meta-script10 John Mayer Songs That Show His Versatility, From 'Room For Squares' To Dead & Co | GRAMMY.com
John Mayer performing in 2023
John Mayer performs at the Heart and Armor Foundation benefit concert at The Wiltern in September 2023.

Photo: Timothy Norris/Getty Images

list

10 John Mayer Songs That Show His Versatility, From 'Room For Squares' To Dead & Co

As John Mayer launches his latest venture with Dead & Company — a residency at the Sphere in Las Vegas — revisit 10 songs that show every side of his musical genius.

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2024 - 04:45 pm

At the 2003 GRAMMYs, a 25-year-old John Mayer stood on stage at Madison Square Garden, his first golden gramophone in hand. "I just want to say this is very, very fast, and I promise to catch up," he said with a touch of incredulity.

In the two decades that have followed his first GRAMMY triumph, it's safe to say that Mayer, now 46, has caught up. Not only has the freewheeling guitarist and singer/songwriter won six more GRAMMYs — he has also demonstrated his versatility across eight studio albums and countless cross-genre collaborations, including his acclaimed role in The Grateful Dead offshoot, Dead & Company. But the true testaments to his artistic range lie simply within the music. 

Over the years, Mayer's dynamism has led him to work deftly and convincingly within a wide variety of genres, from jazz to pop to Americana. The result: an elastic and well-rounded repertoire that elevates 2003's "Bigger Than My Body" from hit single to self-fulfilling prophecy. 

From March 2023 to March 2024, Mayer took his protean catalog on the road for his Solo Tour, which saw him play sold-out arenas around the world, mostly acoustic, completely alone. The international effort harkened back to Mayer's early career days, when standing alone on stage, guitar in hand, was the rule rather than the exception. Just after his second Solo leg last November, Mayer added radio programming and curation to his resume via the launch of his Sirius XM channel, Life with John Mayer. Fittingly, XM bills the channel (No. 14) as one notably "defined not by genre, but by the time of day, as well as the day of the week."

Mayer's next venture sees him linking back up with Dead & Company, for a 24-show residency at the Sphere in Las Vegas from May 16 to July 13. In honor of his latest move, GRAMMY.com explores the scope of Mayer's musical genius by revisiting 10 essential songs that demonstrate the breadth of his range, from the very beginning of his discography.

"Your Body Is A Wonderland," Room For Squares (2001)

The second single from Mayer's debut album, "Your Body Is A Wonderland" became an almost instant radio favorite like its predecessor, "No Such Thing," earning Mayer his second consecutive No. 1 on Billboard's Adult Alternative Airplay chart. The song's hooky pop structure provided an affable introduction to Mayer's lyrical skill by way of smart, suggestive simile and metaphor ("One mile to every inch of/ Your skin like porcelain/ One pair of candy lips and/ Your bubblegum tongue") ahead of Room For Squares' release later that June. The breathy hit netted Mayer his first career GRAMMY Award, for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, at the 45th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2003.

In recent years, Mayer — who penned the song when he was 21 — has chronicled his tenuous relationship with "Your Body is a Wonderland" in his infamous mid-concert banter, playfully critiquing the song's lack of "nuance." Following a perspective shift, Mayer has come to embrace his self-proclaimed "time capsule"; it was a staple of his set lists for his Solo Tour.

"Who Did You Think I Was," TRY! - Live in Concert (2005)

The product of pure synergy and serendipity, the John Mayer Trio assembled after what was intended to be a one-time stint on the NBC telethon, "Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope," in 2005. The benefit appearance lit the creative fuse between Mayer, bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan — who, over the years, have also played alongside the singer on his headline tours.

The John Mayer Trio propelled its eponymous artist from pop territory to a bluesy brand of rock 'n' roll that then demonstrated his talent as a live guitarist to its greatest degree yet. The Trio's first and only release, TRY! - Live in Concert, was recorded at their September 22, 2005 concert at the House of Blues in Chicago. 

Mayer acknowledges his abrupt sonic gear shift on TRY! opener, "Who Did You Think I Was." "Got a brand new blues that I can't explain," he quips, then later asks, "Am I the one who plays the quiet songs/ Or is he the one who turns the ladies on?"

"Gravity," Continuum (2006)

Though "Waiting On the World to Change" was the biggest commercial hit from 2006's Continuum, "Gravity" remains the pièce de résistance of Mayer's magnum opus. Its status as such is routinely reaffirmed by the crowds at Mayer's concerts, whose calls for a live performance of his quintessential soul ballad can compete even with Mayer's mid-show remarks.

The blues-tinged slow burn marries Mayer's inimitable vocal tone with his guitar muscle on a record that strides far beyond the pop and soft rock of his preceding studio albums. Though Continuum builds on the blues direction Mayer ignited with TRY!, it does so with greater depth and technique, translating to a concept album, sonically, that evinces both his breakaway from the genres that launched his career and his skill as a blues guitarist — and "Gravity" is a prime example. 

"I'm very proud of the song," Mayer mused on his Sirius XM station. "It's one of those ones that's gonna go with me through the rest of my life, and I'm happy it's in the sidecar going along with me." 

"Daughters," Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles (2008)

"Daughters" wasn't Mayer's first choice of a single for his sophomore LP, 2003's Heavier Things, but at Columbia Records' behest — "We really want it to go, we think it can be a hit," Mayer recalled of their thoughts — the soft-rock-meets-acoustic effort joined the album rollout. Columbia's suspicions were correct; "Daughters" topped Billboard's Adult Pop Airplay in 2004 — his only No. 1 entry on the chart to date.

But "Daughters" didn't just enjoy heavy radio rotation — it also secured Mayer his first and only GRAMMY win in a General Field Category. The Heavier Things descendant took the title of Song Of The Year at the 47th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2005, helping Mayer evade music's dreaded "sophomore slump."

While the studio version may be the GRAMMY-winning chart-topper, Mayer's live rendition of "Daughters" during his December 8, 2007 performance at Los Angeles' Nokia Theater for Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles compellingly demonstrated the power of the song — and his acoustic chops.

