JERRY LORENZO & JOHN MAYER
All Things Considered
At the back of a studio in West Hollywood, John Mayer and Jerry Lorenzo are obsessively planning outfits. No detail is too small, and for the next hour, Lorenzo and Mayer sift through racks of clothing—a mix of Fear of God’s Sixth collection, Mayer’s own assemblage of kimonos, denim, and shirts from Japanese brands visvim and Kapital, and the upcoming Nike Air Fear of God collaboration. “This is the future,” Mayer says of the sail high-top Air Fear of God sneakers, his eyes widening. “You know the movie Her? These would be the shoes in that [film].”
Before today, Mayer and Lorenzo were admirers from afar; the first time they met was on the set of this cover. But the respect is mutual and the chemistry palpable. “I told my wife [John’s] my new best friend,” Lorenzo joked on set.
Both in their 40s—Mayer, 41, and Lorenzo, 41—they share some common ground. For years, Mayer, the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, has been revered as an overall taste gawd. Lorenzo, who founded his label Fear of God five years ago, has emerged as one of the biggest names in streetwear and fashion. Both are the types of guys hypebeasts and menswear nerds praise. But to hear them tell it, they stepped back from that spotlight briefly to focus on their respective crafts. Now, they’re ready to show the world what they’ve been up to.
On Dec. 15, Lorenzo will launch his highly anticipated Nike Air Fear of God collaboration. Mayer, who released new singles “New Light” and “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” has even more new music, including an album, on the way. But our two-hour conversation is less about music and fashion and more about how Mayer and Lorenzo hold it all together. Here’s what happens when two of the most recognizable faces in their industries get candid.
This cover represents everything that Complex is about—the converging of two worlds that are similar but different. It’s no coincidence you guys are both wearing your first Nike shoe. I wanna ask, was it your own silo or nothing? Only a handful of people get their own silhouette.
John Mayer: Great question.
Jerry Lorenzo: I respected the opportunity to work with Nike so much that I was willing to not have the opportunity if I couldn’t honor it through my gifts and talents. I went to Nike and I said, “My gifts are not coloring up anything. My gift is in shape, and not only do I need my own silhouette, I need to fly my last in from Italy. It needs to be this shape.” Nike said, “Hey, we feel like kids just aren’t wearing our performance shoes during the day. Straight up. How can we style this?” I’m like, “It’s not a style thing. It’s a shape thing. I can come fix the shape, and you guys have the best designers in the world that can help me do some style, but let’s get the shape right.” That’s why it took so long to happen. It’s been like two and a half, three years since we’ve been working on it. I think everything is timing, man. Nike was in a place where they were open to new ideas and new perspectives. That opportunity pushed me to do what we did with [Fear of God’s] Sixth collection. It was like, what am I doing in my own world that is worthy of being able to put something like this and propose something like this to the world?
Jerry, you mentioned that you had to go away, and earlier, John, you said you either get off the horse or you’re thrown off the horse. Why do you think you have to go away sometimes to come back stronger?
Mayer: Nobody can be a good pilot of their behavior and their creativity endlessly, successfully. And I’ve even said to people who sorta came back to the pop world, I’ve said I’m good for four, five more shots and then I’m gonna hand it back to you. But I know that for the next three, four songs I’m gonna nail it. You just can’t be at the center of your own behavior as the creative director of all your thoughts without saying, “I’m gonna come to the end of a winning streak here.” You have to get off the field for a minute and take a break and watch the world go by. It’s very difficult for people who are on social media now… There are people who do not understand the feeling of going away. It feels like dying, and there’s nobody to tell you to go away because the way your life is built now, you’re the boss. And what you get now is this continual doubling down of everything. Oh, that worked? Twice as much now. Oh, that worked? Another twice as much.
Lorenzo: But I think the doubling down is happening without the work. And I think you can keep winning if you keep taking yourself out of it.
Mayer: I sat in the house for seven months learning Grateful Dead songs, and that was arduous and a little scary, and I put a record on hold. I was many songs in debt, I was many dollars in debt, but I took seven, eight months and sat and learned a hundred Grateful Dead songs. My life since then, in terms of return on investment, has been insanely beautiful.
Both of you guys quit [drinking].
Mayer: Two years on Tuesday for me, man.
Lorenzo: Oh, for real? I’m three years in November. That’s crazy.
What effect has that had on you guys, professionally and personally?
