Music Interviews

Interview: Jason Mraz

With its unusual melodic blend of soul, reggae and pop, Waiting For My Rocket To Come, the debut album from Californian singer / songwriter Jason Mraz, has been greeted with wide acclaim from critics and listeners alike.

He has shared concert bills with the likes of Tracy Chapman, Jewel and Bob Dylan, yet Mraz, one of America’s brightest new talents, is still relatively unknown on these shores. But as I found out, that is just the way he likes it.
Speaking mid-way through a whistle-stop tour of Britain he understands the importance of word-of-mouth to emerging artists and is perfectly happy to take the hard route to superstardom.

“I think music should feel like a discovery and word of mouth gives people the feeling that they discovered it – this is how it should be. It’s much more human to discover music rather than to just be told you should go out and buy this or buy that. I mean, who is going to go out and buy an album just because it is top of the charts or is on the radio every day?”

No tour has been more important in terms of creating that word-of-mouth among British audiences for him than his stint as support act for fellow US singer / songwriter Tracy Chapman in March this year, a tour which enabled him to achieve two of his ambitions:

“I had always wanted to play at the Royal Albert Hall and with Tracy so it was fantastic to do both.”

“That was my first big tour. And everyone at my gigs over here seems to have heard me with Tracy. The same thing happened in the US when I toured with Jewel; it kinda gave people something to talk about.”

“Who is going to go out and buy an album just because it is… on the radio every day?”
– Jason Mraz displays admirable but unwarranted optimism in people’s ability to think for themselves.

Playing a number of intimate gigs at small venues, including two nights at London’s Bush Hall, Mraz has found the reserved nature of the British fan not so much to his liking, however. He said:

“The fans over here have been pretty good. They are nice, polite audiences but not so much fun. I think it’s a bit of a posh scene over here, especially in London.”

Mraz admits that he is happy for people to just come along and listen to his music though:

“I play a listener’s kind of music. “So, it’s quite easy for people to just come along, sit down and enjoy, I think.”

He seems to enjoy his own music too and explained that the positive nature of the songs on his debut album is reflective of his own personality.

“I try to make light of situations and want to transmit that in my music. If I want melancholy I listen to Radiohead, music full of emotion, but when people need a lift I’m there as an option.”

“It was a conscious decision of mine to write happy songs because I think happy music is much harder to make and I like that challenge. Anyway, it would kill me to sing sad songs every night. I think it’s fair to say that there are not too many people wearing black at my gigs!”

“It would kill me to sing sad songs every night.”
– Jason Mraz always looks on the bright side of life.

Seemingly constantly touring, he will be spending the next three months on the road in America which will include the recording of a live album, and is already planning his next studio release with travel as a major theme.

“I used to write about relationships but now I write songs about travelling because my only relationships these days are with cities and hotels! I’ve got no regrets about this though. It’s great to be able to see the world, although a lot of meditation is needed living in a suitcase all the time.”

“I have only spent five weeks of my life in a studio, recording the first album, and to be honest I got bored of all the sound manipulation. I want to be inspired by the world and by travel, so I would say I am much happier on the road anyway, where I can discover things.”

Waiting For My Rocket To Come has already sold more than 500,000 copies and continues to climb the Billboard chart in the US, in a large part thanks to his devoted live following and the hit single The Remedy (I Won’t Worry), which launched his career over there. He revealed that it was an album for which he owed a great deal of thanks to his bandmates during recording:

“It was an easy record to make because I had great guys with me; without them it would have been a nightmare. Most of the songs had never been performed live before so I needed to be told whether they “worked” or not. I always find faults in my own songs and end up questioning myself, asking, “Where are they going?” or “Is this too specific?” So this is where the rest of the band is so important – in terms of giving me some kind of direction.”

“I write a lot of crap! I would say only one song in 20 is decent but you have to write the crap to get to the good stuff.”

“When I heard Damien Rice for the first time… It just changed my world.”
– Jason Mraz reveals one of his influences.

Learning his trade on street corners, Mraz always knew he was going to be a singer but didn’t pick up the guitar until he was 18, something he believes has led him to constantly stumbling upon his favourite pastime: discovery.

“I think I’m quite nave musically. I’m still a student, still learning, still finding new chords. I find new things all the time but my “unknowing” is creating something of my own. I am always thinking music and am fascinated by discovery. Everything I write is based on what I hear when I turn on the radio or listen to new CDs. I am very easily influenced. When I heard Damien Rice for the first time I thought of going right back and starting over. It just changed my world.”

With songs for his next album already penned, he plans to enter the studio again next spring, under the umbrella of the Warner Music label Elektra. But belonging to such a big music conglomerate isn’t something he’s hoping he has to do for too much longer. In harsh tones he told me:

“I’m now with a corporation who move units, which is very different to where I’d like to be. It would be nice to be your own musician and to get to a level to be able to do that. But for now I’m grateful to have that opportunity to get my music out there.”

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