"Edge of Desire," Battle Studies (2009)

Come 2009, what critics almost unanimously proclaimed to be Mayer's biggest musical success had become his Achilles heel; everyone wanted another Continuum. But as they were to learn, Mayer never repeats himself. Thus came Battle Studies.

Born from a dismantling and transformative breakup, his fourth studio album arguably only becomes fully accessible to listeners after this rite of passage. Mired in introspection and pop rock, Battle Studies broadly engages with elements of pop with a sophistication that distinguishes it from Mayer's earlier traverses in pop and pop-inflected terrain. 

His artistry hits a new apex on "Edge of Desire," a visceral and tightly woven song that remains one of the strongest examples of his mastery of prosody — the agreement between music and lyrics that results in a resonant and memorable listening experience. 

"Born and Raised," Born & Raised (2012)

On the title track of his fifth studio album, Mayer distills growing up (and growing older) into a plaintive reflection on the involuntary, inevitable, and, in the moment, imperceptible phenomenon. He grapples with this vertigo of the soul on a record that, 12 years later, remains among his most barefaced lyrically.

The tinny texture of a harmonica, heard first in the intro, permeates the song, serving as its single most overt indicator of the larger stylistic shift that Born & Raised embodies. The 12-song set embraces elements of Americana, country and folk amid simpler-than-usual chord progressions for Mayer, whose restraint elevates the affective power of the album's lyricism. 

"Born and Raised - Reprise," with which Born & Raised draws to a close, is evidence of Mayer's well-demonstrated dexterity. In its sanguine, folk spirit, the album finale juxtaposes "Born and Raised" both musically and lyrically. "It's nice to say, 'Now I'm born and raised,'" Mayer sings as the last grains of sand in Born & Raised's hourglass fall.

"Wildfire," Paradise Valley (2014)

Even before Paradise Valley hit shelves and digital streaming platforms, the cowboy hat that Mayer dons in the album artwork intimated that the hybrid of Americana, country, and folk he embraced on Born & Raised wasn't going anywhere — at least not for another album. The sunbaked project was a gutsy sidestep even further away from his successful commercial formula, and finds him expanding his stylistic fingerprint across 11 tracks that run the gamut of American roots music.

"Wildfire," the breezy toe-tapper with which Paradise Valley opens, grooves with Jerry Garcia influence. It is therefore unsurprising that many interpret "We can dance with dead/ You can rest your head on my shoulder/ If you want to get older with me," to be a lyrical nod to the Dead. Perhaps uncoincidentally, Mayer's invitation to become a member of Dead & Company came one year after the release of Paradise Valley.

"Shakedown Street," Live at Madison Square Garden (2017)

There is perhaps no better example of Mayer's dynamism than his integration in Dead & Company. The Grateful Dead offshoot, formed in 2015, intersperses Mayer among three surviving members of the band — Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann — as well as two more newcomers, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti. Mayer's off-the-cuff guitar solos and vocal support at Dead & Co's concerts are the keys that have unlocked a new plane of musicianship for Mayer, the solo artist.

This is evident on "Shakedown Street," a staple of The Grateful Dead's – and now, Dead & Company's – set lists. The languid, relaxed number gives Mayer the space to improvise guitar solos and use his vocals in a looser style than how he sings his own productions, all while feeding off the energy of his fellow band members. In addition to being one of The Dead's best-known songs, "Shakedown Street" is also the name of the makeshift bazaar where "Deadheads" socialize and sell wares ranging from grilled cheeses to drink coasters emblazoned with The Grateful Dead logo outside Dead & Company concerts. 

Mayer's long, strange trip with (and within) the jam band has cross-pollinated his and The Grateful Dead's respective fandoms, attracting scores of Dead & Co listeners to his own headline shows, and vice versa. The takeaway: Mayer's involvement with Dead & Company offers a new, comparatively more rugged and improvisational lens through which to view his artistry.

"You're Gonna Live Forever in Me," The Search for Everything (2017)

"You're Gonna Live Forever in Me" evokes the sense of walking in, unexpected and undetected, to one of Mayer's writing sessions, watching him sing the freshly-penned piano ballad. This is owed to the song's abstract lyricism, the sentiment of which is deeply personal and universally accessible — a juxtaposition that's not often easy to achieve in songwriting. (Take, for example, "A great big bang and dinosaurs/ Fiery raining meteors/ It all ends unfortunately/ But you're gonna live forever in me.") But the studio version of "You're Gonna Live Forever in Me" also happens to be the original vocal take, adding to the feeling that Mayer is fully engrossed in a moment of poignant reflection mediated by music.

"I sat at the piano for hours teaching myself how the song might go. I sang it that night, and that was it…I couldn't sing the vocals again if I tried," Mayer recalled in a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone

Mayer's lilted, Randy Newman-esque singing on the track finds him unintentionally but impactfully adopting a vocal technique distinctive from anything he's ever done before.

"Wild Blue," Sob Rock (2021)

Buoyed by a honeyed hook and slick production from No I.D., "New Light" was the unequivocal commercial standout of Sob Rock, a soft-grooving pastiche of '80s influence. Though the catchy pop-informed number finds Mayer stylistically diversifying by working with "The Godfather of Chicago Hip-Hop" (whose credits include Kanye West, JAY-Z, and Common, to name just a few), a look beyond the Sob Rock frontrunner reveals evidence of more sonic experimentation on the album.

Cue "Wild Blue." In its hushed, double-tracked vocals, the song plays like a love letter to JJ Cale. Mayer's whispery vocal emulation of the rock musician yields another new, but still polished, strain of John Mayer sound. 

With hints of the '70s embedded within its taut production, "Wild Blue" is a beatific semi-departure from its parent album's '80s DNA. Together, they evince Mayer's ability to work not only across genres but also across sounds from different decades in music — further proof that his artistic range is both broad and timeless.

