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John Mayer stretches out in trio setting

The band will play a mix of cover songs and Mayer tunes
/ Source: Billboard

To John Mayer’s way of thinking, it would be just plain wrong not to explore musical avenues outside the pop world that has brought him so much fame and fortune.

To that end, the Aware/Columbia guitarist has formed the John Mayer Trio, which includes accomplished journeymen Steve Jordan on drums and Pino Palladino on bass. The threesome start a club tour Sept. 6 at the Fillmore in San Francisco, which will be followed by a live album in December.

“I would feel like I’m not making the most of my life if I don’t take this success and turn it into other opportunities,” Mayer told Billboard in his first interview about the trio.

The group will play a mix of covers, past Mayer hits reworked for a trio setting and new material. “The challenge is choosing which tunes to play,” Mayer says. “All I have is six strings, all Pino has is four and Steve his drum set.”

Playing as part of a triad forces each musician to be at the top of his game. “Every person has to be full blast,” he said. “If not in their intensity, then just in being fast on their feet. You can’t rely on anything superfluous.”

Jordan and Palladino are also on Mayer’s new studio album, which he is in the midst of writing and recording. They have deeply influenced how he works in the studio.

“The assembly line is so short right now,” he said. “The artist gets almost trained to believe it takes 60 people and 12 months to make a record. It takes four people. You get it on tape, you listen back and ask, ‘Does it make you feel something, yes or no?’ When you got it, you move on.”

Mayer said the new album, titled “Continuum,” has “a kind of Sam Cooke” vibe to it. While he has yet to write what he calls a hit single for the project, Mayer knows he needs one before he turns it in. “My job is to find the perfect balance that fits into the record and can fit on the radio.” He stresses that he loves having hits and has no intention of turning his back on the pop formats that have allowed him to veer off into this side project. No release date has been set for the album.

“Holding up the middle finger gets very tempting when you’ve had some success and people say you can do whatever you want to do,” he said. “Then I realize that I do covet having hit songs. The last thing I want to do is raise the finger at the very thing that gave me the ability to do this with Steve and Pino.”

Mayer has been making the guest rounds lately, appearing on records by Eric Clapton, Rob Thomas, Kanye West, Common, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Herbie Hancock, but he says that is about to end — before he wears out his welcome. “I’m probably within one song or two of overkill,” he said.