatory description) on a leather couch, the better to savor his glass of Laphroaig single-malt Scotch.
As is his habit, the star is holding forth to a business associate about some of the Finer Things in Life. This evening, the Finer Thing in question is the Land Rover Defender, a vehicle that Mayer has managed to acquire despite the fact that its sale is prohibited in the United States for safety reasons. The conversation turns to the even more manly subject of Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art that Mayer has been studying for the past couple of years. "I've figured out my learning curve," says the Abercrombie-cute bluesman from Bridgeport, Connecticut. "I can look at something and somehow know exactly how long it will take for me to learn it.
"You don't really want me picking up a hobby you have," Mayer says. "I'll make it sort of unfun for you. Like, I don't know if I'd be the best golfer, but I'd have all the clubs." Not everyone is on board with the singer's full-immersion approach to life. "My business manager asked me if I wouldn't mind dabbling in things," Mayer remarks as he waits for the valet to bring his Porsche Cayenne to the front of the hotel.
Mayer's chosen venue for this evening's interview—which is occasioned by the release of his fourth studio album, Battle Studies—is the Hollywood celebrity-hub hotel Chateau Marmont. This might seem somewhat incongruous for a man who is known for dressing, as he puts it, "like a schlub," but for most of this year Mayer has been fully immersed in the Southern California experience, recording Battle Studies at a rented house in Calabasas, near Topanga Canyon. As he drives—very sensibly—toward the Chateau Marmont, Mayer explains that he wanted to tap into that "hazy, Sunset, rustic, California, Don Henley, Fleetwood Mac feel." It seems to suit him quite well.
From the opening track, the U2-redolent "Heartbreak Warfare", it's clear that the musician who ingratiated his way into the nation's heart with soft-serve hits like "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and "Daughters" has entered a new phase. The record revives the spirit of that most maligned of 20th-century art forms, adult-oriented rock, channeling the likes of Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Dire Straits, and reflects how assured Mayer has become. Battle Studies may well force some of his detractors to admit that the man they used to view as Dave Matthews' cocky little nephew has grown up some.