A Beginner’s Guide To The Grateful Dead: 5 Ways To Get Into The Legendary Jam Band

Grateful Dead at the Sphere in Las Vegas
The Dead Forever residency at Sphere runs through Aug. 10.

Photo: Kevin Carter

list

Why Dead & Company's Sphere Residency Is The Ultimate Trip

The 30-date Las Vegas residency is an unprecedented look at Dead & Co's live artistry. With stunning visuals and immersive technology, the Dead Forever residency takes attendees on an unpredictable, eye-popping vortex journey.

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2024 - 01:34 pm

The scene on Saturday, July 13, was one mostly familiar to Dead & Company fans: Usual suspects Jeff Chimenti on keys, Oteil Burbridge on bass, Mickey Hart on drums, and John Mayer on guitar, a Silver Sky in hand. Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir dutifully approached the microphone to deliver one of the Dead’s best-known opening lyrics: "You tell me this town ain’t got no heart."

Throughout the evening, appreciative cheers and whistles sounded at the first notes of a classic, like this one, intermingling with the hints of marijuana in the air. The crowd of thousands, who’d traveled from both near and far for the occasion, swayed to the music. Largely clad in the tie-dye t-shirts customary to the Dead fandom, they comprised a vivid sea of color, visible even in the venue’s dimmest lighting.

Bathed in the glow of a key anomaly — a 160,000-square-foot curved LED canvas — a Deadhead sitting in the row ahead of me turns around and asks if I’m enjoying the show (I am). When I return the question, he is emphatic, his response succinct: "it’s transformative."

He’s not wrong in that the audiovisual spectacle — which wrapped its eighth of 10 weeks this past weekend — metamorphoses Dead & Company’s concert format. Since it debuted in May, the now 30-date Las Vegas residency, dubbed Dead Forever, has attracted old-school and new-generation Deadheads, as well as curious first-timers. From one-of-a-kind production tools, like its 16K LED display (the highest-resolution display in the world, per developers) and stereographic projection, Sphere has empowered Dead & Company to carry forth the legacy of one of the most fervently-loved bands in American music history, with unprecedented storytelling capacities and complete creative control.

Read on for four reasons why Dead & Company’s residency at Las Vegas’ most-talked-about venue is the rock outfit like they’ve never been seen before.

The Meeting Of Music & Visuals Allows For True Narration

For the nearly four hours that Dead & Company play each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of a residency week, the domed venue adjacent to the Venetian transforms from Sphere to spaceship. Narratively, the show is stylized as a long, strange trip through space that issues nods to the Grateful Dead’s history.

It’s only fitting that this story begins in San Francisco, where the Dead’s townhouse in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district becomes the focal point of the audiovisual journey’s intro. The 360-degree view of the Dead’s residence and the larger row of townhouses to which it belongs pans to a drone shot of the Bay Area at golden hour and soon thereafter, outer space.

Visually, attendees travel through time and space in an unpredictable, eye-popping vortex of fantasticality (and sometimes, reality). Take, for example, the segment that recreates the Dead’s performance at the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. The scene is punctuated by black bats that flap swiftly through the desert landscape — a detail that comes as a surprise to those in the audience, and one ultimately added based on Weir’s recollection of this very phenomenon during the 1978 event, Mayer tells GQ 

Before Dead & Company bring Dead Forever full-circle by returning to 710 Ashbury Street at the show’s close, the show winds through a colorful, circuitous run of visuals: the Dead’s iconic technicolor dancing bears, Cornell University’s Barton Hall, and a wall made entirely of digital reproductions of Dead event posters and hard tickets. The show’s depth of reference is plunging, and Sphere’s technology allows the story to play like an abstract movie that blurs timelines, affording Dead & Company an unusual and nonpareil opportunity to leverage live storytelling in a way they’ve never before been able to.

While Dead Forever is accessible purely as a visual marvel, for the initiated, it is rife with Easter eggs. Its historical allusions are familiar touch points for the Deadheads who hopped on the metaphorical bandwagon back when Jerry Garcia was at its helm. Although some of its segments will evade those less fluent in the Dead’s storied past, they can nevertheless serve as educational gateways to it (and to greater, deeper fandom) for those who leave the show wanting to learn more. 

Read more: A Beginner’s Guide To The Grateful Dead: 5 Ways To Get Into The Legendary Jam Band

In A Way, Everything Is New

Whether one has seen Dead & Company once, five times, 20 times, or never before matters not, for Dead Forever is a brand-new show. Familiarity with the Grateful Dead’s legacy and its contemporary offshoot's genesis certainly enriches the overall experience, but it’s not a requisite to enjoy the show, making the residency a particularly good entry point for the Dead & Company-curious who may have missed them on The Final Tour in 2023.  

Dead Forever levels the playing field for attendees in that, apart from the songs on the setlist, the residency represents net-new material. The marriage of music and visuals makes each of the 18 tunes new from the standpoint of an audiovisual experience, and the novelty of Dead Forever deepens for even the most experienced Deadhead.

"When I was growing up, ‘Drums’ was always my bathroom song, but now you don’t want to miss it," an attendee tells GRAMMY.com at the end of the first set (Dead & Company play one six- or seven-song set and take a 30-minute intermission before beginning the evening’s second and final set).

A customary part of the Dead’s sets, "Drums/Space" is an extended percussion segment that takes on new life in Dead Forever. Led by Mickey Hart, the set two standout is where sound evolves into physical feeling. As this portion of the show starts, the curved LED canvas swirls with images of different drums that move wildly as Hart and Jay Lane (who stands in for Grateful Dead co-founding member, Bill Kreutzmann) diligently drum, steadily increasing the pace and intensity with which they do so. The instruments that grace Sphere’s screen are Hart’s own, the drummer tells Variety. Following 3D-photographing that enables them to be displayed in this fashion, an ensemble of at least 10 different drums joins the visual jamboree.

The cinematic, multisensory nature of this segment grows increasingly climactic, with the percussion becoming so thunderous it becomes physical. No surprise, considering Sphere’s immersive, crystal-clear sound system, or the fact that 10,000 of the venue’s 17,385 seats are haptic seats that can vibrate in time with the mounting percussion. This technology transforms "Drums/Space" and allows a customary piece of the Dead’s traditional sets to be heard, seen, and felt anew.

