Pop Shop Talk With...

John Mayer And The Roots' Ahmir

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!

Originally posted Jul 30, 2004 Published in issue #776 Jul 30, 2004 Order article reprints

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