SOUND OFF Special Interview Exclusive: Jason Mraz Talks New Album, YES!
Today we are talking to one of the most idiosyncratic and popular recording artists of the new millennium all about his incredibly striking new acoustic album, YES!, the delightfully affable and incredibly gifted Jason Mraz. Espousing on the finer points of YES! and how the anomalous album was crafted from inspiration to creation to actual release, Mraz shares candid insights into the songwriting and production processes as well as offers some revealing autobiographical details on what informed many of the standouts on the stunning new disc, as well. Furthermore, Mraz outlines his relationship with vocal and musical quartet Raining Jane and how their collaboration formed not only the sound, mood, vibe and tone of the new album, but the title itself. Additionally, Mraz comments on some audience favorites that are recognizable to fans from his ongoing live shows as well as touches upon some tracks that will appear on future special editions of YES! Plus, Mraz opens up about specific songs and shines a light on how they were formed in the studio and in front of audiences worldwide, while also sharing his affection for the recent live concert taped at his own organic farm and the upcoming tour dates occurring in support of the new release. All of that, thoughts on a Jason Mraz jukebox musical and much, much more with a multi-Grammy Award-winning music superstar of the modern age.
YES! will be released on July 15. More information on Jason Mraz's YES! is available at the official site here.
Rise & Shine
PC: There is such a pronounced circuity to YES!, with "Rise" as the first song and "Shine" as the last song. Was sequencing especially important on this album or did you basically follow what felt best while figuring out the final running order?
JM: I definitely wanted the sequencing to be a big part of the character of this album - I think that's from having played years of live shows, where you want there to be a definite arc, you know? You want there to be a rise and a fall and a finish - and I wanted this album to have that same effect.
PC: It certainly does - the structure adds so much to the overall experience.
JM: I didn't want it to be sunrise to sundown, either - I wanted it to feel like sunrise to high noon. You know, you wake up... as you know, on a lot of my albums, I have songs that say, "Hey, wake up! This is it! This is our only shot! This is life!" It's all about: "How can we transform our thoughts and our attitudes to give ourselves the best life experience possible?" So, this album is another attempt to say just that. It ends with "Shine" as a reminder that we can shine a light on others; we can shine a light on ourselves; we can borrow light from others, too - don't be afraid to ask; we're all in this together - and when we all put our lights out there we can light this place up.
PC: Early morning to high noon is prime farming time, is it not? I only ask because of your booming organic farming business.
JM: [Laughs.] Yeah, I guess you're right. You definitely want to get out there early, before the high heat. For me, actually, I don't usually go back out again until around 8 o'clock, after everything has cooled down. High noon is actually a good time to come inside and do stuff like talk to you and work on music.
PC: You recently filmed a concert on your farm, as well.
JM: Yeah, I did.
PC: Are you going to release that concert in full at some point? Were all the Mraz Monday videos filmed on that night?
JM: Yeah, it was - it was all one night; just a couple of hours. Some friends came over and we just recorded it. We decided we were going to play the entire album from top to bottom and so that's what we did. We've gotten some really good feedback on it so far, too, so I am hoping that we will have an opportunity to put it all together and release it. My dad is obviously really hoping for it, actually...
PC: Why is that?
JM: Well, he was the first person to call after we put the first video from it up and he said, "Can I get a DVD of the whole night?" and, so, I am hoping I can give him that. It was a blast.
PC: That's definitely something to anticipate then.
JM: Also, since you asked, we actually recorded the album right there, as well - not outdoors; but, pretty much where the camera is stationed is the doorway to the studio where we recorded the album.
PC: How fascinating. A peek into the sacred creative space itself!
JM: We wrote most of the album right there and recorded most of it there, too.
PC: The rooster on "Back To The Earth" instantly reminded me of "Curbside Prophet", of course. Is that your real rooster?
JM: Yeah! The rooster is back, man! [Laughs.] The rooster lives in the backyard - his name is Handsome. He crows quite a bit, too - it doesn't even have to be morning. So, I decided that I would put a microphone out there and see if I could get him making some noise and put him on the album.
PC: "Shine" seems to evoke the more epic drama and emotional depth of songs from your MR. AZ era - circa 2006. Is it a new composition or does it originate back then?
JM: Well, so much of this album is courtesy of Raining Jane - it's the sound that the 5 of us make that has really helped this album come to life. And, inside of Raining Jane we have a cellist and a classical sitar player, so we have really been fortunate to be able to utilize those instruments in the writing and making of this record, especially on tracks like "Shine".
PC: It almost could be a Ravi Shankar song it is so unique and unusual - and very Eastern sounding in many ways, too.
JM: Also, for this album, I purchased a little Fender Rhodes keyboard that only plays the low notes - it's like a little bass. So, that song was kind of born from playing with the Fender Rhodes and having the sitar do its thing and then basing the lyrics on a poem by this 13th century poet. The original poem was about the relationship between the sun and the earth, but I twisted it a little bit and made it a longer story about the sun and the moon and how the moon didn't have illumination and was actually stealing light from the sun and so on. But, I've always loved that poem and one day the girls and I were just jamming and that song is what came out of it.