The Environment Is Unusually Immersive —And Intimate

Upon mention of Sphere’s size — the globe measures 875,000 square feet and can accommodate up to 20,000 people — "intimate" is not the first word to come to mind. Still, the venue felt remarkably intimate during Dead & Company’s final performance of July.

This was owed in equal parts to its self-contained design and its immersive visual environment, in which Sphere’s LED screen wraps over and behind the audience. However uncannily, the latter contributes to a sense of closeness, creating the illusion that Sphere, its visual displays, and its audience are situated much more closely than they actually are.

Its 580,000-square-feet of LEDs, coupled with its 360-degree shape and structure, render Sphere the most immersive live music venue in the world. To that end, it’s not hyperbolic or unreasonable to call Dead Forever Dead & Company’s most immersive live venture yet.

Of course, the Dead Forever narrative — a trip through space undertaken together, as one community — only adds to the show’s combined sense of intimacy and immersion.

No Show Is The Same

It’s not out of character for Dead & Company to play no repeats across consecutive evenings (as they did at San Francisco’s Oracle Park, where they laid their touring career to rest last July), and Dead Forever is no exception. Apart from "Drums/Space" — the sole item on the setlist that recurs each night — the 17 other songs that the band will play and their visual accompaniments are left to Dead & Company’s whim. 

"What’s become really interesting — and I would say it’s a challenge, but it’s a really fun one — is that not only do you have to make the songs work in some kind of a flow for the setlist, but every piece of content has maybe eight or 10 songs that can go with it," Mayer told Variety. 

No show is the same, yielding similar but unique viewing experiences across a given residency weekend and, more broadly, the portfolio of Dead Forever shows performed to date. This aspect has enticed avid fans to return not once, not twice, but three times in a given weekend, to see a fuller scope of what Dead Forever has to offer across its many possible variations.

With the residency’s July run now in the rearview, Dead & Company will take a brief break before returning to Sphere Aug. 1-3 and 8-10 for the final Dead Forever trips — for now.

Explore The World Of Rock

HARDY Press Photo 2024
HARDY

Photo: Robby Klein

interview

HARDY On New Album 'Quit!!' & How "Trying To Push My Own Boundaries" Has Paid Off

On his third album, the self-described "black sheep" of country music proves he's here to stay.

GRAMMYs/Jul 11, 2024 - 04:04 pm

Haters take note: nothing fires up a country boy like HARDY more than a naysayer. And this redneck has a long memory.

Despite the coveted catalog of country music hits to his credit — tunes he wrote for artists like Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton and Morgan Wallen, plus his own work as a solo artist — HARDY's third album begins with a three-minute response to a heckler who once left a nasty note in his jar in place of a tip.

That moment may have occurred a decade ago, but it's key to HARDY's defiant persona. In fact, the album's title is exactly what that note read — Quit!! — and its cover art is the actual napkin the message was written on, which the singer/songwriter has held on to all these years.

HARDY laughs off the memory at first, but as the title track plays on, his olive branch soon turns to coal. "I'm not the GOAT, I'm the black sheep hell-bent to find closure," he barks as the song escalates. "I can't let go — a note somebody wrote like ten years ago put a chip on my shoulder. If you wanted me to quit, you should've saved it, bro."

The takeaway here? HARDY won't quit. Or, to quote another Quit!! banger, "I DON'T MISS," when a hit is in the crosshairs, he "don't hit nothing but the bull's eye."

No doubt, he has the numbers to back it up. HARDY linked up with Florida Georgia Line after moving to Nashville in the 2010s, and landed his first country No. 1 as a songwriter in 2018 thanks to the duo and Wallen, with the smash "Up Down." As he began building a solo career — releasing a pair of EPs in 2018 (This Ole Boy) and 2019 (Where to Find Me) — he continued delivering chart-topping hits for FGL, Shelton, LOCASH, Wallen, Dierks Bentley, and more. As Quit!! arrives, HARDY boasts 15 No. 1 hits: 11 as a songwriter, and four as an artist.

Along the way, HARDY also established his Hixtape series, a countrified version of a hip-hop mixtape now three volumes deep, bringing together friends and superstars like Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Thomas Rhett and a host of other stars to collaborate. Not only did Hixtape Vol. 1 land HARDY his first No. 1 as an artist in his own right — the Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson team-up "ONE BEER" — but it put HARDY's shapeshifting musicality front and center.

"A lot of people ask, 'When did you decide to jump into the rock and roll thing?' HARDY, who uses his last name as his stage name, says. "I feel like I've always dipped my toes in it here and there, and a lot of my songs have been really close to it but not quite there. Hixtape, especially Vol. 1, I was definitely foreshadowing my sound, and I really didn't even know it at the time."

By now, modern country musicians regularly reflect influences from beyond Nashville's confines. But HARDY has played a big role in rock's country crossover, as he gradually showed more of his Mississippi-bred, guitar-riffing roots on his 2020 debut album, A ROCK. He fully embraced them on the 2023 double album, the mockingbird & THE CROW; while the first half has more country-oriented tunes like the Lainey Wilson-featuring murder ballad "wait in the truck," he lets loose on THE CROW.

"THE CROW will always be that cornerstone moment that defined who I am," he asserts. "It gave me the courage to do this Quit!! record."

HARDY has not only been an architect of this genre blending, but also its chief proponent — so much that in 2023, the L.A. Times crowned him "Nashville's nu-metal king." On Quit!!, he cashes in that currency with the gargantuan guitar riffs and bombastic beats popularized by acts like Limp Bizkit, and leans deeper into the rhythms and playful lyricism of hip-hop, a skill he recently flexed at the request of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre on a hicked-up rendition of Snoop Dogg's G-funk classic "Gin and Juice."

