An Interview with Jason Mraz – HuffPost 9.28.09

In the few short years following the release of Jason Mraz’s 2002 debut album Waiting For My Rocket To Come, the young San Diego singer-songwriter has had the longest running hit onBillboard‘s Pop Singles chart (“I’m Yours,” 70 weeks), has become a Grammy award-winner, has earned a Songwriters Hall Of Fame trophy, has opened for The Rolling Stones, and, most importantly, has been immortalized by American Idol contestant Chris Richardson for his read of Mr. A-Z’s “Geek In The Pink.” Though these great achievements say much about the artist, he had a bit more to add about all things Mrazworld…

Mike Ragogna: With all your recent success and popularity, apparently, everyone has one important, burning question. What’s up at the avocado farm?

Jason Mraz: Avocado farm’s good, man. It’s a wealth of trees that have been putting out fruit for the past thirty years. I’ve only been responsible for it for the past five years, and it’s going really well, it’s a happening place.

MR: Your latest tour is a bit unique because of how you’re approaching the charitable element. Can you explain it a little?

JM: It’s called the Gratitude Café Tour that’s been going on this summer. Our effort was to make a concert experience a little different for people — it isn’t just “come and sit and watch the show,” it’s really “come and participate.” So, our final show is going to be in San Diego which is my hometown, and we’re making it a “gratitude” show where you kind of pay what you want. You can come and pay a dollar or seventy-five dollars, or you can go online for some of our best seats for probably a couple o’ hundred dollars. Or you can come with your pockets empty and learn about the local charities we’re going to have on hand. It was a way for me to give back to my community, and also, hopefully, a way to inspire that community to pay it forward.

MR: Are some of the proceeds of that last concert going to The San Diego Youth Services?

JM: Yup! The San Diego Youth Services, VH1 Save The Music, and the Surfrider foundation are our three main beneficiaries, and we’re getting hit up by many other charities who are probably going to be on hand on that day. I think there are going to be quite a few.

MR: Rumor has it Bushwalla and Brett Dennen are going to be there.

JM: Yeah, Brett Dennen was my first choice. I knew that this was going to be any kind of show I wanted to make it, and Brett is one of the most righteous dudes out there today who’s as much an activist as he is a musician. I really wanted to get him on board and continue with the whole philosophy of giving.

MR: And you’ve had your eye on social causes for a while now.

JM: I wish I had a thousand eyes, you know? But I do go that direction. I try to be socially conscious, I think most of us are, it’s just that some of us have a problem with the label of it. We can be socially conscious and just be members of the P.T.A. We could just care for our kids and the kind of school they’re going to. Or you could be for the whole planet. There’s really no right or wrong way to do it.

MR: You’re a vegan, right?

JM: Yeah, I am.

MR: Being a vegan suggests one is more aware of the bigger picture, maybe with a broader way of looking at life.

JM: Let’s say you’re a vegan or if you choose to eat raw food. Well, that makes you a little more conscious about what you’re putting in your body, therefore, raising your consciousness, if you will. And the same thing goes for being conscious about thoughts, your own thoughts, and what you’re telling yourself, how you’re living your life, how you’re creating a life experience for yourself. That is definitely going to bring in how the world shows up for you, and how you can see the world improve in certain areas, or how you could inspire certain people to improve their work or outreach and share a little more of life’s resources. There’s really no limit as to how far you can go, and hopefully, the concert we do in San Diego will continue to speak that message.

MR: So, in your case, you’re doing some educating as well as making some great music.

JM: Yeah, but I’m not trying to preach, I’m definitely not pointing at something then going, “You should do this, you should live this way.” I just want it to be inspiring. I want people to leave (the concert) and create their own way to be generous, to create their own version of social consciousness. You know, all I can do is demonstrate the way I’m doing it, and then, hopefully, people will just consider to do it their way too.

MR: Have you always looked at the bigger picture, or is it something that’s been growing with your success?

