Sat May 5, 2012
Jason Mraz: A Breakup Record, Served With A Smile
Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 5:39 pm
Jason Mraz's 2008 single "I'm Yours" was a multiplatinum global hit. In fact, it set a record by staying on Billboard's Hot 100 chart for 76 weeks — more than any other song in the magazine's 51-year history.
Although Mraz's new record, Love Is a Four Letter Word, was written on the heels of a breakup, the songs are mostly sunny and positive. Mraz says he was more interested in making something relatable than in zeroing in on his own experiences.
"I always write to understand my place in the world," Mraz says. "I can see myself and my life unfold on the page, and I can understand my strengths, my weaknesses — I can see where I need to step up a bit. I can see where I need to forgive myself or forgive others. I definitely wanted to create a big-picture album that all humans could relate to with a universal message of love."
Mraz's sunny disposition doesn't always come naturally. The singer says that, for him, pursuing happiness is an active choice — not a default.
"It's from being melancholy and having my human down experiences that I learn, that I overcome, that I transform — and these realizations I put into song," Mraz says. "That's what I choose to put in my backpack and carry with me around the world."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
Coming up, Dick Cavett introduced Groucho Marx for his first appearance at Carnegie Hall 40 years ago today. Dick Cavett was there, and soon, he'll be here to tell that story. But first, a few moments with singer-songwriter Jason Mraz.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M YOURS")
JASON MRAZ: (Singing) But I won't hesitate no more, no more it cannot wait I'm yours.
RAZ: The song "I'm Yours" was a ubiquitous megahit of Jason Mraz. "I'm Yours" stuck to Billboard's Hot 100 chart for 76 weeks. That's longer than any other song in that chart's history. Jason Mraz's latest album is called "Love is a Four Letter Word." Soon, he'll launch a nationwide tour. Jason Mraz, welcome to the program.
MRAZ: Thank you very much.
RAZ: The first words on this record: I picture something, it's beautiful, it's full of life, and it is all blue.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FREEDOM SONG")
MRAZ: (Singing) I picture something. It's beautiful, it's full of life, and it is all blue. I see a sunset on the beach. Yeah, it makes me feel calm. When I'm calm I feel good.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Good.
MRAZ: (Singing) And when I feel good I sing.
RAZ: It just sets the tone. You know that this is going to be about positive things. And yet, I read this album was written after the end of a breakup.
MRAZ: Yeah, and during. You know, I always write to understand my place in the world. I can see myself, my life, unfold on the page, and I can understand my strengths, my weaknesses. I can see where I need to step up a bit. I can see where I need to forgive myself or forgive others. And yes, I was going through a breakup. I don't feel that necessarily defined this album or exactly who I am, but it certainly broke my heart open and asked me to say, who am I being and what can I offer.
You know, just because you break up with someone, I learned that you don't have to give up on the friendship. You certainly don't have to stop loving them. And I definitely wanted to create a big picture album that all humans could relate to with a universal message of love.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FREEDOM SONG")
MRAZ: (Singing) And when I feel good I sing. And the joy it brings makes me feel good. Good. And when I feel good I sing. And the joy it brings. I said come on along. I know you really want to feel our song. We've got some life...
RAZ: Your music is generally incredibly upbeat. I mean, you really - it's almost like you wake up in the morning and you're just embracing everything around you. I mean, you do live in California. You're a lucky man. There's a lot to embrace there. But I mean, it's reflected on this record. I mean, you are genuinely happy.
MRAZ: Yeah. I sort of came to that place on my last record, "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things," and I wanted to continue that message on this album. And I'll tell you, though, that disposition of being generally happy is a choice. And it's a practice that I've been practicing for quite some time now, because we could either choose to dwell on, say, much of the negative things we might see in the first 10 minutes of the nightly news, or we can choose to be grateful for that which we do have.
I certainly try not to identify so much with the melancholy and try to focus more on the positive. But I will tell you this. It's from being melancholy and having human down experiences that I learn, that I overcome, that I transform, and these realizations, I put into song.
RAZ: There's a song on this new record - it's called "Living in the Moment" - and it's almost an acclimation. I mean, the words on this record could be almost like it's your creed and your motto.
MRAZ: Yeah. Yeah, it very much is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVING IN THE MOMENT"')
MRAZ: (Singing) So I just let go of what I know I don't know. And I know I only do this by living in the moment, living my life easy and breezy with peace in my mind, with peace in my heart, peace in my soul. Wherever I'm going I'm already home. I'm living in the moment.
RAZ: I'm speaking with singer-songwriter Jason Mraz. His new album is called "Love is a Four Letter Word." Were those moments of melancholy moments that you experienced after you became famous and - or did those happen earlier?
MRAZ: You know, always. You know, they come and go when I least expect it. And much of it has happened after I became famous, because my life did change a bit, you know? Like, for much of my life, it was - I felt like it was a hustle, it was a dream. I - there was this tension, you know, will I make it? Can I do something in my life?
RAZ: I mean, you were a - you're a kid from a small town, Mechanicsville, Virginia.
MRAZ: Yeah. And in that town, we had great public schools. We had great music teachers, great drama teachers, great communication department, great arts department in general, visual art, photography, and so I felt always supported and nurtured in the arts so that as - by the time I graduated, I knew I could go out into the world and do something in the arts. And, you know, with that was always this yearning.
And then suddenly, it happens, and all your dreams come true, and you have a large audience. And suddenly, you feel like, OK, your audience is listening. And then suddenly, you're making money and you have a house, and you're no longer even in debt. I guess I relate it to what a mother must feel like when she experiences a bit of depression after a child is born. It still comes into my life. You know, this, like, OK, what next?
And I believe everyone has that, no matter what career you're in, whether you're on top of the game or you're still struggling. We can tend to fall back into this is-this-all-there-is kind of attitude. And I think that's just part of being human.
RAZ: Jason Mraz, you sing about your grandfather on the song "Frank D. Fixer." And your grandfather, I read, came to the United States from what is now the Czech Republic when he was a young man.
MRAZ: Right. Mm-hmm.
RAZ: Did you know him well?
MRAZ: I didn't know him very well, because he was a quiet man, and he passed away when I was in the ninth grade. But I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house growing up, and I knew that he was always working. He would work till late at night. I knew that he had quite a beautiful garden in the backyard that we ate most of the vegetables from at dinner, you know, big heirloom tomatoes and okra, which I wasn't a fan of the okra very much.
And my younger brother actually plowed through the okra once on a go-kart accident, which made me very happy.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MRAZ: But he always had grease on his hands, large hands. You know, he always had holes in his clothes because he was a welder. And he fixed local farm equipment and basically could fix all things. And I always wanted to tribute this man because his name was Frank Mraz, but he had this sign above his shop that said Frank D. Fixer. And it was a landmark in my hometown.
People said: Oh, go two miles past Frank D. Fixer and take a left, or people used it as a, you know, as a landmark in our town.
MRAZ: And for - to me, that made him quite famous.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRANK D. FIXER")
MRAZ: (Singing) Well, I wish I was a fixer. I would fix you up inside. I would build you a town if the world fell down. I wish I was that guy.
RAZ: That's singer-songwriter Jason Mraz. His new album is called "Love is a Four Letter Word." You can hear a few tracks from it at our website, nprmusic.org. Jason, thank you so much.
MRAZ: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.