By Jase Peeples
Originally published on Advocate.com July 07 2014 6:30 AM ET
It’s difficult to feel anything less than great the morning I hop into my car to interview Jason Mraz. With the windows down, left hand soaring through the wind, and his album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. playing over the car stereo, the drive quickly becomes a scene reminiscent of one of the surf-rock singer’s music videos as I cruise down Highway 101. Clear blue skies, a gentle breeze, and a perfect 82 degrees confirm even Mother Nature agrees it’s a Mraz kind of morning.
By the time I pull into the parking lot at Center Staging Studios in Burbank, I’m convinced I couldn’t feel more at ease than I already do. But when I finally walk through the door of Studio 10 and am introduced to Mraz, his soft-spoken voice and easygoing demeanor pull me further down a river of tranquility. It’s an effect the singer appears to have on everyone around him as he patiently answers questions from several people scurrying about the room, working to prepare the studio space for a segment that will be filmed with Mraz and his band later that day. I watch as one by one, each person who interacts with him leaves his orbit with a lighter step than before, and it becomes obvious that Mraz’s feel-good, “love everyone” mantra isn’t a manufactured marketing gimmick — it’s really his way of life.
A few short minutes later, as Mraz and I sit on opposite-facing black couches in a quiet back room of the studio, his face lights up when we begin discussing the ease with which many of his songs can be interpreted though an LGBT lens.
“I love it,” he says, noting that after the success of his track “I’m Yours,” he incorporated a “greater awareness” during his creative process that ensures his music appeals to a diverse audience. “That was probably the song that really opened my eyes and ears to it. That was the moment when I started to be more conscious of how and what I was writing — creating songs that are full of affirmations, celebrations, and optimistic views.”
Now, Mraz says, his recording process has what one might call an inclusion pass.
“Right at the end I ask, Can any human get on board with this? Can anyone, from any nation, any demographic, can they as a human being feel the humanity in this song?” he says. “I try not to make it about me specifically and keep in mind that it really is about what we as humans are feeling and going through.”
It’s a tradition that continues on his fifth studio album, Yes! (available July 15), and shines through on the collection’s lead single, “Love Someone,” which Mraz says he’s already heard stories of people using as a soundtrack to their marriage proposals.
“Anytime someone uses one of my songs for anything — a ceremony or a sacred moment — that to me is a high honor. I’m proud of the song at that point because I’m trying to write something for humans — whichever humans want to get on board and put this in their soundtrack to their soul’s development or spiritual lives.”
Mraz describes his latest album as “a group effort,” for which he collaborated with his current band, the all-female pop-rock group Raining Jane. “We’ve been working together for about seven years now and every year we get together for what we call ‘ladies’ weekend’ where we do anywhere from five to seven days of writing and recording — with no agenda — and we each emerge with songs to use in our own projects,” he explains. “But about a year ago we said, ‘Let’s just focus on our songs for a second and see if there’s a record here.’ So we did, and when we presented it, both our management and our label said yes within 24 hours – that’s kind of how we came up with the title of the album, Yes!”
“We feel that saying yes was the key to unlocking creativity and getting shit done, because if you say no to an improvisation, the scene is over,” he continues. “It’s also been a theme that led us to this point. Had these girls not said yes when I introduced myself to them eight years ago at a gig and asked if they would be interested in coming over and just jamming, [we wouldn’t have created this album].”
In addition to his music, Mraz has said yes to a number of philanthropic endeavors. In 2011 he established the Jason Mraz Foundation, which supports charities working in areas Mraz considers personal passions, such as environmental preservation, education, and worldwide human equality. LGBT civil rights are a component of human equality that is particularly dear to his heart, and Mraz admits it’s a view that formed the moment one of his best friends came out to him during his senior year of high school.
“When he came out to me it blew my mind,” he recalls. “I thought that was so courageous, because of the potential for abuse and the potential for violence — it was something that I worried about for him. But I also thought it was the coolest thing anyone could do, and from then on I knew I wanted to support him and anyone else who was courageous enough to just be themselves.”
In fact, he says he’s happy to hear some people have referred to him as an “honorary gay” in the past and credits his gay friends with influencing his growth as an artist.
“Steven, my friend who came out to me my senior year, was a huge Madonna fan. So I may know all the words to Bedtime Stories, Erotica, and a few more of her albums – and we may have watched Truth or Dare a thousand times,” he says as he melts back into the couch with a wry smile. “I thank him so much for turning me on to all of that, because it may have influenced me big time in who I’ve become now that I’m onstage, and since here I am now, with a bit of a platform and a microphone, it’s a no-brainer. I should be speaking up for some of my best friends, my management team, my employees, and many of my colleagues. We’re all in this together.”
“I’ve recently had this feeling that because we’re this really unique generation that has harnessed the power of the Internet, we have this ability to transform the world during our lifetime so that the next generation can thrive and has a head start,” he adds. “That means tearing down these walls, while at the same time being equally powerful and responsible in sustaining the fragility of our environment which sustains us.”
As we wrap up our interview and begin to head back to join the others in the studio, he continues to share his personal philosophy and hopes for the future. “By the time my children are born, I know it’s possible that they can grow up in a world where they don’t understand that there were ever any dividers between people and why we have the issues we do today. That’s my goal in this life. To just clean it all up so that by the time my kids are born and they’re adults they’ll only read about it in history books.”
It may seem like a lofty goal, but as Mraz points out, it all begins by saying a simple word: Yes.
Watch the music video for "Love Someone" below: