“We Sing,” released in March, featured a demo of his newest, supremely catchy hit, “I’m Yours.” “We Dance” just came out, and “We Steal Things” will be released alongside the album.
“I promised a lot of people I would be making an acoustic project,” he explains. “My albums are always big pop records, and I kept saying I’d make an acoustic project. And of course when the album was finished, it was probably the funkiest thing I’ve ever done. So by releasing the EPs it fulfills that promise and lets people in on the process. Just like the song ‘I’m Yours’ had its own life. That was a demo that got all around the world and was originally played in Honolulu. I’m always happy to share the demos because there’s so much spirit that gets captured the first time you write and record a song. It’s a way to reintroduce myself to the world.”
It’s been close to three years since we last heard a studio recording from this enormously talented artist. Blessed with one of the best voices in contemporary pop music, Mraz has beguiled critics and fans alike with his catchy hooks, sleek melodies and smart lyrics.
As a young artist keenly aware of the shifting sands of 21st-century music making, he encourages fans to record his shows and boldly embraces downloading.
“I’ve always encouraged people to bootleg shows and download shows, anything you can find on the Internet, it’s yours,” he says. That’s sort of what the title’s (of the new CD) about. I look at the music industry shrinking and music being free as the first step in an evolution into a less materialistic version of humanity. I love that, and I get to play a role in that. I get my reward from the songs themselves, and I make a living singing songs and from the generosity of fans buying tickets.”
Released in 2002, his debut album, “Waiting for My Rocket to Come,” eventually sold more than a million copies.
“It was pretty phenomenal, I didn’t expect that to happen,” he reports. “It was mind-blowing. I say my thank yous every day. Driving back from the store, I come home and, oh my gosh, I live here, in a house, and that’s because we sold a million records. I was prepared to sleep on my friend’s couch for the rest of my life.”
Mraz’s Grammy-nominated sophomore release “Mr. A-Z,” showcased a maturing talent. Gifted with a knack for composing humorous material, it featured the irresistible “Wordplay,” a satirical detailing of the tribulations of crafting a “follow-up.”
“I am the wizard of oohs and ahs and fa la las,” he sings, tongue in cheek.
“I wrote that album in the thick of being in the business on buses and in hotel rooms and airplanes,” he recalls.
“‘Wordplay’ was a song of fighting for me while being in the industry. This (new) album, I made sure I had a lot of time off before I wrote it to not be drowned and just be floating on top.”
Another outstanding track, “Did You Get My Message,” has a jaunty feel that would make Paul McCartney proud, and a theatrical production reminiscent of Queen.
“Around the time I recorded ‘Message,’ I had been asked to do a song for a Queen tribute album, so that was definitely in my mind,” he notes. “I was listening to a lot of Queen at the time, and also Paul McCartney. I was house hunting and all I listened to was Paul McCartney’s ‘Ram’ … (he sings) ‘looking for a home in the country.’ ”
Mraz loves eliciting smiles and uplifting folks with his sunny sound.
“Every time I sing a positive song and a positive message, I can see the effect it has on people,” he says. “I want to do that again, I become sort of addicted to it. I do have low moments and write songs about sadness and tragedy, but as a touring artist, those aren’t the songs I want to play night after night. I’d rather relive the experiences of optimism and the experiences that allowed me to grow and made a difference to my life.”
Hailed as one of the most promising singer-songwriters of our time, Mraz has been invited to open shows for Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.
“Probably the coolest part was being able to say, ‘Stick around and coming up next, the Rolling Stones,’ and the audience screaming,” he says. “The audience had played so much money to see the Stones, they didn’t care who was opening up. We did five shows and I got to introduce my mom to the Stones.”
Dylan played a primary role in his creative evolution and he sings “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” in concert and on a tribute CD. “Two or three years into playing guitar, I stumbled across the ‘Basement Tapes,’ ” he recalls. “I went to see a couple of shows and I didn’t understand a word he was saying, but everybody was singing along. So I went and bought a couple of records and got lost in his work and realized how powerful his words were. As a singer, I wanted to be able to write and he played a huge role in that.”
