Looking through Jason Mraz’s discography, it’s difficult to find many songs that are dispirited or brokenhearted. His music is, for the most part, all sunshine and optimism, the perfect soundtrack for a lazy afternoon on a California beach. Even the title of his latest album – “Yes!” – radiates positivity.
So it’s somewhat disarming to hear him describe himself as “a pessimistic and grumpy person, generally,” which immediately deflates the (admittedly unrealistic) notion that Mraz’s personal disposition is as perpetually cheerful as that of his music. If anything, writing songs is a form of therapy for him.
“I’ve tried therapy, and that just bums me out even more,” Mraz, who plays Spokane on Wednesday, said during a recent phone interview. “Music sets me free. I can close my eyes and sing and I just lift off, and I feel so much higher than any other program could offer. … Positivity isn’t just an ideal. It isn’t something that you can easily sing about. It’s actually an achievement.”
In his early efforts, Mraz reminded us it was “all about the wordplay,” scatting and bebopping his way through nimble, entendre-laced lyrics on coffee shop-friendly pop tunes like “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry),” “I’m Yours” and “I Won’t Give Up.” His newest songs are still spirited and occasionally mischievous, but “Yes!” is a quieter, more assured record than his older releases. The Mraz of 10 years ago was a fedora-sporting wise guy; here he’s unapologetically romantic and unblinkingly sincere.
He wrote and recorded “Yes!” with Raining Jane, an L.A. four-piece that has acted as his backing band on this tour. Mraz, who has played with the band before, says the collaboration came naturally.
“You get together, you pull out your guitars and you talk about life,” he said. “You go back and forth with someone and you go deep, and you heal parts of yourself through that process. I do that a lot more now than when I started. Of course, when I started I didn’t know too many people, and the collaborations I did do were somewhat forced – someone pairs you up and you have to get to know a stranger in a few minutes. Through the years, I’ve found kindred spirits that I feel I connect with and can go on these inner journeys with.”
Mraz’s “Yes!” tour has already taken him all over the world this year, but he says he doesn’t notice any differences between playing to a crowd in Europe and playing to one in, say, the Pacific Northwest.
“Music is a human experience,” he said. “You can say, ‘It’s great to be in Spokane,’ and everyone will cheer because they have pride in their city. But what it comes down to is, do all these humans in this room relate to me? Do I relate to them? And through music and through harmony and the union of our voices, we can find that we all do relate. … It takes us to these places that everyone, whether you’re in South Korea or Washington state, get to participate in.”
Considering Mraz became a mainstream radio staple in his mid-20s, it only makes sense that his music would mature over the years. Although there’s a vast stylistic gulf between his first album and his latest one – Mraz himself says he “doesn’t understand” some of his older material anymore – he says there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about his music: There’s joy in it.
“When I started, the emphasis may have been on joy, but I didn’t have the vocabulary and life experience to express all of my understanding of it,” Mraz said. “A lot of what happens in the world makes us feel defeated already. I like that there can be joy in music and there can be messages that empower us. That was an intention very early on, but I feel like I’m finally learning how to simplify that message.”
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