Ironically, the further HARDY gets from straightforward country music, the closer he gets to who he really is as an artist. Below, the chart-topping star details the backstory of Quit!!, his conflicted relationship with the country-music formula, and how he'll continue pushing boundaries within the genre and beyond.  

You grew up in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. What role did music play in your upbringing?

My dad introduced me to rock and roll in general, but it was his era of rock and roll. Whatever you define as classic rock and everything under that umbrella. But music was a big deal in Philadelphia and it still is. There were tons of cover bands, and a lot of [my] buddies were into music. So that had a big influence on me. 

I, thankfully, was in that last era of kids that the only time they got to hear a song was on MTV or on the radio. And I remember hearing "In the End" [by] Linkin Park, and then getting Hybrid Theory on CD. I remember the first time I saw [Limp Bizkit's] "Nookie" video on MTV. I was heavily influenced by all that stuff. I'm very thankful that I grew up in the era before the internet was really big.

Were you into country music back then?

Surprisingly, not at all. Not until Eric Church, Brad Paisley, a couple of people started singing about stuff that really piqued my interest. But no, I didn't really listen to much country. 

I think the only country that I listened to, if you even call it that, was Charlie Daniels. He played at the Neshoba County Fair. I got to see him twice. But even he was more of, like, you'd almost call it more Southern rock. For some reason, country music at the time didn't do it for me. It took me a long time to get into it.

You recently re-envisioned "Gin and Juice." Were Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre big artists for you when you were younger?

Yeah, especially Snoop. Snoop was in his later years when he started doing more pop stuff. I was a little too young for Doggystyle. I was 4 years old when Doggystyle came out, so my folks weren't letting me listen to that. But I will say, [Dr. Dre's 1992 album] The Chronic and especially [1999's] Chronic II, those records were huge. And anything that Dre touched after that, like all the beats he produced for 50 Cent, and obviously I'm a huge Eminem fan. I mean, all the way up to Kendrick [Lamar]'s early stuff.

I don't know how much they influenced me musically, but I definitely listened to both of them at the time.

You've got so many projects and co-writes and stuff going on, always. Is it easy to pinpoint where your journey to Quit!! began?

I can tell you for a stone-cold fact that "BOOTS" [from A ROCK] is responsible for the album Quit!! That was the first song that I ever wrote that had a breakdown in it. And when I played that live before it came out, people didn't know it, so it was a little different then. But once the song came out, and we started playing it live, it was bigger than "ONE BEER." It was bigger than "REDNECKER." It was the biggest song in our set, and to this day, it's still one of the biggest songs in the set. 

But because I love the rock and roll sound so much, that's the song that I was like, Okay, this is working, because these people are losing their s— when we go into this song. So, then, that inspired me to write "SOLD OUT," and once "SOLD OUT" came out, and we started playing that song, that song was even bigger than "BOOTS," and it was heavier than "BOOTS." After "SOLD OUT," it was "JACK," and it's just a snowball of writing heavier songs and having the courage to keep going. "BOOTS" crawled so that Quit!! could run, you know? That was definitely the song that started it all.

The new album builds on the mockingbird & THE CROW and the direction you were heading.

Yeah, I think it builds on it maybe in the sense that there's a lot more screams, and maybe more breakdowns, and it's a little heavier than the mockingbird & THE CROW at times. But it is also very different. There's a lot more, like, pop-punk stuff and, I don't even know what you would call it, post-hardcore-sounding s—. 

But all of the rock and roll stuff stands on the shoulders of THE CROW. It will always be that cornerstone moment that defined who I am. I mean, it definitely teed me up. It gave me the courage to do this Quit!! record.

I like that word, courage. It's not a word I expected to hear out of you based on your persona, but that's a very interesting way to phrase it.

No, I mean, the metal and country cultures are very, very, very different. There's never fear, but there's definitely, what's the right way to say that? You know, there's like when we throw like the goat horns and s— on the screen. Country has a big Christian background, and metal is like the exact opposite of that, and those can clash a lot, but there's definitely a little bit of some reserve — it seems to not get too much push back — mixing the two. My mom's not crazy about it, but what can you do?

And you have moments like "wait in the truck," where you're not writing for the party. Do you see yourself pursuing those avenues more often? Does the world want to hear HARDY reflect?

You mean like more of the deeper country stuff?

Correct, yeah.

I hope. That's the s— I love. I feel like they're so few and far between. Like, "wait in the truck," we just got so lucky. I feel like "ONE BEER" was kind of the same. Like, it's gotta be the right day, and the right time, and the right people in the room to really tell a story. It's tough. But I would love to continue to have those cool story songs. 

But what I will say is there's a lot of gray area between the black-and-white of HARDY country and HARDY rock and roll. I'm still going to put out country songs. The gray area is that to me and to a lot of people, they're all just HARDY songs. But I have so many songs that I have written that I wanna put out that are so, maybe if they're not storylines, they're even deeper down the rabbit hole of thought-provoking stuff, like "A ROCK," or maybe even "wait in the truck," or even a song I have called "happy," on the last record — just songs that are very, very thought-provoking. 

Just trying to push my own boundaries of country music, and not everything is right down the gut, you know, "let's go to radio with it." But just really trying to experiment with what I wanna say with country music. So, yes, there's definitely more of that coming.

You're playing your first headlining stadium gig in September. How has performing in those venues, and anticipating that, informed how you write? Are you writing for the stage?

Yeah, 100 percent. I would say, 75 percent of the time you're writing for the stage — even if it's not for myself, if I'm writing for somebody else — I'm definitely writing for the stage. I cannot tell you how many times I've sat in the room and been like, This s— is going to pop off live! And then try to put the other writers in that headspace.

Like on [Quit!! track] "JIM BOB," when we did the pow-pow-pow! thing, I'm like, just think about how cool it's gonna be live, and living in that headspace, because that's where it all comes to life. That's the end product.

Writing for the stage is something that a lot of people do. And that's why songwriters love going out on the road, is because they go out and they write songs with these artists, but they love watching the show because they get to see what really translates live, and then take that back to the writing room and try to recreate that.

