After the mammoth hit that was 'I'm Yours' four years ago, you'd have though that that kind of success would go to a guy's head. Fortunately enough though Jason Mraz is not that kind of guy, still maintaining the same level of cool he has always been renown for and not letting an ounce of success get to his head. Before he heads off to the Orient to kick-start his extensive world tour in the summer, we caught up with him to talk water metaphors, the idea of love and the vast, white wilderness of Antarctica.
You toyed with a few names for you latest album, what made you chose Love Is A Four-Letter Word?
I really wanted to make an album about love, that was my starting point. The whole album actually began with the artwork really, I was instantly a fan of the imagery, I remember first seeing it and thinking "wow that really looks like love!" I sort of though "well if I can see love in this image then I should also be able to see love in the mirror or on the face of someone else and those around me. So I really set out to make a love-based album about the fact that love is a choice, it's a choice that we make to see it or not, to have it or not and I'm obviously not a master of it in anyway but I really wanted to learn more about it. I created this album about it (love) and really wanted to keep the focus on love in all aspects of the album. At the end of it I didn't just want to call the album 'Love' and I thought quickly about just how difficult love can really be if you take it on and I thought that I couldn't really let the opportunity of an album title like this go by without being somewhat cheeky or double entendre.
How big an influence is love and relationships on your music?
It been a huge influence, from the get go really. I don't know why that is really. It could be because my parents divorced when I was four or that I had my heart broken when I was in 6th grade. Throughout all of my twenties and young life I've been curious to see who I would fall in love with and where that would take me and also my love of music has catapulted me through life and I have that to be grateful for and I do my best to share that with others. So yeah, love has always been what's fuelled my interests and my songs and in an ever-changing world I think "why not offer up some songs of love that keep the world changing for the good." These plenty of depressing music out there and bad news on TV, so I like to offer things that are a little happier. Plus, as a touring artist, I like to sing happy love songs.
Can you talk us through your song writing process, does it come easily or do you have to really think about a song before you write it?
Its really a mixture of both I guess. Sometimes I sit down and have an outline of what I want the direction to go and then I try my best to create a path of music that goes to chord progression or a melody I have in mind, 'cos once that path is laid out I think of it as like a river current that starts to flow and then I just dive in and it's a lot of experimentation and improvisations so my inner thoughts can just jump right out; into this time signature or into this melodies. So yeah it's a little bit of both, obviously you have to practice as a song-writer, you have to practice your craft, but you also have to let go and try not to think too much and let it all flow out naturally.
You kick start your tour soon, you'll be heading to some exotic places too. Anywhere you still want to visit?
I'd still like to play Eastern Europe. Interestingly enough I've never been to anywhere like Turkey or Poland and we get quite a lot of requests from Poland and Hungary especially. I've never been to Russia either. I visited South-West India before, Mumbai and Goa, but I've never done the North or the East and I'd love to explore India much more. Probably after than though I'd have hit just about everything, I mean I've played in the Middle East before and I'll be in mainland China on the tour, plus I played a gig in Antarctica back in February which was pretty insane. So yeah I've just about covered it all really.
Where's your favourite place that you've visited?
Hmm that's a toughie.
You don't have to say England.
[Laughs] Well interestingly enough one of the places is attached to England, I really do love Edinburgh and I've got some friends up there. I love the small town-cum-new town vibe that's going on up there and the big castle that towers over it all. I'm a huge Belle and Sebastian fan as well, so that always puts me closer to their hearts. Other than that I'd have to say that Antarctica is one of my favourite places because it lacks city, it lacks the hustle and bustle of daily life and it's the ultimate in nature and the ultimate in isolation and its just an honour and a privilege to go there.
What do you make of the current state of pop music, that's heavily influenced by dance and commercial hip-hop?
I am, but it does sadden me when you see a lot of these guys tampering with the vocals, although I do like it when a DJ manipulated the vocals, but when a singer from the get-go allows their vocals to be constantly manipulated by a computer its kind of a let down. Even if it's a great singer its still disappoints me. I will say that the technology that turns out the new sounds and synths and beats, all the herky-jerky, turning this way and that way, I actually do kind of like it. I'm not upset by the evolution and the progress that music is making through this time and it will only continue to evolve and expand. I imagine soon enough it'll get back to acoustic music blended with this kind of edginess. When David Grey did White Ladder, when it was computer generated beats with his guitar and his pristine voice that was a foreshadowing of where music may very well end up. Nowadays your getting all computer generated sounds, so I think its good to keep a little bit of human element in it.