JM: It’s definitely grown, I think it comes with age. There were people who taught me, and the more success I have, I feel it’s both a great opportunity and a great responsibility to make a positive contribution with the popularity. It’s a great opportunity to say some pretty powerful things while people are listening. I could say, “Thank you very much,” and go home, but, to me, that doesn’t echo.

MR: Your new live album Jason Mraz’s Beautiful Mess: Live From Earth will be released on November 10. Can you tell us what’s special about it?

JM: It’s a concert CD/DVD with some of our favorite songs from the night. We filmed it in one night in Chicago, and the best thing about the DVD is some of the bonus footage. It’s behind the scenes documentaries from the videos we’ve been making, behind the scenes of a day in the life of the tour — which, as a fan of music and DVDs, I always love the back story that you get–and there are unreleased tunes that will be coming out on the album and DVD as well, so that’s always fun.

MR: Many concert DVDs show how close the band is on the road just from the wacky stuff and casual interactions. How tight are you with your band?

JM: We’ve been pretty tight. We’ve all been on the road pretty regularly for more than a year-and-a-half with this tour, and you get to be like brothers. Some days you can’t get enough, and other days, you bicker like brothers. But overall, there’s always a time before the show starts when we come together in a circle and really express our gratitude for where we get to be today. So I’m really glad I travel with guys that are like-minded individuals that really want to support the message and this whole movement. These are great musicians I travel with that are choosing to play my music, so I’m really touched by that. I love my band.

MR: Does your creative process include them?

JM: Once we get to the tour, I kind of let everyone find their own part and add their own thing, but for the writing and arranging of the songs, I’m usually by myself. I kind of play the parts and do a really half-assed job at it before I bring the guys in, so they’re not really there for the inception of the songs. They all have other gigs.

MR: Since your new record is live, did they bring as much creativity as you did for the project?

JM: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, definitely to this live album. On this one, each of the guys expresses himself in his own way. I certainly don’t tell them, “You should play this part,” and I don’t tell them what to wear. We’re just a bunch of normal dudes that are figuring this out on a daily basis, learning the best was we can express these songs. And every day is different, every venue we play makes it sound different. So, these guys really do express themselves in a show.

MR: Anything about this tour or record that excels beyond what you expected?

JM: The guys who really standout are our horn section, and they’re all over the album and DVD and also, my last record. Those guys derive their own parts and really put a lot of color into our show, so this album is really going to highlight what they bring to it.

MR: Does Colbie Caillat join you?

JM: She does join us, yeah. She made a little appearance for us that night in Chicago. We were very lucky.

MR: Will she make an appearance in San Diego?

JM: I don’t think so, I’ve already seen her tour schedule and it doesn’t have her in the area. I tried to get her to the Hollywood Bowl as well, but she was already out of town. So I can’t imagine she’ll be swoopin’ in. But I have a great duet partner that I’ve been with on the road who will be doing a great job that evening in San Diego.

MR: Will the CD/DVD combo be covering material from all three studio albums?

JM: I don’t think we got around to any of the songs from Mr. A-Z. We recorded a few that night but they didn’t make the final cut, so you’re really going to (only) hear songs from the first album and from the most recent one as well as the new material.

MR: Best album title almost ever? We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. Jason, do you really need to steal things?

JM: I actually stole that title. I read those words in a drawing by an artist named David Shrigley, and he’s the same artist who I ultimately got to do the portrait doodles on my album cover and on the inside artwork. I just loved his brand of humor. When I read that, I thought, well, a) that’s hilarious, and b) I think it sums up what modern civilization is all about, and c) that’s a really strong album title! I thought, “I’d really love to use that.” As I was making the album and kept looking for a title, that one just kept coming back to me. I thought, “I really think I’m making that record.” We sing and dance? That’s obvious. Through our internet addictions and television programs and celebrity gossip, all humans just want to express themselves. We steal things? Well, that’s just our adaptability. We can just look at someone, admire them, and take on their style, become that. Or we steal resources from all over the planet, just so that we could sustain this human situation. I also look at it as anything we don’t say “thank you” for, anything we may take for granted.

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