Lorenzo: My family life’s better. My work life’s better. I’m able to focus. But I don’t condemn [drinking]. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I just think that some people can handle it and some people can’t.
Mayer: It’s the most personal thing to people. If I were to tell other people how they could do it, it just is so particular to your own spirit and your own psychology that it’s almost impossible to develop one way of explaining it to someone else. You have to fight really hard to look at it from a critical point of view because it’s constantly pushed on you. Every Friday and Saturday, on social media, there is enabling going on for drinking. What if I woke up every morning on Saturday and Sunday and put my feet on the ground and I just went “not hungover” and put it on social media every day? That would be an influence on people because I think you forget that’s an option. If you look at drinking the way you would look at anything else, which is risk-reward, what am I giving up? What am I getting? It’s some of the worst odds that ever existed…
Lorenzo: Of all time.
Especially when you get older.
Mayer: I just went deep one night, and I remember being like, “What happens if I keep going? I always stop here. What if I keep going?” It was really kind of, oddly, a playful kind of thing. I went, “Oh, I’m done.”
Did you keep going?
Mayer: Oh, I have the most amazing last-night-of-my-life-drinking story. It was Drake’s 30th birthday party, and I made quite a fool of myself. It took me weeks to stop doing this every morning I woke up. And then I had a conversation with myself. I remember where I was. I was in my sixth day of the hangover. That’s how big the hangover was. I looked out the window and I went, “OK, John, what percentage of your potential would you like to have? Because if you say you’d like 60, and you’d like to spend the other 40 having fun, that’s fine. But what percentage of what is available to you would you like to make happen? There’s no wrong answer. What is it?” I went, “100.”
"I’ll go until the doctor tells me bad news. Every morning I wake up, I go, I get another one of these. I still get to ride the ride."
- John Mayer
Lorenzo: I want it all.
Mayer: The voice in my head said, “OK. Do you know what that means?” I went, “We don’t have to talk anymore. I get it.”
Lorenzo: Let’s go.
Mayer: That next year, I did four tours, I was in two bands, I was happy on airplanes. So what happens when you stop drinking? The level feels like boredom at first. But if you stick with it, the line straightens out and it goes kind of low. You’re like, “Oh, I’m not having these high highs.” But if you work, you can bring the whole line up.
Lorenzo: Wow. I went to one AA meeting and it was like, “Hey, my name is Jerry, and I’m an alcoholic.” And I hated saying it. That was the last meeting I went to, you know? Just because I didn’t want to confess that all my life, you know? My way to quit wasn’t by going to meetings. I was still able to quit, three years next month. But, like you said, it’s a personal thing.
Mayer: We’re at the sweet spot of concentrating on being better than most people at the thing that we do and just appreciating the act of that and being like, I’m still young enough to do it. If you get old enough to have the wisdom to know how to do it correctly, and young enough to still have the years to get it done, you have so many collections before someone tells you to take a seat. I have so many more records. I just figured out how to make them without going crazy.
Lorenzo: I just think about JAY-Z. Young enough to buy the right car, old enough not to put rims on it.
Mayer: That’s right.
Lorenzo: To know not to put rims on it—I feel like I’m in that space, and I feel like you’re in that space.
Mayer: I’ll go until the doctor tells me bad news. I swear to you, until that day, I’ve got it figured out, and this is the most fun… Every morning I wake up, I go, “I get another one of these.” And most people figure that out much later on in life. Not drinking has a lot to do with plugging into that a little earlier than other people, but I go, like, “I still get to ride the ride.” And that’s why, when people we love pass away, we go, like, “Oh, you can’t stay on the ride?” When Mac Miller passed away, my first thought was, You don’t get to stay here. You don’t get to keep riding this ride, this beautiful ride that, if you’re lucky enough to have the talent, you get to just keep…
Mayer: Well, I didn’t expect to play on his album. He said come over and listen to stuff. This is a true story: I started talking to my manager about splits—I gotta start making a living playing on people’s stuff. For years, it would be, like, a really fun side note. I got to Mac’s house and he played me this thing he had just worked on that morning, and I went, “Give me a guitar. I’m in.” I think it had something to do with him having worked on it that day—it was still wide open and fresh. There are a lot of songs people play for me and I go, “Man, I wish I was on this song, but it’s done.” I picked up a guitar and, I went [Pretends to play the guitar]. We had such a great time and laughed, and I said to him, “No cash. No credit. I’m just happy to do it, man.” He said, “Hey, can I…” I said, “I don’t want people talking about me. I want people talking about your record.” I just wish it wasn’t fatal. I just wish figuring out your life didn’t take your life away from you. I don’t have an answer for how to fix that, but once you get old enough to understand how valuable life is, you look at people and go, “I just wish you could work this out.”
