It’s been close to three years since we’ve had a new Jason Mraz album, and that break was just what he needed to refuel and rediscover himself. After taking some time off to enjoy the little things in life Mraz is back with We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things.
The album, which hits record stores on May 20th, delivers the clever lyrics and pop melodies that we’ve come to know and love and then some. According to Mraz the songs are inspired “by these moments of self realization, self empowerment and self improvement. I was happy to be able to write an album at the same time I was coming back to earth.”
Earth, Mars, Pluto..wherever he is, his passionate following is sure to follow, even if it means booking a trip on the space shuttle. After a recent show in Pennsylvania TWRY Staffer Lexi sat down with the chosen one and a few of his friends to pick his brain about his new album and lessons learned.
Interviewed by: Lexi Shapiro | May 2008
Your songs, journal, and aura just seem to radiate with this positivity and optimism. So, what’s your secret to staying so positive?
Jason: Well, I begin with making the choice to be positive. And, then sometimes if I feel like, “Oh, I keep having all these issues come up or obstacles in my way,” then I just tackle things one day at a time, one task at a time. But, it really honestly begins with a choice that says, “SCREW THIS. I‘m going to be happy. I‘m going to do what I need to do to be happy.” That began for me when I was eighteen years old and I decided that all I want to do is play music. I don’t want to have a normal job. I want to travel the world. I just want to use my creativity as sustenance. Sure, I had to have a lot of jobs until I was supporting myself through music, but I knew that those jobs were all leading me to something. It was all, again, about taking things one step at a time, one day at a time. You know, I’ve also been a fan of religious studies. I’ve also been a fan of New Age books, meditation, the science of yoga, surfing, psychedelics… a little bit of everything contributes to the exploration of happiness.
What’s the most valuable lesson that you’ve ever learned?
Jason: There’s certainly a lot of good lessons out there. I’d say a good one is to practice gratitude. I’ve learned a lot about gratitude and community in the last year and a half. And, that’s really what my message is right now on this tour, and it’s been very valuable to me. I’ve seen it affect every detail of my life and affect other people’s lives, and that’s really cool.
Was your “Song For a Friend” successful in its mission?
Jason: Yes. Yes. And, the guy who inspired it is on tour with us right now, still, and he’s rockin’.
Good! What’s going on with your housing situation after the fires?
Jason: Everything is great. Maybe the value of my house went up. Did it? No. It probably went down, possibly. We both live in the area (points to Toca). His fire was closest. And yours was probably second to closest (to Eric). Mine was about five miles away.
Eric: Mine was about a quarter mile away. We were all evacuated.
So, the fires were close, but they never touched your houses at all?
Jason: Right, but they closed off my area because it was just all smoke and ash. You couldn’t breathe in it, and you certainly didn’t want to hang out there. So, we all evacuated to the beach… and the surf was amazing those days.
So, what can we expect from your new album?
Jason: You can expect a lot of love, lightness, sing-a-longs, danceable grooves. It’s all infused with positivity, whether you hear it on the surface or not. You’re going to be inspired to improve your life.
You’ve written that “love is presence,” but what is love to you? How do you personally define love?
Jason: It’s EVERYTHING. It’s funny, because I love all these guys in my band. I love the way we travel. I love this live granola that I’m eating. I love, gosh, so much. I mean, love is the only thing that makes the world spin around, I think. It’s weird. We have to call it “love,” because we have to call it something, but it’s not a word. It’s an energy. It’s an act. It’s an action. It’s a natural thing. EVERYTHING is love, so the only thing that’s not love is our resistance to love, is us trying to be separate from the world. You know, It’s trying to say, “I’m not you. I don’t know you.” But, that’s just us resisting love, and love naturally just makes us want to communicate. You know what I mean? The human version of love, what we call “love,” and the attachment that people have, like, “Oh, he said ‘I love you’ to me,” or “She said ‘I love you’ to me, now.” That’s more of our egos’ attachments to other humans and…
…more of a label?
Jason: Yeah. I don’t say, “I love you” to my girlfriend unless it’s like… because we want each other to know that we’re not attached. We are having our separate lives. But, she knows I love her more than anything. She’s the best.
So, that actually answers my next question, which was have you found love or is it still Little You & I? So, you DO have a girlfriend, now?
Jason: I DO have a girlfriend now. And, you know, I’m young, she’s young, so we’re not pretending like we’re going to last forever, but what we have right now is awesome. I couldn’t ask for a better person to be my partner.
What artist out right now do you really admire?
Jason: I heard the Black Keys record the other night. I really loved that. So, musically, I think they’ve got a lot of soul. It was fun and that feel, you know, “Hey, we’re just here to rock.” And, it’s just the coolest thing I’ve heard in a long time. I admire Radiohead as artists. I just love the way they think deep about what they do, and also how they present themselves. Their message is always great. BARACK OBAMA. I think he’s an awesome artist. I like his message.
