Hometown: Mechanicsville, VA
Web site: http://www.jasonmraz.com/
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Even the most incredible of journeys starts with a single step. For Jason Mraz, his life-altering journey began with a single word: no. No touring, no recording, no work for a year: "I said, I want to go to the grocery store again. I want to do my own laundry. I want to tend to a garden. I want to raise a cat."
Mraz came to the decision after a remarkable four years where he had seen his major label debut, "Waiting for My Rocket to Come" explode off the success of such hits as "Remedy (I Won't Worry)," "You & I Both" and "Curbside Prophet." Shortly thereafter, he returned with his Grammy-nominated, critically acclaimed "Mr. A-Z," which continued his chart success with "Wordplay." Throughout, his reputation as a tremendous live act soared.
But when he took a well-earned break, something unexpected happened: he rediscovered himself. After a few months, "I suddenly woke up and real songs started coming out of me," Mraz recalls. "Songs that I didn't plan on writing. But that just became a reflection of how I feel and the mood that I was in and these awakenings that I was having," he says.
The result is "We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things." his most self-assured effort to date. In true Mraz style, the 12 tunes are wrapped in clever, observant lyrics and strong, engaging pop melodies, but this time they are inspired "by these moments of self realization, self empowerment and self improvement. I was happy to be able to write an album at the same time I was coming back to earth."
Highlights include first single, "I'm Yours," a warm breeze of a song about finally giving into love and life's possibilities set to lilting island tempo. A demo of the song leaked out into the world a few years ago and has developed a cult following. "I didn't realize how powerful it was until we went to Sweden last summer and 6,000 people sang every word," Mraz says. "I'd never been to Sweden in my life. I thought, it's already got a life of its own from the demo, let's give people a great version of it. I feel like we finally got it right on this album."
Another highlight is "Lucky," a simple, endearing duet with new platinum singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat. "I got word that she was a fan and wanted to work together, so I immediately demanded her phone number," Mraz says with a laugh. He sent her segments of a love song that she and her guitarist Timothy Fagan completed.
Caillat then joined Mraz in a London studio where he recorded the album with producer Martin Terefe, best known for his work with Coldplay and James Morrison (who guests on the intricate "Details in the Fabric").
Terefe, along with songwriter/pianist Sasha Skarbek (who co-wrote James Blunt's "You're Beautiful"), also played a hand in co-writing some of the tunes with Mraz, including "Love for a Child," a searing autobiographical tale of Mraz's parents' split when he was five. "I didn't want to share the lyrics," Mraz confesses, "but I just let it rip and it wasn't until playback that I realized how important it was that I needed to write it."
While Mraz and Terefe deliberately kept the music stripped down, they added flourishes that distinguish "We Sing" from standard pop fare, including a gospel choir on "Live High," and operatic embellishments and a children's chorale on "Coyotes."
"Martin is such a fun guy," Mraz says. "He loves the quirkiness and loves to keep the pace going with little surprises so he's always willing to try my goofy ideas," such as bookending "Details in the Fabric" with real voice mail messages from Mraz's good friend and sometime co-writer Bushwalla.
The album takes its title from a piece of art by Glasgow-based doodle artist David Shrigley that Mraz saw in Scotland while traveling.
"What I love about mankind is that yes, we sing and we celebrate and we dance when we're foolish and we steal things," says Mraz, who asked Shrigley to design the album art. "It's hard to have a new idea in music, in fashion, the land we walk on. It's all recycled. I think to say we stole it is a lot more fun."
While on tour in Australia a couple years ago, Mraz opened his heart and soul to the little miracles that take place every day. "I was in Australia and a package was left for me at the hotel, full of books and CDs: Books on Buddhism, books on the Bhagavad Gita, on Christianity, Sai Baba's teachings and 'Autobiography of a Yogi.' All these sort of worldly religious books just appeared, no note - other than 'when you finish reading them, pass them along.'" Mraz dove into the books and world music, which led to his going to India and "just writing things I never thought I would write. To this day, I have no idea who sent me the package. This was one of the many major coincidences that caused me to say, 'This is who I am and this is why I have taken the time off the road and this is what I'm supposed to be writing about.'"
For an artist who is so well known for his clever, inspired way with words, it should come as no surprise that many of the songs for "We Sing" were born from a songwriting game he plays with a number of other artists, including noted Texas-based songwriter Bob Schneider. "Bob gives us a topic or a phrase and we have to turn that into a song and email it to everyone." The impressive verbal torrent that spills forth on "Dynamo of Volition," and once again shows Mraz's unmatched ability to sing at the speed of sound, came from being tasked to use the phrase "blind man's bike." Similarly, "Coyotes," "Butterfly," and "Lucky" all sprung to life after starting from songwriting challenges.
Lessons now learned from sages and prophets in all forms, Mraz is confident he won't lose his way again. "This album, I'm so excited to share it with people," he says, but adds, "I can't see myself getting too lost out there on the road. Every couple of weeks I'm going to go home for awhile and I'm going to squeeze my cat and do my laundry, say my thank yous and then I'll go out and do some more. There's certain new rules I'm playing by and a new me."
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