Lorenzo: But I think it’s a constant. Our brand is in a better place. My marriage is in a better place, but I told my wife this is the most unhappiest year of my life because of how hard it was for me to detach and put everything into this [Fear of God] collection and put everything into this Nike collection. To hit rock bottom and hit a low place where I knew only God could take me to the finish line… I’m super happy with the end result, but I don’t know that I did it the best way.
Mayer: Creating great things is like having a restaurant with the messiest kitchen that would get shut down if anybody from the health board walked in. They’d go, “Your kitchen gets an F.” But walking out into the actual restaurant floor with the most beautiful, dainty, delicate little dish that’s so delicious, and you just know that if anybody ever looked behind the double swinging doors, they would see pure rat-infested chaos.
You said rock bottom, but it was on a project that may be one of the biggest that you’ll ever do. How does that happen? Is it the pressure of making it great? Is it other things that happened?
Lorenzo: Yeah, I think it’s the pressure. My wife will tell you—this Saturday I was shoveling dirt on the campaign [shoot], and I just had to leave set. I was like, “Man, you might have to take me to the hospital. I don’t know where we should go right now, but I can’t be on set anymore.” Even styling the looks the following two days seemed like such a big task. I had just put everything into it. As much as I thought I was putting God first and mixing him into it, trying to balance work and family, I was just so depleted. And I don’t wanna have to get depleted to do what I think is great. I don’t wanna have to be empty. Getting a sneaker, like I said, maybe I honored it too much. You know what I mean? When I got the chance to work with Nike, by no means will we ever be Jordan or be the next Jordan, but that’s where I go. If I can’t try and do something like that, then why am I even playing the game? We’re the same age. It wasn’t about sneaker drops when I was growing up. It was either Jordans or nothing. It was the best, and it was the emotion you got when you felt that thing.
Mayer: It was like a car. You get a Jordan V and it was like getting a new car.
Lorenzo: Imagine designing and creating chasing that emotion. When a kid sees this, whatever he felt when we hopped out of the car at the end of the campaign video, I want you to feel something that I felt when I was in 8th grade, in 9th grade. The pressure of that emotion that you’re chasing can be heavy.
Mayer: It is a fairly new idea looking into the possibility of a creator also having some mental well-being.
We see the behavior of some of the biggest creators of our generation. People who you’ve both worked with—Kanye—you see what’s happening. We see people going off the rails on social media. Do you guys sympathize with that kind of behavior?
Mayer: That’s a great question, and that’s a great word, sympathize. Yeah, I sympathize. I look at it very differently, though. What happens when you decide to make an invention of yourself? Artists have always been inventions, right? We decide, “Oh, I think I’m gonna be that.” Some people go, “I think I’m gonna make all of this that. I think I’m gonna move all of my chips into the idea of this living invention.” And you can lose yourself in the invention. So I don’t even begin to look at this like “crazy” or off the rails. I don’t really have the data to; I don’t think anybody really does. But I can tell you for sure that a component of it is being at your own steering wheel for so many years as a creative god and not knowing how to say, “Well, now I’m a guy.” We’ve hung, and I was always astounded by Kanye’s ability to donate most of who he is to that invention. The problem is I’ve never seen anybody successfully live inside of the giant robot that you’ve built for many, many years. I just feel like I agreed with the universe when I first met Kanye that I was never just gonna beat on the guy, because I saw a genius. I think a lot of people have. But it just goes to show you that even if you are a genius, you’re still just a dude inside of the bigger metallic version of yourself going, “What does this button do?” And if you don’t check in with someone else to tell you maybe step down from that, you just burn into it. Ultimately, what he’s saying is the same thing every artist wants to say, which is to break free of expectation. Artists have been doing this for hundreds of years, responding to the world, finding out what in the world is hypocritical, what in the world is confining you. I think he’s trying to break through these walls. And everybody has a different way of doing that, and he just invented a larger “Hulk smash” of it all and also didn’t build in a fail-safe, which is someone throwing you into a car and saying get out of here. If you don’t have the boss to tell you…
And that’s what you hear. You hear the words “yes men” thrown around.
