Clay Cook on jamming with John Mayer at Berklee and their mutual 'SNL'obsession
The famed guitarist takes us back to his college days in Boston ahead of the Zac Brown Band's show at Fenway Park this weekend.
Fenway Park has always been good to Zac Brown Band, as the Grammy-winning Southern rockers usually sell out when they take over the ballpark, and even hold the record for most tickets sold by any act at the venue thanks to their 2015 tour. Aside from the enthusiastic crowds, guitarist Clay Cook has a lot of love for Boston stemming from his time as a student at the Berklee College of Music. Ahead of Zac Brown Band's return to Fenway Park this weekend, we caught up with Cook to chat about his college days, how he became friends with John Mayer while attending Berklee and more.
How pumped are you and the rest of the band to take over Fenway Park again this summer?
I’m really excited. We took a year off last year, and I was telling someone else that it felt like we forgot to celebrate somebody’s birthday. Like, it’s usually monumental and usually yearly. We missed it. We really did miss playing Fenway, and so we’re excited to come back.
You have some Boston roots as a former Berklee student. What do you miss the most about your college days?
It’s not like your typical college experience. You basically spend Saturday night in the practice room. I don’t really remember much outside of that. I went to a few shows to go see other musicians play. I made a lot of friends. We would eat lunch together, eat dinner together, sometimes hang out when we were kinda decompressing, but everyone had kinda the same goals, and we were trying to be better. Across the hall from me my last two semesters, I was roommates with Matt Mangano, who is our bass player, and John Mayer.
Being from the South, you can’t get over hearing the difference in dialects of English. While I don’t really have much of a Southern accent, I understand it very well because I’ve been around it my whole life. But coming up to Boston, hearing the Fall River accent, someone who was from Rhode Island, or hearing someone who was from Bangor, all these different New England accents and trying to learn how to speak the language, it’s a beautiful place. The one thing you can say about the people of Boston or the people of New England is they have a loyalty that’s just built in. Whether they’re loyal to the sports teams, or the music that they like, or their family and friends, it’s just built into them.
What sparked your friendship with Mayer?
The first day that we met, it was the first day of my second year, and he was a new student. We met and we started talking about guitar originally, and then it just spins into this spiral. Two hours later, we’re talking about songs. We’d had a handful of songs apiece under our belts, but we really wanted to dive into the poetry and see how far you could push melody and chords to a song and still have people like it, but still not be pretentious. It was just like learning about songs and eventually, we decided to write together. We wrote a handful of songs to the point where that was the reason why we left school, because we were 19, 20 years old, and we got to kind of take advantage. I mean, it was probably pretty foolish, we probably could have stayed another year, but it felt like we wanted to just go ahead and get out there. We were a couple steps ahead of some of the songwriting that was going on at the time, so instead of coming back and dominating, we kind of declared for the draft early, I guess.
You mentioned that you spent a lot of weekends in the studio, but did you have any go-to spots around Boston?
There wasn’t a lot of hanging out going on outside of our dorm rooms. One thing is, we did not miss "Saturday Night Live" because that was when Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon and Cheri Oteri and all those guys were emerging. I could talk about "Saturday Night Live" all day long, because it was important to us.We were not only musicians, but at the same time we were also comedians, in some way. We appreciate humor, me, John and Matt, all the people we were hanging out with. At one point, we got some time at Northeastern to produce a radio show. We went two or three times. It was pretty much just comedy and silliness. It’s ways to be creative and make people laugh, and it was also a format that we could play our own songs on the radio, whether anybody was listening or not.
We didn’t miss any "Saturday Night Live's." We definitely frequented Supreme’s Pizza, maybe every other night, which is on Mass. Ave. there, across the street from Berklee. There was a T.G.I. Friday’s on Newbury that we used to go to quite a bit, maybe twice a week and, outside of that, we might walk over to the Pru... We were pretty boring. We were underage, so we weren’t going to drink, and this wasn’t like a normal college campus experience where there’s upperclassmen buying kegs and having parties and stuff like that, so it was a very focused educational experience. So in our spare time, we were writing songs for ourselves outside of our class.
If you go:
June 15-16, Fenway Park, 4 Jersey St., Boston, $44+, mlb.com/redsox/tickets/concerts/zac-brown-band