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Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP Music Writer, Published November 21 2009

Mayer puts music first

NEW YORK – If you’re engrossed in the tabloid Internet-gossip that has come to define the celebrity world, then John Mayer’s latest CD, “Battle Studies,” could provide enough fodder to fill at least a dozen Perez Hilton blog posts or at least one story in Us Weekly.

The CD’s first single, “Heartbreak Warfare,” already has some speculating on its subject with lyrics like: “If you want more love, why don’t you say so? ... Bombs are falling everywhere, heartbreak warfare.”

Hmmm ... could that be a message to a certain famous “friend” who he’s been linked with on and off for the past two years? A look into the much-dissected love life of one of music’s hottest hunks?

Mention this to Mayer himself, and you’ll get a serious eye-roll, followed up with an “Are you kidding me?” look.

“I know some people think that, but it doesn’t,” a slightly exasperated Mayer says during a break in rehearsals for two upcoming concerts to promote his new CD.

“That would mean that my personal life is more powerful than the music itself, and it’s just not. No one’s personal life is more powerful than music itself, and it’s just not.

“By the way, I’m not the first person to process a personal life into putting out a record,” he adds. “I think if there’s any intrigue – obviously it would be silly of me to ask somebody not to be intrigued – but I think when the music starts playing, you’re not thinking about my life, you’re thinking about yours.”

Mayer, who will play the Fargodome on April 8, has rarely shied away from attention. He provides must-read updates to his more than 2.6 million followers on Twitter, engaged in a high-profile romance with Jennifer Aniston (which followed the high-profile romance with Jessica Simpson, which followed a romance with yet another startlet), has written for blogs and magazines and is known as one of the wittiest, media-savvy entertainers around.

But he is weary of those who would rather put the focus on John Mayer, the celebrity, and not John Mayer, the critically acclaimed, multiplatinum singer-songwriter-guitarist once heralded by Rolling Stone as one of rock’s new “guitar gods.”

“I’ve never liked the idea of somebody co-opting who I am, and I don’t think anybody does,” says Mayer, sitting in a small room as guitars wail in the background.

It’s been nearly a decade since Mayer burst onto the music scene as the boyish-looking, uncommonly gifted musician on “Room for Squares,” with hits like “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” Over the years, he’s worked with everyone from B.B. King to Buddy Guy, won seven Grammys and created signature hits like “Daughters” and “Gravity.” Billed as the “next James Taylor,” he quickly created a musical identity of his own.

“Battle Studies” – his fourth studio album – is what he describes as perhaps his most lyrically complex, and yet at the same time, his most straight-forward. Now a veteran musician and producer, he has more confidence and experience when making a record: “I don’t see it as a series of winning bets. I see it as something I do for a living.”

The album finds Mayer at his most emotionally vulnerable, with song titles like “Half of My Heart” (which features Taylor Swift) and “Perfectly Lonely.” Mayer describes it as the “loose-ends phase of my life.”

“I have all the big pieces figured out ... I know what I want to do for my life, I know who my friends are, I know how to behave, I know what burns when I touch it because it’s too hot,” he says. “It’s about tidying up those last few things so we can really get to the point in life so the struggle isn’t the main event.”

But Mayer’s romantic struggles have become the main focus in the tabloid world – and he’s rarely painted as the wounded party – most notably his relationship with Aniston, which reached its media apex when he escorted her to the Oscars earlier this year (and perhaps its low when he was quoted as confirming their then-breakup to paparazzi last year).

Mayer has dated other celebrities in the past, but the Aniston romance put him into tabloid overdrive. He was at best defined as a Lothario – at worst, a cad. But what has been potentially more damaging is that in some circles, it has overshadowed his musicianship.

“You know what I really like? I like when people say to me, ‘Gee, I didn’t know he could play like that,’ ” says guitarist Steve Jordan, who has worked with Mayer for at least five years and is featured on his latest CD. “(People) see a People magazine or a Us (Weekly) magazine and they think that’s what it’s all about.”

And that infuriates Mayer to no end.

“By the way, I didn’t really kill anybody. I didn’t smash a car, I didn’t commit a crime ... I don’t like the idea that there’s an indictment on anything that I do,” he says.

“The idea that there has been a sullying of my image ... I’m not going to be buried with an Us Weekly. I don’t give a (expletive) about it anymore, I can’t worry about it and I don’t worry about it. And I don’t think people want me to worry about it.”

Mayer admits that perhaps a month ago, before he started promoting his album, he might have started to worry about all the tabloid chatter. But then he went to Australia and found himself playing before thousands of fans who didn’t care about who he was dating, or his latest Twitter post – just about his music.

And he knew that Mayer, the musician, would be fine.

“I’ve never played in front of a room full of people who are chattering. I’ve played in front of a room full of people who are singing along to every word ... that’s a lot louder than chatter,” he says.

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