So, Obama has your vote?
Jason: All of them. All of my votes.
And what if Obama doesn’t get the nomination?
Jason: He’s going to. He will. He’ll get the nomination.
It all comes down to my state.
Jason: What’s your state?
Pennsylvania! It all comes down to here.
Jason: What is it, April 24th it’s going to happen?
Mhmm. I think it’s either the 24th or the 22nd. I can’t remember which.
Jason: I heard people today singin’ it. They were going, “O-kay O-ba-ma.” I was like, “COOL.” They were doing it. It’s gonna be great. Jerry, here, likes Hillary. That’s fine.
Oh, really? Well, for your sake and mine and the country’s, we’ll hope for Obama.
Jason: Okay, cool!
Jerry: Either will do fine.
Jason: But Obama will be a-maaaa-zing. *All laugh*
Your lyrics speak of your smoking… you say that you‘re the “cigarette-smoking man,” and that “once an hour [you] light the flower.” Do you still smoke, and if so, how do you keep it from affecting your voice?
Jason: No, I stopped. That’s how I keep it from affecting my voice. It’s been about two and a half years since I quit. And, if anybody ever wants to quit, all they have to do is read Allen Carr’s “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.” Greatest book ever. It’s easy. It takes about two days to read. Just follow the instructions… it’s brilliant. The first instruction is to keep smoking while you read the book, which is like, “WHAT?! Okay…” He doesn’t want to put any pressure on it. I could go on and on about that topic, but, no, I no longer smoke. But, I have plenty of songs about smoking, sure do. There’s a reference to it in “Not So Usual.” There’s a whole song called “O. Lover” about smoking. That’s what the whole thing’s about, which not too many people know about.
Oh really?! “O. Lover” is actually about smoking?
Jason: Yeah, “Your red top and matching bottoms.” That’s, like, looking at a cigarette.
And the light bulb clicks on…
Jason: There you go. “Pull it over your skinny self, but just don’t cover your tattoo.” That’s the little logo. I used to smoke American Spirits. So, the whole song is sort of based on my love/hate relationship with smoking. The original song was called Cancer Card.
Toca: That is the FIRST TIME you’ve ever told anyone that.
Well, thank you very much.
Jason: No problem!
What do you feel is the biggest accomplishment of your life thus far?
Jason: Just that I’m still going, you know? Life is my biggest accomplishment. I never thought I would make it. I felt like I made it years and years ago, so the fact that it’s still going, and the fact that we already have this much success and the new record’s not even out yet. That’s just like, “Oh gosh, I’ve had way too much success. Bye bye. Leave me now.” So, all of the above. That’s what gratitude’s all about. Practice gratitude. It’s time to say, “Thank you.”
So, you’re the master of wordplay…
Jason: Ooooh, a master!
You are the master! When did that skill manifest itself for you? When you were younger?
Jason: No, I was a horrible student! It just sort of evolved as I started playing. I guess I became a master of it when I declared myself a wordsmith or a… word-play guy. As soon as I declared it and started that affirmation, I just became it. And also, as a song-writer, when I first got started, I saw a lot of people at open mic nights in coffee shops doing the same thing and being very predictable and being very BORING. And, I was like, “Wow! I don’t want to be like that! I want people to come see me, and I want people to enjoy themselves and be surprised.” So, I would think a little more about what I was writing and really believe in my messages and if I fell in a simple phrase, look at it again and say, “What else can I do to this thing?” So, it was just about spending a little more time with it. I just didn’t want to be predictable, and that was it. I think surprises are what’s great about life: “WHOA! I didn’t see that coming!”
Based on the song “Wordplay” and what you’ve said in there, do you ever feel like you’re stuck with it or that it‘s something that‘s just expected from you?
Jason: I definitely went through a period, especially when “Wordplay” was being written, where that’s all I felt. I felt like I had to please a lot of different people. And, I didn’t know how to please myself, so I thought, “Great! I’ll just please other people. That’ll be easier. That’ll make me feel good.” And so, “Wordplay” is sort of about that, about being caught in the middle. It’s just like, “Well, at least I have my words and I have my ways. I can just keep singing and there‘s light.” But, not anymore; now we all work together and things are just flowing.
In some of your songs and in concert, you scat, and there’s a live performance of “Sleep All Day” that you began by singing “At Last.” Did you grow up listening to old jazz or is that an influence for you?
Jason: At about my high school level, I started listening to Ella Fitzgerald. And, in college I got way into horn players like Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, because I thought of a horn as a voice, and the way those guys would take you through different melodies, but then surprise you with something totally weird… it was like, “That’s what I want to do with MY voice. I want to be like those guys. I want to be like *scats with horn sounds*” And, usually songs are born into scat first with the music I write, and then I just start making up sounds and syllables that eventually evolve into words.