Do you ever feel that your own, acoustically driven style will eventually die out?
Well if it does get reduced to the underground it'll only make it a lot cooler. If somebody busts out a guitar people will be like "woah what is that?!" Then if that happens then it'll get forced into becoming mainstream because everything that's in the underground becomes mainstream and gets exploited to death, so no I don't think it'll ever go away.
Who do you listen to at the moment?
Funnily enough I have been listening to a lot of DJs at the moment. They're called DJs but I don't know if they actually DJs in it's truest sense. I feel in love with this guy called Pretty Lights recently, I just love how he manipulates sound and how he creates music with all this new-fangled technology; oddly enough I even love Skrillex. It still breaks down like rock and a half time, but it tributes hip-hop and house music and its just a weird, grimy mess of things but it's pulled off so well. His collaboration with The Doors ('BreakN A Sweat') was phenomenal. When I'm on my bicycle and I wanna ride 60 miles I find I need something like that or maybe My Morning Jacket or Muse, something a little heavy and powerful that pushes you and gives you that 'I can do anything' mentality.
You've said in past interviews that 'Everything Is Sound' was inspired by your love of Kirtan - are you a spiritual person?
I am yes. Not in the sense that I follow any type of religious doctrine or any type of rules that any one religion creates, but over the years I've practiced a more Syncretistic approach to religion, that is that I read about this or that from a variety of religions and just kind of pick at what you like from each one and find what serves you best.
I agree with what you're saying, religion is something that needs going over with a fine tooth-comb and why not pick bits out of each one.
Exactly! Also, I've always been someone who is fascinated by mysticism and just trying to think about what makes us work, what makes us seemingly free-floating individuals drifting on the surface of the planet with this powerful energy all around that runs us, feeds us thoughts and teaches our bodies how to work. That to me is mystic and so I'm always fascinated at what that really is. All the things we don't see and don't know, all these thoughts that a floating around space and just fall into our brains, much like how sound travels in waveforms that travel into our ears. It's all that invisibleness in the world that makes me a spiritual person.
Does this spirituality reflect on your upbringing?
My mom went to church and I did a little church time when I was a kid, but honestly the Bible stories didn't make any sense to me and I was always confused about that stuff. I couldn't understand the characters or the metaphors and what not, I didn't get any of it back then. Probably music made me spiritual, when I became a questioning youth and started writing in a journal when I was about 14 I started asking questions and writing songs that had me looking within myself as well as in to outer space. You become spiritual, I believe.
When did you start surfing?
I was 28 years of age and it was awesome, it was a very cool experience and once you acquire a wetsuit and a surfboard it's free after that. You just have to jump out in the ocean and give it a shot and you grow a little bit each day, physically and mentally as you start to accept the waves. Then it starts to affect you on land as you start to notice obstacles coming at you as waves themselves. They come at you in different tides and you've just got to tackle them as you would waves out at sea.
Do you still find time to go surfing (when on tour/recording)?
Yeah I do, but I'm lucky that I only live about 20 minutes from the beach so when I'm home I can sneak down their once in a while and get in the water just to make sure I've still got it. I was heavy into it for about five years straight and at the end of that 5th, maybe 6th year I found myself on some really big waves and really doing it and then after that I thought to myself; "you know what, I can surf." Now I'm into, that become like my new obsession so when I'm home I find myself on my bicycle and trying to out do myself to go even further and further so I try and do a little bit of everything now.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
They kind of come and go, like for every album I immerse myself in a different type of genre or a new artist so that I can pick up a few new ideas and new styles and patterns. I think the one, most consistent influence would be myself. I hope that doesn't sound egotistical but I probably write about 80-100 songs per album and I listen to all of those demos. I have to listen to them really if I ever want to develop them and shape them into something that are worthy of being album material. I can go back 10-15 years ago and listen to the progression I've made and still learn from them. On this album I made I actually learnt from recordings I made in 1999 and that actually had a huge influence on myself, those recordings I made when I was a kid just shows how far I've come as an artist and its through this pushing of myself that I've been influenced into making the music I do today and that's what keeps me going. But going back I've been influenced by a whole number of bands, everything from the Dave Mathews Band, Belle & Sebastian, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Soul Coughing and Bob Dylan.
Is there one album you wish you'd made?
That's a tough one man; I guess In Rainbows is one of my favourites. Just the tambourine sound on 'Reckoner,' it's just extraordinary. That whole record is so extraordinary.