Meet music's newest odd couple. A Q&A about the collaboration of John Mayer and Ahmir Thompson who seemingly have nothing in common
They’re an odd couple for sure, but singer-songwriter John ”Your Body Is a Wonderland” Mayer and the Roots’ skins pounder Ahmir ”?uestlove” Thompson are actually chums. The two recorded on Mayer’s 2003 album, ”Heavier Things,” and a year later appeared on a seriously goofy ”Chappelle’s Show” skit (the subject: White people like guitars, black people love drums). So when the duo took time from their schedules — Mayer was recording, Thompson was promoting his latest CD, ”The Tipping Point” — to sit down for a chat with EW, the ice was already broken. — Michael Endelman
EW: How did you guys meet?
John Mayer: I tracked him down…
Ahmir Thompson: I actually thought he was 16…
JM: I won a Grammy in 2003 and I walked up on stage and for the first time in my life I was totally speechless…. I said, ”I feel like a 16-year-old boy at this moment.”
AT: I was like, Damn, he’s 16 and he played like that, wow!
EW: And then you guys recorded together for John’s last album.
JM: He played on ”Clarity,” which I composed after that whole D’Angelo ”Voodoo” template, which Ahmir played on. And instead of finding a guy to play Ahmir’s style for him, I just hired him to come in and play.
EW: You were hilarious on Dave Chappelle’s show.
AT: I forgot we did that s — -!
JM: People come up to me every day and say, ”I saw you on ‘Chappelle’s Show’.” That was so amazing for me, because people see you strum a guitar and they go, ”Boring.” Now people come up to me and say, ”I had no idea you had a sense of humor.”
EW: John’s 2001 debut, ”Room for Squares,” sold 4 million. But Ahmir, your best-selling CD, 1999’s ”Things Fall Apart,” moved 845,000 copies. Despite the Roots’ critical success, do you feel pressure to sell even more discs and score bigger hits?
AT: For the first time in my career, I feel like there’s a white elephant in the room that I’ve been ignoring for 12 years. The novelty of being a hip-hop act that plays instruments, that’s cute. But when you’re 10 years into it and you’re in a stagnant place, you start to wonder, Am I doing something wrong?
JM: [To Ahmir] So the question is, what level would you like to get to? You’re one of the most recognized musicians in hip-hop.
AT: I’m one of the only musicians in hip-hop, which is sort of the problem. We created our own wading pool, and we’re like, ”See! We can swim!” And everybody is like, ”Right, motherf — -er, because you ain’t in the river with us! You’re in your own pool.”
JM: You’re speaking about it from a point of disappointment. Detail for me, just for fun, what exactly you would want. Because I would consider you incredibly successful.
AT: Oh, hell, no. I feel like George W. Bush — I feel like I’m getting C’s, 2.0 average.
JM: But don’t you feel like for your music to be [much more popular], your albums would have to be think-tanked down into something more generic? Once a piece of art appeals to everybody, there are no rough edges on it, it’s actually the most palatable thing it could possibly be.
AT: That’s a challenge!
JM: But you don’t wanna sing ”Milkshake” [the recent Kelis hit].
AT: [Big pause] I like ”Milkshake.” Hah!