John Mayer announced Friday that he’s leaving Columbia Records, the label that has been his home since his debut album came out in 2001. The surprising declaration comes during a lull in a national tour behind what has apparently turned out to be his last Columbia album, “Sob Rock.”
Mayer revealed the news in an Instagram post that read: “After 21 years, eight studio albums, and some wonderful personal and creative relationships, I have decided not to renew my recording agreement with Columbia Records. Hard as it is to say goodbye, I’m excited to pursue new avenues of making music, both of my own and with other artists.”
He continued, “I love music more than ever, and I believe some of my best work still lies ahead. With gratitude and enthusiasm, John.” Unlike his other Instagram posts, Mayer turned off comments for this one.
Representatives for Columbia did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment. Mayer’s independent reps said there would not be any immediate additional comment coming from the musician.
Much will be read into Mayer’s statement as to where any differences between him and Columbia brass lie, with the emphasis on working “with other artists” suggesting that perhaps he is interested in pursuing more collaborations like his ongoing side gig as a frontman for Dead & Co. Alternately, the “best work lies ahead” would seem to hint that maybe he feels taken for granted as more of a catalog than current artist.
Although he has done few interviews around “Sob Rock,” he did appear at Variety‘s Hitmakers event in December to present a label of the year award to Columbia’s Ron Perry and Jennifer Mallory, suggesting that he was at least somewhat happy with the imprint’s leaders as recently as three months ago.
In a rollickingly hilarious speech, he ran through a supposed list of nominees for the Hitmakers label of the year — even though it’s not a competitive award with actual runners-up — before opening an envelope and feigning surprise that it was his own label. Later on, he grew serious and seemed to be thanking Columbia for supporting his vision for the “Sob Rock” album.
“We artists are unreasonable; that is our job,” he said. “We catch ideas we can’t let go of. Ron, Jen and the rest of the team have adopted a working relationship that I think is the most open-minded and fun it’s ever been in my 20-year career as a Columbia recording artist.”
Then again, he did take a jab at how he thought “Sob Rock” had fared in the marketplace — seemingly a self-deprecating one, at the time — with the hyperbolic punchline that it had “shattered local streaming records” and was a “huge hit in Canoga Park.”
The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 last July and had two successive singles reach No. 1 on the AAA chart, although neither charted on the Hot 100.
“Sob Rock” was an unusual project that skewed toward very commercial sounds — but the very commercial sounds of the late 1970s and ’80s, with cover design, videos and a marketing campaign that took a tongue-in-cheek, almost subliminally retro approach to his affection for a classic period of pop. Even the type styles and the “Nice Price” faux-sticker on the album art indicated an approach that embraced sincere songwriting and a wink in the delivery. Columbia seemed to embrace the idea, sending out promo items that seemed out of the yacht-rock/early-MTV eras.
Variety praised the album upon its July release, citing “the funniest marketing campaign in recent music history” in a review and then noting, “That campaign is really inextricable from the new record itself, a dare that invites you to enter the album already having laughed till you’ve cried, then stick around for a less ironic dab at the eyes. … All of which is to say: The damn thing works.”
Mayer recently postponed several dates after revealing that he was diagnosed positive for COVID, following some earlier shows that took place with a pared-down lineup when two members of the band tested positive. The tour is currently scheduled to resume March 11 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, followed by three nights at L.A.’s Forum March 13, 15 and 16.