Shawn Mendes Talks 'Truthful' New Music and Why Mentor John Mayer Is a 'Badass'
"It's so easy to fall into the trap of taking yourself too seriously," Shawn Mendes tells PEOPLE
Shawn Mendes is stitching together a mixture of genres for his latest album.
The singer-songwriter’s new self-titled album Shawn Mendes, out Friday, was inspired by the musician pushing himself to see “what I was capable of doing a little bit more.”
“I found myself listening to a lot more rock and urban hip-hop music,” he tells PEOPLE. “One day I would create a rock song, and the next day I would create more of an R&B song. The whole album is this really big mixture of things, which I’m really excited about.”
“I realized that all of the genre walls – like people who say, ‘I only listen to country music’ or ‘I only listen to rap music’ – it’s kind of non-existent at this point because everybody listens to everything,” Mendes, 19, adds. “Everything was written from my heart and my story, and that’s what keeps the music cohesive.”
Particularly ready to “experiment with rock,” the musician says he believes taking chances now will only benefit him in the future.
“It’s really interesting, at 19, this album is super all over the place, which is really cool for me,” Mendes says. “When I look back, I’ll be excited to see that when I was 19 I wasn’t stuck in one genre; rather, I was experimental and exploring music and my taste.”
“I feel like out of all my albums, this is the most honest and truthful one yet,” he adds. “It’s so easy to fall into the trap of taking yourself too seriously.”
After rising to fame on the now-defunct social media platform Vine, Mendes released his debut album, Handwritten, in 2015. His breakout single “Stitches” hit the Billboard Top 40, and his sophomore record, Illuminate, launched him from pop heartthrob to celebrated singer-songwriter.
The newfound fame fueled his anxiety — and inspired his third album’s lead single, “In My Blood.”
“The biggest thing for me was not holding it all in,” Mendes explains. “Letting it all out and talking with my friends and family, being really present and not putting myself into this personal, dark thing. After I released ‘In My Blood,’ so many people texted me saying how much it meant to them — people that I never even knew struggled with things like anxiety — and it was a really eye-opening experience for me.”
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Mendes has continued to take cues on being candid from fellow guitarist John Mayer, whom he met in 2016.
“He’s one of my really, really good friends,” Mendes, a longtime Mayer fan, tells PEOPLE. “The most incredible thing I learned from [him] is that no matter how much experience you have, you never are done learning; there’s always something to be learned.”
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Case in point? “John will send me new music and ask me what I think,” Mendes reveals. “When that happened to me the first time, I was so impressed that he didn’t see himself as a master yet. He’s always trying to learn and wants to get better; he always wants to grow with the people and not get left behind.”
In April 2017 the two first performed together at Mayer’s concert in Toronto, collaborating on a duet mash-up of Mendes’ “Mercy” and Mayer’s “In Your Atmosphere.” Since then, Mayer has become a mentor to Mendes, helping him navigate fame, both personally and professionally.
“He’s a badass,” says Mendes. “He’s just so smart and intellectual. He has a very interesting view on the world — a view I’ve never heard from anyone else.”
And Mayer, 40, thinks just as highly of Mendes.
“Shawn’s just a better version of me in a lot of ways. Shawn’s like John Mayer 2.0, without the weird software viruses,” Mayer recently told Zane Lowe on Beats 1. “He’s a better version of a celebrity than I ever was. He’s not as volatile.”
The pair played together again May 17, performing Mendes’ “Where Were You in the Morning” during Apple Music’s Shawn Mendes: One Night Only taping in Los Angeles.
“He helped me with something on my new album,” Mendes tells PEOPLE, referring to the track “Like to Be You,” which Mayer produced and played a guitar solo on. “I’m sure we’ll get together. Our friendship has just begun and there’s a lot to happen in the future.”
“This [was] my first American performance of my new music, so I’m really excited,” Mendes says about taking the stage with Khalid this past Sunday, where they were joined by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas student choir. “I miss performing at award shows and doing press and promo and singing the music. I’m just really excited to get back into everything again.”
With the release of the album Friday and all that entails, as well as a world tour taking him around the globe in 2019, how does Mendes stay grounded?
“Honest to God, the most important thing is surrounding yourself with good people, whether it’s the people you work with or your family or friends — people who figured out how to have the right amount of tough love and support at the same time,” he tells PEOPLE. “A lot of people aren’t as lucky as I am in that I have really incredible people around me. And I have really, really cool parents. I do!”