Mayer: Yo, I would love to be sitting in here and saying, “I have nothing to say about Kanye because he’s somewhere treating himself or he’s somewhere being OK.” But to talk about Kanye… I’m not gonna shy away from the Kanye conversation because it’s like an MMA fight where the guy’s not tapping out and his ref isn’t calling the fight. So he’s still a topic of conversation and I cannot wait until the day it would be insensitive to talk about him. I can’t wait. Please, do us the favor of making it seem a little unsavory and a little tacky to talk about it because you tapped out. Please, tap out. I tapped out. Tap out. You know? Instead the ref’s going, “I don’t know what to do. He’s still fighting. He’s still punching back.”
Lorenzo: I think the thing of yes men is to devalue his own self worth. I don’t think he needs another man to tell him what he needs to do. Kind of like what John was saying, I’m too close to it to have an opinion as well, so I’m looking at it in the backyard also and I’m saying, “Wow. If the world can look at this with so much forgiveness and so much grace and can continue to forgive and find an understanding in what he’s saying, and they won’t do that for the normal people in their life, for their friends, and for other people they live with daily, but they’re giving this idol this level of grace and mercy... Wow. Why don’t we just treat the rest of the world like that and see how much better…
Mayer: That’s a great point. We are all Kanye apologists to an extent that we do not offer to anyone in our personal life… [laughs] There’s nobody who gets as many chances in our own personal life, which is really interesting. We used to give our respect to people and our admiration to people on a provisional basis, meaning it can be taken away if you behave a certain way. We’ve seen now that… It’s no secret there’s a president that can do no wrong by those who’ve decided he’s their guy. Kanye can do no wrong if you’ve decided he’s your guy. You’ll just change the qualifications because it’s very unpleasant to scrub someone off your list. It’s very unpleasant to say “I was wrong” or “I changed my mind” or “not anymore.” Look how hard it was to change our mind about Bill Cosby. It was the hardest thing to go, “I don’t wanna move you to another category.”
Lorenzo: What if what he’s really saying is, “I want you to free think so bad I’m gonna do what it takes for you not to like me so you can begin to make your own decisions”?
Mayer: Nah. Nah. Free thinking is...
Is free thinking an excuse, though?
Lorenzo: I’m just… What if I’m gonna self-sacrifice you liking me so that…
Mayer: Nah. Let’s go to free thinking because it’s a brilliant conversation, right? Free thinking does not mean lazy thinking. It doesn’t mean for your college essay you can take a piss on a sheet of paper and say, “I decided not to go with words for this essay.” There is a way to cooperate with the world so that free thinking… And this does actually funnel into your collection, right? Because you have this great combination of free thinking and discipline. You didn’t put out three shoes in a box. There’s still two shoes. To hear Kanye say it, “Why stop at two shoes? Why not four shoes in a box?” So free thinking, by his definition, is anything other than what we’re talking about. Free thinking does really mean a thoughtful intellectualizing of the things just right outside what we’re talking about. Free thinking doesn’t just mean freedom from thinking. There’s a discipline in abstraction. You have this perfectly. I look at your collection and I go, “That is one of the most disciplined collections of taking something that’s slightly contrarian, the way that the jackets fit are the first time I’ve seen someone take this re-thinking of the geometry of a jacket and still keeping the cool of a leather jacket.”
In the Q&A after your Sixth collection film premiere in New York, you said that you had opportunities to potentially work with a luxury fashion house and it didn’t work out. What did you need from them?
Lorenzo: I felt like I needed better resources to provide a better product. I had ideas that were beyond what I thought was my L.A. capacity to make things. And then the insecurity—there’s a little bit of you that thinks that you need to be next to something for validation. I think it was great that those things didn’t happen because it made me look deeper into myself, look deeper into my team. As soon as I took my focus off of partnering up with this house, all the ideas for Sixth just started coming.
You also said that a luxury collaboration fell through. Were you talking about the same situation?
Lorenzo: The group was gonna partner with us and one of their brands within that group was going to collab with us.
I have to ask—which brand?
Lorenzo: Oh, I can’t say that.
A brand we all know?
Lorenzo: Of course.
A couple weeks ago, we had our first call together and John, you were talking about a new record. You said your next single addressed the “emotional elephant in the room.” Expand on that.
