You remember when you were in school and a rumour started with just a couple of you and by the end of the day a couple of hundred were talking about it. Jason Mraz over the years has had a chinese whisper affect on his musical career as one chance spotting at a Tracy Chapman, James Blunt or one of his own gigs has resulted in fans dragging along bus loads for his next show in town. To call Mraz a mere singer-songwriter is selling him short, sure he sings and writes the songs, but there's an entertainment factor that most singer-songwriter's lack. With long-term sparring partner Toca along for the ride they live up to the straight man / funny man of comedy's dropping out one liners in between songs as well as karaoke versions of Madness and Bob Marley alongside choice cuts for "Mr A-Z" and "Waiting For My Rocket To Come." Designer Magazine's Alex McCann caught up with Mraz to find out how his next album will be ditching the pop and going back to his acoustic roots.
Q: Designer Magazine have seen you step by step as
you've played the smaller Academy 3 and Late Room venues, but just last
week in Manchester you played the larger theatre venues with James Blunt.
How did that go for you?
A: I think the only thing that really ever affects a show is time. Three years ago I had really high expectations about everything, I was precious about everything and really nervous. Now i'm quite comfortable and it's all about the moment so when we go up on stage what we play very much depends on our mood on the day and the crowd reaction to it. We don't ever do setlists, the only thing we ever agree on is what song we're going to play first and we take it from there.
Q: How did the audiences react to you because on the
time we've seen you previously Jason Mraz has just been a little secret
and now with these James Blunt supports the audience must be really spreading
a lot wider
A: I guess that's time as well. We've had another record and a lot has spread through the internet and the promotion. The shows are still quite intimate though. I've tried to keep it so that it does spread by word of mouth rather than being pushed in people's faces all the time. And as well when I do too much promo and im pushed in people's faces I start to get uninterested in it all and I start to not care about what I do and I find it zaps my creative energy.
Like when I did the James Blunt tour for example, they
were supposed to make this banner that said "Jason Mraz" and it was supposed
to be quite small so it would hang just over my right shoulder like a little
thought bubble on the backdrop, as if to say everything that we're saying
on stage tonight is an expression of Jason Mraz. But they screwed it up
and made it as big as they could possibly make it. So I walk on stage and
there's this giant name, it wasn't in a speech bubble and it was just in
a giant oval, and it affected my performance. I hated it. I hated knowing
that there was this huge promotional thing sitting behind me. I actually
made them take it down after one or two songs because it was seriously
affecting the way I feel.
Q: The audience must have been strange though because
they're traditionally the sort of fans that buy one album a year
A: That's what they say. It was fun though. The way I look at that and the way I look at any show really is we've got a gig and whether we've got 20 minutes or 2 hours we go out there to entertain, whether that's James Blunt fans, Tracy Chapman fans or my own fans. There's always going to be one fan that loves it and one fan that's bored so I try not to think about how I'm going to win this crowd or how many CDs i'm gonna sell or what chart position i'm gonna go in at. That shit is just boring.
Q: "Mr A-Z" is out now. How did you start off with
the concept for that because to me it sounds more like a complete album,
a more cohesive album, than the debut?
A: The first album sounded individual because it was written over a scattered period. This time I wrote it all in about a 6 month period so all the songs can definitely be related to each other. But to be honest I still really didn't come up with a concept, I didn't write it saying this album is going to be about this and it's going to feel like this. I just took this 6 months worth of writing and chose my favourite songs out of it and did our best to produce it. Each track we did different versions of because at the moment i'm still working out how to make records. I'm learning though and I think another album or two and i'll finally have it figured out.
Q: You collaborated with Ainslie Henderson on the album.
How did you hook up with him?
A: I met Ainslie years ago in the States. He had a band called Suburbia and he was demo-ing some tracks with a friend of mine. I met those guys and they were great, they used to come to my shows and we became really good friends. So the first time I came over here Ainslie was the only guy I really knew in London. Over the past few years he's just come over to the United States to travel and what not. This was way before the Fame Academy thing.