PC: It's so evocative.
JM: Thanks for saying that about my stuff from 2006, too - but, that type of song is just in my blood, I think. You know, I love stories; I love rap verses; I love the cosmos; I love acknowledging our spirit and kind of finding metaphors to help us get there. So, yeah - I think that I will always write those types of songs.
PC: Let's hope!
JM: I think the Ravi Shankar-ness of it all was the result of Raining Jane - especially Mona, our world class percussionist. We just let her go to town, banging on everything - dishes and pans and my grandmother's saucepan lid! I mean, a little bit of everything went into making that explosion at the end of the record.
PC: Your rapport with Raining Jane is amply evident on the album and also in that fantastic recent HSN special concert.
JM: Aww, thank you for saying that. I haven't seen it yet myself.
PC: A number of songs you have been performing in concert with Raining Jane unfortunately did not make the cut. Can you tell me a bit about "What We Love Is What We Become"?
JM: Yeah, "What We Love Is What We Become" - we love that song. I just think that we want to work on it a little bit more before we fully realize it for an album, you know? Hopefully, it will end up on our next record, or, if anything, it will probably end up in our live shows again. But, the girls and I have written a lot of songs over the years and it is hard to find the right sequence for an album and have everything fit, as we were talking about before.
PC: Of course.
JM: We love that song - we love it - but I just feel like it needs a little bit more work.
PC: Such as?
JM: Oh, maybe a better bridge or a better outro - something that could really take that song over the top.
PC: Are there any plans to do a live EP of YES! material?
JM: Well, I always try to put out some sort of a live album in between studio records. I am going to have Raining Jane with me all year on this new tour, so we will be recording our shows and that opportunity will be there. Of course, it's not on my schedule or anything yet, so I can't officially confirm a live album or anything, but we will be recording the shows and we most likely will be sharing some of it at some point.
PC: What about a deluxe edition of YES! with extra tracks?
JM: Yes, we have a couple of special bonus tracks coming out. We have this ultra-lounge, chill type version of "Love Someone" that we do that's very cool and I think that will be coming out as a bonus track. Also, there is a song called "Take The Music" that the Janes and I absolutely loved that didn't make the cut for the regular edition of the album, so we are putting that on the deluxe version, too. I can't say that there is going to be an official deluxe edition yet, but there will be bonus tracks released in various regions that hopefully will find their way onto some extended version of the album somewhere.
PC: Is "A World Without You" autobiographical at all? Have you ever seriously considered giving it all up like that?
JM: [Pause. Sighs.] I go through that all the time! All the time, man. I mean, I love what I do, but sometimes I just wish that I didn't do it at all. But, you know, I don't think I am alone in that - I think that anybody in any career feels that way; that's our human nature. So, yeah, it's autobiographical - it is what it is.
PC: Referencing back again to the sequencing of songs, in "Quiet" you sing "I will hold your hand," and the next song on the album is "It's Out Of My Hands". Intentional?
JM: [Laughs.] Is that true? I didn't even realize that!
PC: The country-rock sound of a lot of the tracks is a callback to "Curbside Prophet" but also seems to portend a new sound for you in general. Are you headed in that direction or are you just going to go wherever Raining Jane goes?
JM: Well, that sound is mostly a result of playing a 6-string guitar a lot on this album, I think. It just feels good to get a rhythm rocking on that thing, you know?
PC: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
JM: [Sighs.] It is tough to choose, but I think my favorite is probably "Long Drive". I really like that one a lot.
PC: Last time we spoke, "Frank D. Fixer" was your favorite song that you had recently written, so "Long Drive" is your favorite this time around. Does it have single potential, do you think?
JM: I don't know. I mean, the single world is its own sort of beast. For "Long Drive", I would just love that song to have the chance to be able to be heard. I think that, of all the songs on this album, that song really uniquely shows how powerful the marriage of myself with Raining Jane is - it's got their vocals and mine; the cello line; the guitar; Mona's infectious groove; it's got power, but it's also got sensitivity; and, it really shows what we as a band do. And, it's a unique, too! I think it really stands out. It doesn't sound like a formulaic tune that you may have heard, you know? And, that bass-line could only have come from Becky in Raining Jane! So, yeah - that's the one that really stands out for me. It's definitely one of my faves.
PC: Did you set out with the intention of this to be totally acoustic and a unique entry in your recording canon?
JM: Definitely - definitely. And, I've had many years working with Raining Jane ahead of time and got to learn from them how powerful keeping it simple can be. So, that was the real intention from the start - keep it simple and let the album express who we are, which is mostly acoustic. So, it becomes a powerful statement because of that.
PC: This is a totally thrilling and unique album and you should be incredibly proud of the accomplishment.
JM: I'm delighted you like it, Pat - thanks for your kind words.
PC: Last question: what about a Jason Mraz jukebox musical? You do have the longest-running single in Billboard history!
JM: [Big Laugh.] You never know, Pat! You never know.
PC: Thank you again for the amazing chat, Jason.
JM: I'm delighted I got to talk to you again today, Pat. Thanks to you, too. Bye bye.