Did that kind of experience have anything to do with you making the move to a marquee artist? Because not all songwriters can make that jump. Or was that always the plan?

Yeah, I mean, it was always that kind of thing. I was fortunate that I got to see Morgan [Wallen] perform "Up Down," and FGL perform a couple of their songs before I made the jump into an artist. I kind of already scratched that itch a little bit. 

The Nashville writing scene can seem like a 9-to-5 kind of boring thing. But it doesn't sound that way from the way you describe it.

It's a little bit of both. The funny thing about that is like, if you walk into a publishing company, 10:30, 11 o'clock, whenever people start getting there, it's a bunch of dudes or girls standing around drinking coffee, hanging out. It's like a break room, and then everybody's like, "All right, well, y'all get a good one." And then everybody goes into their own rooms. That part of it is very 9 to 5. 

But there is definitely — especially with our group of people, when you get on something that is so special, it's beyond, like, "We're writing a hit today." There's just something that transcends that. I don't know how to describe it, man. That's when it's really, really, really, really great. The Nashville process, that's what it's all about — having those moments in the room where you're like, "This is special," and, like, "We're witnessing something special that is going to affect people on a global or on a nationwide scale." 

I remember when we wrote "wait In the truck" and how we were all just gassing each other up because we were like, "Dude, this song is gonna help a lot of people." And that's when the 9 to 5 goes away. We're being creative together, and it's a special thing. 

There's been so many moments like that, where you're just so thankful to be a part of a great song, and how hyped everybody is. It's a feeling that's really, really hard to beat. 

More Of The Latest Country News & Music

Phish perform during night one of their four-night run at Sphere on April 18, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Phish perform during night one of their four-night run at Las Vegas' the Sphere

Photo: Rich Fury

list

A Beginner’s Guide To Phish: 8 Ways To Get Into The Popular Jam Band

Not a Phish phan? No worries. Ahead of their 26-date tour and new album, 'Evolve,' dig into this primer on the music and the subculture of the most popular jam band since the Grateful Dead.

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2024 - 01:26 pm

Mainstream rock or pop, Phish are not. While the foursome from Vermont are definitely a jam band, that label does not capture their unique sound and varied influences. Both on record and live, Phish's extended improvisations noodle from reggae and all forms of rock, to bluegrass and funk, with healthy doses of country, blues and jazz.

Like the jam band godfathers the Grateful Dead, Phish built its devoted fanbase  not through singles and airplay, but via tireless touring and word of mouth. On some nights — okay most nights — even the band has no clue where their rambling live shows will go. This spontaneity has been Phish's guiding ideology from its earliest days playing college campuses to their annual residency at Madison Square Garden; there is nothing contrived or calculated about a Phish show; instead, the band's filled with surprises and set lists that change more frequently than you change your bedsheets.

For more than 35 years now these four souls have been taking Phish-heads along on this joyous musical ride to unknown soundscapes. Concerts are fueled by passion, not perfection. Ask 10 Phish phans what their favorite live show is from the band’s history and likely each will offer a different answer and argue the reasons for their choice as if it were a thesis defense.

Read more: A Beginner’s Guide To The Grateful Dead: 5 Ways To Get Into The Legendary Jam Band 

For Phish, it’s not about awards and accolades. The group has just one GRAMMY nomination and its highest charting single came and record came 30 years ago. In 1994, Billy Breathes peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200; its lead single "Free" hit No. 24 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock charts and No. 11 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

What attracts people to Phish's music and subculture is the mood, the groove and the community; that’s why  the band perennially have been one of the highest grossing live acts throughout their career. The band is also part of American pop culture: They have a Ben & Jerry’s flavor (Phish food), have appeared on "The Simpsons" and been parodied on "South Park."

This spring, Phish became only the second band (after U2) to perform at the Sphere in Las Vegas. Over the weekend of April 20, the foursome played four shows with a completely different set each night. The final show on Sunday evening featured an epic second set, even by Phish standards: the band performed for nearly two hours and jammed on for 34-minutes on "Down with Disease."

Surprises like this musical meandering abound at Phish shows and it’s another reason fans shell out a hefty chunk of their pay cheques to see them live again and again and again; it’s also what makes attending one of their concerts a unique experience. The relationship between the band and these devotees is symbiotic. Both inspire and guide the other.

Phish does not take itself too seriously. This is reflected in their songs, their artistic approach and their love of a good prank. Ready to go Phishing? Not the dictionary adjective that conjures negative connotations of scams and identity theft, but rather, a new word we suggest adding to the Urban Dictionary meaning to take a deep dive into the weird and wonderful world of Phish.

In advance of the band’s 26-date tour that starts with a three-night run in Mansfield, Massachusetts to promote Evolve — its 16th studio record that arrives July 12 — GRAMMY.com offers a lowdown on these musical merrymakers. Read on for a guide to appreciating and approaching Phish's lingo, lore, and lengthy discography.

Phish 101

Before the band had a name, a following, or conferences and university courses dedicated to the study of their music, they were just a bunch of college kids jamming in their dorm. The original members of the band met while attending the University of Vermont in Burlington. Initially formed as a trio in 1983 that featured guitarists Trey Anastasio and Jeff Holdsworth, along with drummer Jon Fishman. Bassist Mike Gordon joined that fall. In 1985, keyboardist Page McConnell was added and Holdsworth left. Today, it's these four (Anastasio, Gordon, Fishman and McConnell) that comprise Phish.

Junta, the band’s self-released debut arrived on cassette in 1989, followed by Lawn Boy the next year on Absolute A Go Go Records. The industry buzz created by their live shows then led to a multi-album deal with Elektra Records, who, in 1992, released their major label debut A Picture of Nectar, along with reissues of Junta and Lawn Boy.

What’s with the name? Everyone loves a good band name origin story, and there are often several versions of Phish's. The simplest and most popular one cited is that Fishman was asked at an early gig for the band’s name and thought they were asking for his name, so replied with his college nickname, "Fish." It stuck and they just changed the spelling.

