A big Yes! to Jason Mraz

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It’s hard to say no to Jason Mraz and his music as he keeps up the infectiously positive vibe and message in his newest record, titled after that mighty little word, Yes!

The American singer himself has had said yes to many firsts for his fifth studio album, now out in record bars nationwide under Warner Music. This is his first acoustic work and the first time to create an entire album out of his musical retreats (marked by free-flowing songwriting sessions over bonfire in his home in San Diego) with the all-female folk-rock band Raining Jane, whose “showmanship and musicianship” first impressed him at a festival in 2006.

Not that Jason has not said a resounding yes many a time in his platinum or multi-platinum certified career; in fact, the most important one was nearly 15 years ago, when he gave it all up to give his music dreams a go.

During an interview with select Asian media, including The STAR, in Taiwan recently, Jason recalled cashing in his college loans, moving to California and betting it all on himself. “It was a crazy thing to do. It was scary. But I just had a feeling that it would all work out.”

Five albums later, that leap of faith continues to reward him, whether through his Grammy awards, or his record-holder of a song in I’m Yours, or his jampacked performances, or even the special privileges afforded to him in airports whenever he travels. But the biggest reward of them all, according to him, is “joy.”

And that rings out throughout his new songs like Love Someone, Hello You Beautiful Thing, Long Drive or 3 Things. “I write songs to make myself feel better,” Jason also told reporters. The same thing can be said of his fans: They listen to him to feel good if not better.

In Yes!, Jason sings his signature themes — love, healing, faith, role in the enviroment, acceptance, letting go — but with Raining Jane’s lush harmonies backing his tenor, he comes up with a refreshing approach to a familiar territory.

Interestingly, Jason is also bent on taking a new approach to his concerts. From his humble origins in coffee shops, he has since played in arenas and amphitheaters around the world. Now, Jason plans on returning to smaller and more intimate venues when he hits the road with Raining Jane.

But — he might make an exception for his Filipino fans. Read on.

What was the main inspiration behind your latest album?

“I wish I could say there was a primary inspiration outside the fact that I love collaborating with Raining Jane. These are the musicians featured on the album. I wrote and recorded with these girls. The fact that they are women does sort of set them apart from the other bands I’ve collaborated with, and we are a family. We’ve enjoyed making music together for so long. Fans would recognize one of the first songs we wrote together, A Beautiful Mess (from the 2008 album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.), and ever since that song, we just enjoyed trying to recreate that experience again and again. So this album is a celebration of our love for each other and our shared interests in leaving a positive mark on the world. You know, sharing the little tools that we feel would work in transforming your day, mood, attitude and ultimately, your life.”

It was just last year when you came to the Philippines for a show (a very successful one at that) to promote your previous album Love is a Four Letter Word. Was it really your intention to immediately make a follow-up album?

“No, it just sort of revealed itself. I’ve been working with Raining Jane for many years. And while I was touring Love is a Four Letter Word. I was meeting with Raining Jane on the breaks and we were writing songs because we love writing songs. We were just tapping into something really powerful and we kept scheduling these meetings and then, more songs kept coming. And so just being excited by the work, I proposed the idea to the record label and to our team to let this be another record and everyone said yes! So, even when we were working on it, we didn’t really know we were working on an album, we just knew we were tapping into something special.”

From your songs to your writings on your blog and Twitter, you come across as a spiritual guy. How does that help your music-making?

“I would say that whatever spiritual work I do in my personal life usually ends up in the music and in fact, in many ways, the music is my spiritual work. I may not have an understanding of it in my youth but I’ve learned to understand it more through many years of practicing music. I feel that in life, we have conflicts, and most of them happen in our own heads, you know, fear, love, fear, love, just general conflicting arguments, or general decision-making that leads to conflict and dualities. When I was younger, I would give myself ease and comfort and rest by singing... And I would just sing and turn all that conflict into that oneness, just singing — just singing anything. I just needed to sing because it made everything else go quiet. I felt like I was in real communion with something divine.

“As I had gotten older, I found that if I can also have that communion, that one voice, but if I can also fine-tune my language so that I’m also saying something that is influential or inspirational or something that can empower me, then all the better. So, my love of music, my spiritual practice that is music, has only improved through the years by doing other spiritual work. I find that it’s all about taking that conflict and shutting it up. Many people do that through prayer, you just have one thing that you’re saying, or you can do meditation. I can do that through surfing where it’s about conscious breath and aligning yourself with one pure natural event. Yoga is a great form. So, I found all these other ways to commune with the divine, but music will always be my No. 1. All of it will end up in music anyway because that’s what gives me joy.”

You’ve always been vocal about your advocacies. And when you returned to Manila last year, you visited the local NGO Visayan Forum Foundation as a show of support for its work. Can you tell us more about that?

“I had the chance to visit them twice. I got wind of what they were up to through another organization and they pointed me to what I consider are modern-day heroes in the anti-slavery movement. It was basically a shelter for girls that have been rescued from inhumane servitude, sex trafficking, human trafficking, you name it. Those girls were bravely going after their traffickers and taking them to court. It didn’t seem like the place a young man would visit, but they were also very kind to let me in and shine a light on their work.

“Certainly, the survivors of the trafficking, their stories were unbelievable. All of them were under 18 years old, and they were telling me things that they were forced to do, and that made a huge impact on me. My outlook was changed incredibly knowing that those girls were affected due to the demand of sexual content... That was the biggest heart-opening experience from visiting with them.”

So, can we expect you again in the Philippines soon? And are we expecting a different concert experience since you said you intend to perform with Raining Jane in intimate venues rather than arenas?

“You wouldn’t expect me soon, but there is a great possiblity that we will be in the Philippines again and I’m bringing Raining Jane with me. If there’s one arena in the world that I would play right now, it would be the Smart Araneta Coliseum with Raining Jane. And I say that because I played there with (only) Toca Rivera three years ago and it was magical. I know I could play there with Raining Jane and it will still be magical. And I’d probably regret saying this because I might be asked to play in other arenas (hahaha) but there’s a special vibe... it’s probably the people. You know, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Filipino fans all over the world. I love knowing that they take their pride everywhere they go. There’s only one country in the world that is like that, and that’s Brazil. But the Filipino people are extraordinary in the light that they give, and I hope that it’s not just limited to me. I thank them for their listenership and the love that they’ve shown me and the love they continue to give to others.”



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