Jason Mraz has plenty of reasons to smile. After all, 'Yes!' marks his fifth album after a series of critically acclaimed ones in which he croons about sweet love, the ecstasy of the moment and living as one with nature. Recording from his studio nestled amid greenery, the 37-year-old singer-songwriter is every inch the garden-loving, hippie- living soulful artist we’ve come to view him as.
Mraz speaks of grand ideas such as improving the world through love, joy, harmony and conscious care for the environment, and describes his songwriting process as ‘sitting in circles’ with LA-based band Raining Jane, with whom he collaborated on his first fully acoustic album. Sound-wise, it’s not a far stretch from his previous smash hits like ‘The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)’, ‘I’m Yours’ and ‘I Won’t Give Up’, but the lyrics are beautifully eloquent, a testament to his years in the industry and his life experiences touring the globe.
Here, Mraz tells us about chanting mantras, his bucket lists, and the power of saying ‘Yes’.
Congratulations on your new album! We heard you recorded it at a farm. Tell us about this.
I’ve gotten into homesteading and urban farming; my studio happens to sit right in the middle of avocado trees and gardens. Being out in nature inspires me as a writer, which is why songs like ‘Back to the Earth’ will end up on the album.
The recording process starts with Raining Jane – my collaborators – and I. We sit in a circle and create music based on our shared values, interests, love and psychological needs, as well as seeking forgiveness, passion and gratitude.
The more tedious work for me only comes late at night. I like to sit in front of the computer, going through files of music, and recording the final vocals, guitars and what- nots. But the windows are always open and you can hear the crickets, birds, chickens, and even the sound of rain hitting the studio. The farm is a great place to hang out in, learn from and create music.
You’ve worked with folk rock band Raining Jane since 2007 – why the decision to write an acoustic album together?
We decided a long time ago that we love to play music together and we will always play music together. Last year, the music we were making was so good that I demanded it be the next Jason Mraz record. The decision to go acoustic was the result of the kind of music that Raining Jane and I both make. We love acoustic instruments like the piano, cello, sitar and acoustic guitar – basically, instruments that don’t necessarily need to be plugged in. That’s what we love: sitting in a room, playing music and singing together. So that’s why the album sounds the way it does. It’s built on a foundation of joy.
With five of you involved in the song writing process, were there any creative differences to work around and negotiate?
Not so many. When you’re writing a song and there are five people invested in it, it’s easy for one person to say, ‘Oh, this song is about this and that’, and everyone has to hear the idea and see if they can do better.
It’s not so much about creative differences; it’s about making room for everyone to be heard, which is probably one of the trickier parts of the entire process.
You’ve probably heard stories of people using ‘Love Someone’ [from Yes!] to propose – how does that make you feel?
It makes me feel great, knowing my songs are being heard and of service to people. The foolish idea that my music can actually make a difference in someone’s life – that right there is proof that it’s working. It makes me feel great, it really does. Thanks for sharing that!
Who did you have in mind when you wrote that track?
We wrote it for each other, Raining Jane and I. All five of us write about all the love and awe we have for each other. When you choose to be a loving person, it’s magical how love comes back to you and brightens someone’s day, changing your mood and that of the world.
How has your music evolved since your 2002 debut, 'Waiting for My Rocket to Come'?
When I first started, my message was about joy, but I didn’t really have the vocabulary and life experience to fully deliver it. But through my years as a writer, I’ve learnt how to simplify the message and pen songs that have a more specific quality – it’s not just about my ego and trying to meet girls.
There’s a more therapeutic purpose and potent message that I think actually makes a difference in the world. That’s the biggest change from the first album to the most recent one.
Being so involved in social activism and philanthropy, do you have a bucket list of things you want to do?
I want to ride a bicycle across the US. I want to visit the Arctic and hug a polar bear. I want, in my lifetime, to see humanity start being conscious of our waste and the things we buy – and how to reuse and recycle them, and live harmoniously with our planet. That is the top thing on my bucket list. I hope everyone wakes up and appreciates life.
Has there been anything new to which you’ve said yes lately that you haven’t before?
Nope, there isn’t anything new!
Would you say you’re a pretty positive person?
Yes and no. No, because being a human means waking up in this world, where we all have to work and slog to put food on the table. It’s a very strange world. Humans will always endure suffering – even accepting the fact that we’re going to die will cause us suffering, and from that stems a little pessimism and negativity that all of us are susceptible to.
I’m not always a positive person. I wake up grumpy, I read the newspaper and I get furious that the world is still at war. But I use music and mantras that transform my thoughts from the negative to the positive. If I’m thinking the world is a horrible place, I can transform my life by saying, ‘I won’t give up’, ‘I won’t worry my life away’ and ‘I won’t hesitate no more’, using these lyrics to change my experience. That is, I believe, what makes me seem like a positive person.
What are the mantras that you actually recite?
I’m a real basic person. Whenever I’m in need of inspiration and mantras, I go straight to simple affirmations. ‘I am strong’, ‘I am brave’, ‘I can do this’ and ‘I’m awesome’. Whatever you put after ‘I am’, you will become. ‘I am’ are the two most powerful words, so make sure what you say after ‘I am’ is what you want to experience. It’s like a magic trick.
Since you’re on tour so often, how do you keep things interesting on the road?
It gets to the point where my day is very routine. I make sure that I get plenty of rest, I do warm-ups and yoga, I eat healthy food and make shakes, and we do long rehearsals every day so that we can stay sharp and practise old and new songs. But then we open the doors for thousands of people to come and listen. There is no turning back at that point.
You sang with Corrinne May at your last show here. Will there be something similar this time?
It’s a little too early to tell, but I’m open to the idea. I just recorded a song with Singaporean musician JJ Lin, but I’m not sure if he’s living in Singapore anymore. We just wrote a song called ‘I’m Alive’, and it’s going to be on his next album.
We’ve seen a pretty impressive collection of hats from you – is there a revolving assortment?
I have two hats right now: the one I wear on stage and the one I wear at the airport. They more or less fit great and I’m not going to tell you what they look like.
Fair enough. So what can we expect from your shows here?
A lot of conversation, fun, laughter, interaction, harmony and all of our favourite songs!
Jason Mraz is at The Star Theatre on 17 & 18 Nov.