A Lesson In Lingo: 4 Phish Phrases

Next up on the Phish syllabus is a lingo lesson in lingo. Overhear a pair of Phish fanatics chatting in a coffee shop, and you’ll wonder if they are speaking a different language. These devotees have developed their own lingo to express their love for all things Phish. Here’s a quick primer to help you converse with phans as if you know what you are talking about.

First, phans label each era of the band a number and these labels describe when their love of Phish began: 1.0 refers to the band’s beginnings until its first break in 2000; 2.0 is a short period and a small cohort of fans that starts when Phish returned from its first hiatus in 2002 and ends before they officially broke up in 2004. Finally, 3.0 refers to new converts: fans who discovered the band only after they reunited for good in 2009.

As this schooling on Phish continues, here are four words to drop into a conversation with a Phish fan to make you sound educated. "Noob" is a condescending word referring to a newbie, like post-2009 phans. A "chomper" is someone who talks during songs at a Phish concert (definitely a no-no). "Spunion" is someone whose appearance, actions and speech indicate they’ve taken way too many drugs. Finally, "hose" is a free-flowing improvisational jam where the music feels like it just flows directly into the listener’s ears.

Down On The Farm: Hits & A Few Phan Favorites

From the 2000 record of the same name, "Farmhouse" is one of the few Phish songs that made a splash beyond just their fans thanks to this radio-friendly chorus: "I never ever saw the Northern lights/I never really heard of cluster flies/ I never ever saw the stars so bright/ In the farmhouse, things will be alright." Besides this earworm, the ninth record from the band also featured another one of its biggest charting radio hits: "Heavy Things," which reached No. 29 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart and No. 2 on the Adult Alternative Songs charts.

Some other key studio tracks to explore and listen to that show the depth and breadth of the band’s talents include: "Golgi Apparatus," "Chalkdust," "Torture," "Sample in a Jar," "Character Zero" and "Sand."

Into The Studio: A Choice Phish Records

Phish have released 20 studio albums and 53 live records. That’s a lot of music to sift through for any newbie. Three key albums to help understand and get into the band include: A Picture of Nectar (their major-label debut from 1992 that was certified gold), Hoist (1994) and The Story of the Ghost (1998), recorded at famed Bearsville Studios in in Woodstock, NY - a record Trey Anastasio described as "cow-funk." Listen carefully to this trio of records and you’ll come away from these deep dives either loving the band and ready to take the next step on this phishing trip or not. 

Make sure to also check out the conceptual album Rift. This follow-up to their major-label debut is a fan favorite and also a critical darling. It’s possibly the band’s greatest studio creation, but it’s also an acquired taste. Rift follows the story of a man who dreams about the rift in his relationship with his girlfriend. The listener follows this protagonist on a dark and heavy ride as his emotional journey turns from a pleasant dream to a nightmare. The narrative is told backed by a sonic palette that showcases all of Phish’ colors and musical influences: from jazz and blues to psychedelic rock and funk.

Go See Phish Live

As Neil Young sang in "Union Man," that is often-quoted by concert lovers, "live music is better bumper stickers should be issued." Phish subscribe to this mantra and are known to plaster their cars in bumper stickers. The centerpiece of a Phish show is extended jams and the communion between Phish fans, but their concerts also feature amazing light shows, props, and pranks.

To get a sense of what attending a Phish concert is like, start with the six-disc set Hampton Comes Alive. Released Nov. 23, 1999, the collection consists of two concerts in their entirety captured at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia in 1998. The title plays on Frampton Comes Alive! — one of the best-selling live albums of all time.

In the band’s early days before the Internet came of age, bootleg tapes abounded. Trading these — just like Grateful Dead fans do — was always a part of Phish culture. LivePhish captured all of the band’s live shows. This is now an Android app where you can stream shows, past and present. Mere minutes after each Phish concert ends, the newest show is uploaded.

Before the streaming age, the band frequently released CDs up to six discs in length (most Phish concerts run more than three hours). One of these essential listening live releases is Darien Lake from Sept. 14, 2000 that includes a cover of Neil Young’s "Albuquerque."

Order Up The Baker’s Dozen

For Phish fans, the 13 concerts dubbed The Baker’s Dozen are pure bliss. The residency occurred at the Manhattan mecca from July 21 to Aug. 6, 2017. Every night featured a different set list (26 total sets as they played two each night). No song was repeated and each night had a theme.

Over the course of 13 shows, Phish played 237 songs. A highlight of The Baker’s Dozen was a 30-minute jam of "Lawn Boy" — a song that usually clocks in under four minutes.

Cover Me

Many consider the group the greatest cover band on earth, so go down the Phish YouTube rabbit hole and what matters at this moment in your life is sure to get neglected for a while.

An understanding of Phish's many collaborations and covers tis also essential to better appreciate the band. Phish has paid homage to everyone from classic rockers like Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, to Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads. Collabs include: Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and weird as it sounds, even Jay-Z, who the band invited on stage during a Brooklyn gig in 2004, to sing-along on the 24-time GRAMMY-winner’s hits: "99 Problems" and "Big Pimpin.’"

Trick Or Treat Tributes & Auld Lang Syne Shenanigans

Halloween shows always feature musical costumes where Phish plays another artist’s album from front to back. The Beatles' White Album in 1994 is especially good and the first time the band premiered this concept. Many fans claim the 1998 Halloween show where the band covered the Velvet Underground’s Loaded is one of the most underrated and was mind blowing. But the best might be from 2018 when they invented a fake Scandinavian synth-rock outfit called Kasvot Växt.

For years, Phish have celebrated another year come and gone along with their fans, often playing a string of shows leading up to New Year’s Eve. Pranks are always a part of these special occasion gigs and there's often a theme with stages being transformed to transport their phlock to other realms.

Many of Phish’ most legendary end-of-year celebratory concerts occurred in New York City at Madison Square Garden where they’ve performed to close out the year 15 times. One of the most memorable saw the band "send in the clones" on Dec. 31, 2019, to ring in another new year.

