John Mayer knows all too well the power of having a duet with Katy Perry, his girlfriend of the last year, among the tracks on his new album, "Paradise Valley," due Aug. 20.
"When you first read the reports about [the duet], you'll think that it's a gimmick ... I love a good challenge and that's certainly one," Mayer says from Sony's penthouse suite on New York's Madison Avenue. "But the hope is you hear it once because of the curiosity and then you go, 'Wow, I really like that. I could find a place for hearing that a lot more.'"
The same could be said for many of the other songs on "Paradise Valley," the first collection of songs Mayer has cut since regaining his voice in late 2012 following a series of surgeries and Botox injections that caused him to cancel promotional and tour commitments for 2012's "Born and Raised." In addition to "Who You Love," the centerpiece collaboration with Perry, there's a pair of songs called "Wildfire," the first of which was written and performed by Frank Ocean and the second a response penned by Mayer. And then, of course, there's the lead single, "Paper Doll," written not-so-obliquely about Taylor Swift as a semi-response to her own "Dear John" (telling lyric: "You're like 22 girls in one/And none of them know what they're running from").
The album takes its name from the scenic area of Montana near Yellowstone Park that Mayer has called his home since his vocal troubles forced him to take a hiatus from touring and singing. And it's his newly remote dwelling that has kept Mayer fairly removed from current pop trends, as the Don Was-helmed album settles into more of an autumnal, jazzy take on late-'70s rock records from Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac. Though "Paper Doll" and "Wildfire" both briefly cracked the Billboard Hot 100 based on digital sales, neither is likely to set the top 40 charts ablaze like such past hits as "Your Body Is a Wonderland," "Daughters" or even "Who Says."
And that's perfectly fine by Mayer. "The thing I love about my career the most is it's not an attempt to be a blockbuster," he says. "There's stuff on the charts, if you played it for me to tell you if I thought it would be a hit, I'd have been wrong. So who am I to act as if I've got the recipe for a hit? [He did, however, predict early that Perry's new single, "Roar," which debuts this week at No. 85 on the Billboard Hot 100, would be a "megaton bomb."] Think about how elevated the expectation is now for success-is it a million views of something? That's a lot of views. Is it 10 million views? Is it 30 million views? For me now, it's how many people are at a show."
Having been off the road since 2010, Mayer made a strong return to touring this summer, headlining amphitheaters and county fairs with capacities as high as 19,000. Yet due to "Paradise Valley"'s accelerated time frame (recording started in March shortly after the summer tour was already routed, and completed several months later), Columbia is letting Mayer's active presence on the road do the bulk of the heavy lifting in terms of promotion.
"He had so much he wanted to say and literally could not get it out there," Columbia senior VP of marketing Greg Linn says, "so to finally have this opportunity now to have him go out and be able to speak to this new body of work and be able to reconnect with fans is letting him do what he does best."
Mayer did, however, talk and perform on "Today" in early July to set up the release, and will play "Late Show With David Letterman" on Aug. 19. Piggybacking on the latter, Citi will host a cardmember party adjacent to an album-preview concert through CBS and Vevo's "Live on Letterman" series, and is in talks to support the next leg of Mayer's tour.
Even without any promo, "Born and Raised" managed to debut atop the Billboard 200, marking his third No. 1, with sales of 219,000 copies (according to Nielsen SoundScan). Though Mayer is stoked to finally take some of those songs on the road, a pair of warm-up gigs he played in April quickly revealed that album's "living-room sort of vibe, which I didn't know because I never got onstage to play it," he says. Mayer considers Paradise Valley more of a "summer, cook breakfast, outdoors-y" record, and cranking it out in such a relatively short time represents an attempt of sorts to keep up with the fickle demands of pop's current standards.
"I was listening to Jack Johnson this morning-[sings] 'I got youuuu ... I got everything,' and I'm like, 'Man, that song is great.' He's not trying to put out the encyclopedic record for the times. But, man, that song works when it's time to call it up from the bullpen. And that's the kind of artist I want to be. There's a time and place for my records. I don't mind being the guy you call up for this one moment where you appreciate it but you don't necessarily have to give your life over to it."