Mayer: I hadn’t written it yet. I went home a week later and wrote it in 48 hours. I knew I had one. Every once in a while you come across a song and you’re like, “This skeleton is so good.” As I got to the end of my second month without finishing a song, going in the studio every day, I went, “What’s going on? What am I best at?” Not, “What am I just good at?” And that meant giving up a little bit of this idea of me being at the top of the radio charts or constantly putting out stuff that everybody’s 15-year-old daughter was gonna love. The “New Light” has been great, and it certainly hasn’t been an example of it not working. It’s worked, but just me being in the studio, I’m listening back to this stuff and I’m going, “Do I buy that?” I don’t know. It wasn’t making me happy. I wasn’t loving what I was hearing. And then I had this moment where I was like, “Put the MPC away for a minute. Bring out a tape machine, an acoustic guitar. What do you do? You make log cabins.” So I sat down and I wrote a song. It’s called “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” and it’s this really honest confrontation with how it feels. “I guess I just feel like good things are gone. I guess I just feel like nobody’s honest, nobody’s true, and everyone’s lying just to make it through. I guess I just feel like I’m the same way, too.” There’s no politics in it. There’s nothing you could listen to and go, “Wait. Wait…” I’m trying now to just do what I always did, which is just goto the heart of something
I wanna talk ownership. Jerry, you always say you have zero investors in Fear of God. John, you have your own label, Snack Money. How important is it to own outright and, in 2018/2019, to be invested in yourselves?
Lorenzo: I can’t imagine the pressure that I put myself through coming from somebody else that has a stake in what I’m doing.
Mayer: That’s wild. So if your inner voice was actually articulated by another person, that person would be an asshole?
Lorenzo: No. I just don’t want the weight of them needing this to do something. I think when you talk about ownership, my dad managed in the big leagues. He was manager of the year in the year 2000 with the White Sox and went on to manage the Mets for a little bit after that. In my eyes, he was one of the brightest managers in the game and brought a lot to the game of baseball. After his time with the Mets, he barely got any class to get another job. I look at that and I’m driven to be responsible for what this thing does, and I don’t wanna be a part of an industry that can control what I’m doing.
Mayer: I have a question. Are you about to make the kind of money that people don’t usually make in fashion because you own your masters, as it were when it comes to music?
Lorenzo: Oh, yeah. Probably. I mean, I could. But I’m not really driven by that. It’s more that I need to do this so that my son doesn’t have the mental barriers in his head of what he can do in his life. It’s like when Barack Obama became president and I’m sitting there watching that. I’m balling because my parents grew up telling me, “Jerry, you could be anything you put your mind to.” But as a young black kid, I was like, “Yeah, but I can’t be president. That’s just fact. That’s reality.” Not to say what we’ve done with Fear of God is so grand, but I want to provide opportunities for my family. I got a job in baseball after getting my MBA because my dad coached baseball. If my nephews graduate high school, it’s like, “Yo, I got a job for you. You don’t have to do it, but it’s an option.” Most blacks don’t have that, you know? There’s a part of me that feels a responsibility to maintain ownership to do that.
Lorenzo: In speaking of Black Panther, I feel like this Nike is the Black Panther of the culture. Disney gives all these resources to Ryan Coogler and says, “Hey, come write and direct this film.” And now you have somebody who understands culture with resources. The way that movie reaches culture is a different level. It’s like Virgil going to Louis Vuitton. You have somebody who understands culture now with resources to speak to culture. It’s a different thing. I feel like me going to Nike and having the opportunity to create a performance basketball shoe was saying, “Hey, I’m gonna make something that doesn’t compromise. You’re gonna be able to go to the club in that and dunk on somebody, and both at the highest level.” Why does it have to compromise?
Mayer: We are, I feel like, at a meritocracy right now, where people are not necessarily judging what they do on the genre like they used to. You’d be, like, the most outdated human being in the world if you were like, “I like rap and I like R&B.” That is a weird… That’s like saying, “I like blue clothes.” What a weird way to judge things.
- Jerry Lorenzo: Eliven Quiros, John Mayer: Kerrie Urban, Joe La Puma: Bridgette Demir
- STYLING Jerry Lorenzo and John Mayer
- CLOTHING Jerry Lorenzo and John Mayer wearing Fear of God's Sixth Collection, Nike Air Fear of God, and their own pieces.