Latest News & Exclusive Videos

The Warning
The Warning

Photo: Danielle Ernst

interview

Mexican Rockers The Warning On 'Keep Me Fed' & "The Possibility That We Could Literally Do Everything"

The three sisters of the whiplashing Mexican rock band The Warning sat down with GRAMMY.com to talk about their biggest recorded leap to date, 'Keep Me Fed.'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2024 - 07:11 pm

The Warning have been around for over a decade, with three previous albums under their belt — but they've never hit with gale force quite like their single "S!CK." Get a load of them on a recent "Kimmel" performance below; when singer/guitarist Daniela "Dany" Villarreal Vélez screams the title, her bandmates — her sisters, bassist Alejandra "Ale" Villarreal and drummer Paulina "Pau" Villarreal — respond with a groovy, steamrolling riff.

From harmonies to songwriting to sheer charisma, The Warning have reached a new pinnacle with their fourth album, Keep Me Fed, which arrived June 28. It's packed with bangers: the boiling-over "Apologize," the chugging, Spanish-language "Qué Más Quieres," and pop-laced detours that stick, like "Hell You Call a Dream."

The Monterrey, Mexico trio have opened for some of rock's titans over the past few years: Guns N' Roses, Foo Fighters, and Muse. This only incentivized them to make Keep Me Fed hit as hard as humanly possible.

This involved reaching out to rock's blue-chip writers, like Dan Lancaster and Mike Elizondo, to help the songs truly hit the jackpot. But speaking to the three on a four-way call, it's clear their success really relies on their sisterly synergy: they effortlessly bounce off each other in conversation, just like they do in the studio or on a stage.

Read on for a full interview with The Warning about the road to Keep Me Fed, songwriting in Spanish and English, and how supporting the greats spurred them to make a swing that connected.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

**Bring us from the Error era to Keep Me Fed. What transpired in The Warning's history?**

Pau: We grew so much as people, through our experiences touring with Foo Fighters, Muse and Guns N' Roses. You can't help but learn and grow from all of these experiences and shows. 

We were very inspired, and I feel like Keep Me Fed was the first opportunity we had to sit down and actually process everything that we had been through, and just put it directly into the music.

Ale: We were recording and writing in between tours; we had a hectic schedule. I feel like you can definitely hear that chaotic energy, and everything we lived through this past year while writing the album.

You opened for some of the biggest rock bands on the planet. Tell me more about how that fed into the music.

Pau: Seeing these amazing musicians playing every night, you can't help but want to push yourself. What made us grow was that hunger to be better. We wanted to be a good opener for these legendary bands. We wanted the crowd to be impressed; we wanted to prove ourselves to these new crowds.

And, not only with our live performances: we knew we were going to write this album, and release new music. And if these new people were going to look for our new music, we wanted it to be this insanely huge step forward in our careers.

Musically, our biggest references are Muse and Royal Blood — and we toured with them. So, by seeing what they do live, and how their ideas are [executed], we had a really good idea of how we wanted our ideas to sound live.

Dany: Coming home from the tours to process everything that you went through, I think unconsciously you let everything out, and let everything go when you're writing music. I think that played a big part in what we came back to express in the Keep Me Fed songs.

Can you talk about working with outside writers on Keep Me Fed?

Ale: We've always only worked within the few of us, so adding someone else to the mix was very different. It's so interesting to see how other people work, and working with them, and hearing all of these different ideas. I feel like we learned so much from every person we wrote with.

Dany: We have three songs with Dan Lancaster, who is touring with Muse now; he's a great producer as well. We worked alongside our producer, Anton DeLost, for the whole record. They are such a dream team, honestly. They knew how to push us toward a direction that made us get the best out of us.

We were so surprised by the stuff we lived through — very intense, specific feelings, that they can relate to in a totally different way. We managed to connect the dots between feelings and what we wanted to express.

Pau: Also, they're not necessarily rock writers. Some of them are pop. Some of them are R&B writers. It's a really big melting pot of styles and inspirations and experiences.

You start learning little tricks and tips from each person. So now, even when we're writing alone, we channel everything that we learned from these individual writing sessions.

And I feel like we look at songwriting in a new way — especially because we are Mexican, and English is not our first language. So, we write in English with a very different mindset; we think in Spanish while we are writing in English. We see language in a more phonetic way.

So, finding new ways to look at the language that we write in, and new ways to communicate what we want to say through the words or eyes of these other writers, was a very enlightening experience.

The Warning - Qué Más Quieres (Official Video)

Keep Me Fed sounds absolutely massive. How did you craft that sound?

Dany: We were very focused on making it sound as big as possible, and as close to our live performance energy as we could. Guitar-wise, we explored a lot of different fuzz pedals, which was very new to me. I wasn't very much of a fuzz girl, but oh my god, it adds so much texture, and it added to the sound that we wanted to hear.

Also, we went a lot heavier with this album. I experimented with playing with baritone guitars, so I could be a lot lower than I usually am. I love that; it makes me feel so powerful, and I think it adds a lot to the songs.

Ale: I recorded all my bass parts with a pick, which is something I don't do; I only play with my fingers. But for the recording, it sounded clearer, and made the bass stand out, as we're only a three-piece. So, I liked exploring that.

Dany: I learned to play with a slide. I had never done that before. And I had to figure out how to play it live down the road. It really pushed us, and me, to stay sharp and do what was necessary for what we wanted to express in the music.

Vocally, I experimented with a lot of different textures. We usually just go all out and do this angry screaming that I know how to do from our 10-year career. But this time, I [explored] the dynamics more and more. I went soft, I went a little more airy, and then I screamed. It was fun to get to know myself more as a singer and guitar player.

Pau: We explored a lot of different styles. You can hear different [unexpected] influences. "Burnout" is really funky and groove-driven. "Apologize" is just a very angry song. "Sharks" is this type of new thing. It's just so varied.

We let ourselves be open to the possibility that we could literally do everything. We could try everything out, and it would still fit in this album, because it was still us.

Explore The World Of Rock