He actually didn't want to have anything to do with the song, but he couldn't help it because he was guilty by association. We were writing the song when Ainslie was staying and he'd walk into the room and say "How about making love on economy" and he'd keep walking in with different lines. So when it was all done he was like I don't want to be associate in anyway. I was like screw you dude, your names going on there.
I'm gonna find out what he's doing tomorrow when I go
to see him. He's up in Edinburgh continuing his writing and taking time
to figure it out. I think that's a noble thing to do. I think my album
would be better if I could spent more time, but I always like to make an
album and then put it out. Sometimes i'd just like to sit down and really
think clearly and work out what I really really wanna do.
Q: Do you feel with your albums you recorded them and
then moved on by the time you've got round to touring them?
A Oh yeah, definitely. By the time you've got round to recording them the songs were written in this era, recorded in this era and then by the time you're out on the road you're thinking about the next album. It's weird to have people shouting "You're the Geek In The Pink" and play this and play that. It's like they're over man.
Q: I think we asked this last time, but i'm interested
to know whether your perception has changed. Do you see yourself as a singer-songwriter,
an artist or an entertainer?
A: I like to think of myself as an artist you know. Some days I like to think of myself as a writer, but then i'm a performer as well. I used to go to musical theatre but that entertainment aspect of the show isn't because I want to bring in some musical theatre, I get the audience involved because I hate going to shows where the audience isn't included. I really hate those singer-songwriters where all they'll do is tell you what the song is about, it's like f**k you I don't wanna know what the song is about, I have my own idea of what the song is about. When I started doing my shows I couldn't help but involve the audience because we're all in this together.
Q: Is it harder on the bigger shows like tonight, trying
to interact with the people at the back and at the sides?
A: It can be. But just when I think it's harder, we did a show in Ireland a couple of days ago and it just seemed to be so easy to capture all the people. I don't know why, maybe it was just one of those nights, because sometime it is harder. It all depends on the day really and how willing people are to accept you.
Q: "Geek In The Pink" has been a major breakthrough
for you in the US. It's the next single here - tell our readers about it?
A: It's a song to celebrate who you are. In my case it was my inner awkwardness. I always felt small and less fit than your typical dude and never was as aggro as your typical rapper. I just always felt like a geek, but at the same time I still felt pretty cool, so I thought i'd write a song that made be feel cool about being a geek. It's just a fun song really, nothing more than that.
Q: That's the thing, you never take yourself "too"
A: But I do. I really do. I wouldn't be here having this chat if I wasn't serious about it.
Q: Have you got an idea of where you want to go in
the future....the 3rd studio album?
A: It's going to be acoustic because that's the writing process i'm in now. When I got signed to Elektra 3 or 4 years ago I was an acoustic act and I spend about a year and half writing songs and then the first album came out and it was pop. And because it was so successful I kinda got stuck with this whole pop thing for a while and I learnt how to do that you know. I learnt the process of how to do that so I made another record that was also pop but I felt was a little bit more dirty. Now I feel it's time to go back and get some perspective of where I was at as an acoustic act. I think now having the years of experience I think i'm not ready to make an acoustic album, cos had I made an acoustic album 3 years ago I don't think everything would have been right or ready.
Q: So is the acoustic album just going to be you and
A: Well no. It will definitely feature more Toca than the other albums, but it's all dependent on the songs. If it calls for light percussion, piano or strings then I still want to be able to do that. But I don't want to clutter the album with keyboards or electric guitars. I want to strip it down to the bare basics and let the song do the work.
Q: Lyrically will it be more serious or will it still
contain the fun elements?
A: I think there will always be that fun element. I can't get away from that
Q: Cos live it just is you and Toca and the interplay
A: If there was a way I could capture that on a record I would. Hopefully one day we will
Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride www.karenmcbride.com
"Mr A-Z" is out now on Elektra / Atlantic
Jason Mraz tours the UK in May
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