Jason Mraz talks up the good vibes of his forthcoming album, “Love is a Four Letter Word”
A Virginia native who cut his musical teeth on the same San Diego coffeehouse circuit that produced Jewel, singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, who recently spoke via phone from a “high tech transportation vehicle” in New York City, is all about the good vibes. That much is apparent on his new album, Love is a Four Letter Word. Produced by Joe Chiccarelli (The White Stripes, Christina Perri, Young The Giant), the album which features some pretty upbeat arrangements on tracks such as the breezy “The Freedom Song” and the semi-acoustic ballad “Everything is Sound.”
It’s been four years between albums. Why such a long time?
People always say four years but I think of it as two years. I worked for two years after the album came out. We went on the road six or seven times. In 2010, I continued to travel. I went to Brazil. I got turned on to the power of song and how it can transcend geographical borders and different languages. That woke me up to the fact that I could be a humanitarian. I saw how my songs came into people’s lives and they took them on to be their own and they were performed at weddings and used in videos and what not. It woke me up to the power of songwriting and how it can empower a community of listeners or the masses. I wanted to get involved and share some of the attention I was getting with some great charities I was supporting. I started chasing foundations. That was fun. I had been living in this bubble of music for so long, and I was able to step outside of that.
When did you find time to write the new album?
In 2011, it was all about writing and recording this new album, which we completed in December. I wanted to explore what that word [love] was and why we use it for some many things and why it means so much to some and so little to others. It all came together with the artwork and I saw the word love in those shapes. I thought “If I can see love in those shapes, then I should be able to see love in someone else or the world around me. I know it was a choice. That was the concept of the album and I wanted to write about the choices we make in life and choosing to see the world as a beautiful place and choosing to stay in a relationship or not. Regardless of the outcome, you don’t have to give up on love. Those all became the themes of the new album. I’m happy with the outcome. I had a great producer and a great band.
Were the songs for Love is a Four Letter Word written over a long stretch of time or just in one quick burst?
The majority of them were in a burst starting last summer in May 2011 and there were a few that I have been tinkering with in 2010 as well. I’m always tinkering and there are some that I’m tinkering with now that may end up on an album six years from now.
Songs such as “Living in the Moment” and “The Woman in Love” have a positive vibe to them. Are they reflective of your state of mind these days?
Yeah, absolutely. In order for me to get 12 songs on a record, I have to write about 80 songs. I wrote about 80 songs and about 50 of them are really sad or depressing and weird. I have to work through that stuff. My goal is to put out something that’s positive and upbeat. I do acknowledge the darkness if necessary and the melancholy but not in a way that I dwell on it. It’s just more of an acknowledgment. That happens. I don’t want to say, “I’m just a negative person. I’m sad. I am lonely or depressed. Those are affirmations that make you sad lonely or depressed. I’d rather be cautious. In the song “I’m Yours,” I’m affirming something positive. I tried to do that on this album as well.
I like the tune “Frank D. Fixer.” Is that one based on a real person?
Yeah, he’s my granddad. He had a sign hung up in the shop that had those words on hits. He was a handyman and a do it-yourselfer. He would do everything at home to support the family. He worked in an era of the do-it-yourself mentality where you grew your own food if you had the space. It’s better for the planet. That’s better than shipping food all around the world. It was an age where you recycle and repurpose and reuse and reduce. That’s more important now than ever.
I think the arrangements on the new album are terrific. Can you take credit for them?
My produce and I both were involved in the equation. I would come in and perform on acoustic guitar and we would spend a couple of hours playing through and churning out different possibilities. It was teamwork in building up these parts so that people wouldn’t step on each other’s melodies. We wanted to create a bed for these songs to rest in. It was a fun process.
It sounds more involved than your other studio albums.
Yeah. Joe [Chiccarelli] is a great producer and phenomenal engineer and really pays attention to sound quality. We did numerous versions of each song. With the last album, we often did just one version of each song. We definitely spent more time on this one.
Tell me a bit about your background. At what point did you move to San Diego and were you a musician before moving?
I was an aspiring musician at the time I moved to San Diego. I had maybe 15 songs in my backpack. I had a beat up guitar and a dream and I was living on the leftovers of my youth. Once I got out to California and onto the coffee shop scene, I knew I could make a home there and maybe live off tips. Because I was in a new land, I was constantly inspired by the natural landscape and crazy people and their crazy ideas. It was a romantic life for me, pursing a dream. That’s when things took off and I found a niche.
Your songwriter and singing sounds completely natural. Do those things come naturally to you?
Yeah, it did. I knew since I was a little kid when I loved putting two chords down or even one chord down and using my body as an instrument. I realized that words could be as important as the notes. I wasn’t a great student in school and once I started doing music, I wanted to pay more attention to structure.