An engaging live performer, he likes to have fun on stage. “Mraz’s sense of humor is, alongside his voice, his greatest asset,” noted an Oakland Tribune review. “Trained in musical theater before diving into the pop fold, Mraz is a truly funny, clever guy whose patter is almost as entertaining as his songs.”
During his shows he often makes up a song from audience suggestions.
“I ask for phrases and words from the audience,” he explains. “We have a song called ‘Random Topic,’ where the verses aren’t written. So you ask the audience during the chorus what the topic is and next verse is about that. It’s a great way to keep things fresh and exciting.”
Asked what he hopes audiences gain from his music, he suggests: “I hope they might be inspired somewhat to do whatever deep down they want to do. Because that’s what music did for me. I met someone once who quit his job to become a photographer, and now he’s one of the best and well-respected wedding photographers in Boston.
“I could have easily been afraid to chase this dream and been afraid of failing, and could have kept to a typical corporate job in Virginia where I grew up, and played it safe. But I didn’t because I saw the romance of a touring musician and I wanted to get out of town and write things. So I want to pay that message forward. And I hope people get love out of the music, I hope they feel the love in it, and know that life is about something bigger than us.”
The 27th annual Maui Chamber Music Festival opens on Friday with a concert at Kihei Lutheran Church, featuring an ensemble of internationally known musicians and rising stars. Concerts will also be presented at historic churches in Makena, Hana and Lahaina.
Among the acclaimed musicians assembled by festival directors, pianist Katherine Collier and violist Yizhak Schotten, are pianist Ralph Votapek, Gold Medalist of the first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and winner of the prestigious Naumburg Award; and Chester String Quartet members Aaron Berofsky (violin), Kathryn Votapek (violin), Amadi Hummings (viola) and Tobias Werner (cello).
Ralph Votapek has made hundreds of appearances with most of the major American orchestras, including 16 appearances with the Chicago Symphony. He has performed in recital and with orchestras in London, Lisbon, Paris, St. Petersburg, Kiev and in the Far East.
Praised by the Boston Globe as “one of the best and brightest of the country’s young string quartets,” the Chester String Quartet has earned rave reviews from audiences and critics throughout the United States, Canada, Latin America and Europe.
Friday’s “Bold and Beautiful” program features Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Bruch’s Three Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 83; Chopin’s Ballade for Piano No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52; and Schuman’s String Quartet No. 1 in A Minor.
On Saturday, the “Mostly Mozart” program at the Makawao Union Church features Mozart’s Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, K.498, “Kegelstatt”; and Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A, K. 581 and Haydn’s String Quartet in C, Opus 74 No. 1.
A “Festival Favorites” concert on Sunday in Lahaina at the Waiola Church Keopuolani Hall includes Mozart’s Trio for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, K.498, “Kegelstatt”; Perkinson’s “Blue’s Forms” for Solo Viola; Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano; and Franck’s Piano Quintet.
And finally the “Sunset Soiree: Romantic Splendor” program on Monday at the Keawala‘i Congregational Church in Makena features De Falla’s Suite Populaire Espagnole for Cello and Piano, Brahms’ Sonata for Viola and Piano in F Minor, Op. 120 No. 1; and Franck’s Piano Quintet.
• Concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. except Monday’s in Makena, which starts at 7 p.m. Suggested donation is $20 adults, $5 students.
• Contact Jon Woodhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every time I sing a positive song and a positive message, I can see the effect it has on people. I want to do that again, I become sort of addicted to it. – Jason Mraz
Atlantic Records / BILL ZELMAN photo
Fact BoxAt A Glance
• WHAT: Jason Mraz concert. Paula Fuga will open.
• WHERE: Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
• WHEN: 7:30 tonight
• TICKETS: $35, $30 and $25, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469, www.mauiarts.org.