That’s the song-writing process for you? You write the music first and then the lyrics?
Jason: Usually… I start with some sort of musical idea and then let the two sort of get married.
What makes you the “one curly fry in the box of the regular?” What do you feel it is about you that separates you and makes you stand out?
Jason: Just that I am ME, that I am M-R-A-Z, from my parents, Tom and June. The closest other thing to that would be my sister, but she and I are nothing alike. And so, that’s what I ride on. That’s what I say makes me different, so I can just run with it. Musically, sure, I probably have similarities to a thousand other people out there right now, and that’s fine, but I’m still ME, and I can use my universe of possibilities to do whatever I want and to have the fun that I want to have. And so, I try to be an example, at least on stage (some nights, if I’m feeling clear) of having the best life experience, being awesome. And, the only way to be awesome is just to be yourself, because there’s nobody else like you.
How often do you actually get to see your family?
Jason: I hate those people. I don’t see them…ever. *All laugh* Noooo, I see them at Christmas, and then usually one other time in the middle of the year. Like, we’re all going to see them next weekend, because we’re playing a couple shows in Virginia. My niece has a recital that I’m going to go check out. She’s seven. And, my parents come to visit me in San Diego, so… you know, we still get along, get together.
Tell me about one of the craziest or funniest experiences that you’ve had on tour.
Jason: I’ve had some CRAZY experiences, but I would never admit those to anyone.
Don’t incriminate yourself or anything.
Jason: Bush, what’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to us on tour?
Bushwalla: The craziest thing that’s going to happen ever on tour? It’s gonna happen right now: I’m gonna get naked and… Well, I’ve got to say that last night when all the lights went out in the place for one second, and I thought it was kind of funny that we were in a converted church and that maybe God was saying, “You all need to be done.” And the lights flashed, and none of the mics worked, and we were in a panic sort of on stage, because we were all stuck in a freeze.
Jason: It was during the freeze.
Bushwalla: It was during the freeze, right? And I go, “Oh no!” because that’s where I come back in and everybody’s getting ready to come in and he kicked the drum and nothing came on. And, right as Justin Kredible goes, “Let’s see what happens next,” the mic came back on. BANG. And, we went for it.
Jason: Yeah, it just came right back on.
Bushwalla: So, that was probably the craziest thing.
Jason: Nice, but this isn’t your interview. *All laugh*
Eric: I can think of something that was really crazy, actually. It’s sort of a similar story. We were performing in… I think it was 2003, in the VH1 show in New York City.
Jason: Oh, the big black-out of New York!
Eric: Yeah, there was a big black-out in Times Square, which hasn’t happened since, like, 1967 or something. And, we all walked around in Times Square, New York City, blacked-out.
Jason: No power in Times Square… unbelievable.
Eric: That was definitely the craziest thing.
Jason: I had some weird girl with me that I had met in Florida. I was dating her for, like, nine days. So, we went back to my hotel room, opened the windows, and lit candles. But, that black-out happened right as I plugged my guitar in for sound-check. I plugged my guitar in, hit my tuner, which usually turns your guitar on, and it went BOOM, and I was like, “UH-OH!” And, then before I could say anything, everyone else was sort of like, “Uh-oh.” So, I knew it wasn’t me, but I thought it was me for a second. It was amazing. Were you on tour with us when Liz Phair stole Toca’s gnome? That might have been the craziest moment.
Eric: Oh yeah, the motorcycle…
Jason: Toca has a gnome that he carries…
Jason: Well, it was stolen on the last day of the tour with Liz Phair, and during our set the P.A. and lights go out. Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” starts blasting through the system. So, we’re like, “Uhhhhh…” Then, a motorcycle drives up onto the stage; there were two guys on it. One guy comes and he’s holding the gnome. The gnome’s dressed up, wrapped like the Gimp from Pulp Fiction, now, and he has this big dick stuck to the front of him, a big glow-in-the-dark dildo. So, they returned the gnome. So, that was pretty far-out… we had a motorcycle on the stage just kickin’ diesel fumes into people’s faces in the front row.
So, do you have any last words?
Jason: Last words… I don’t think so… It’s not over yet. Last words…
Well, not last words of your life!
Jason: But, for They Will Rock You… what should my last words be if I had to depart?
Eric: I really like what you were talking about before about practicing gratitude.
Jason: Yeah, I say that at the end of every show. Whatever it is you’re here to learn, whatever it is you’re good at, what your heart’s in, practice at that, practice kindness, and practice gratitude. Those are my last words.
*Photos used courtesy of Jason’s MySpace and Official Website.