Sometimes the experience of watching an artist can be truly spiritual. Of all the artists I have ever had the pleasure of listening to, none have touched me quite the way that one singular artist has. Now before I lose you, let me say that although the artist I am talking about is well known by all, you may not realise just how long he has been around for, or how inspirational his music has been; perhaps because in recent years the media have often defined him by one particular song. So no, this article will not be an ode to the Jason Mraz who wrote ‘that’ song, but rather the young artist who built a following in the late 90s and early 2000s by playing coffee shops and bars; an artist who is known as much for his music as he is for turning his concerts into nights of mischief and laughter.
I was 17 when I first began listening to Mraz’ 2002 album Waiting for My Rocket To Come. I remember listening to songs like The Remedy and Waiting for my Rocket while doing my homework, and waiting for them to come on the radio so I could add them to my mix tape. When I was growing up access to music was a much more personal experience than it is now; you couldn’t just go online and stream music on Spotify. Likewise, YouTube wasn’t the phenomenon that is has become. If you wanted to own those 3 minutes of emotional heartache or uplifting choruses you had to go out and search for them, and this is exactly how my love affair with Jason Mraz began.
At the age of 20 while on holidays in Currumbin, I was walking back from the beach to a friend’s house when I passed by a tiny little op shop. Walking through the narrow rows of second-hand wares I saw a box on the floor full of cd singles, one of which was The Remedy. From memory I think this dusty little gem was my introduction to the hauntingly thoughtful The Boy’s Gone, and Curbside Prophet -which explored Mraz’ talent for storytelling and boppy acoustic rhythms.
Over the years it has always disappointed me when people judge Mraz solely on one song (I’m Yours) – which mind you is probably one of my least favourite. I want people to discover the artist who I have grown to admire so much during my life; an artist whose wit, extraordinary talent for storytelling, spontaneity and positivity is so much bigger than one particular song.
The thing that gets to the heart of me is the way in which Mraz’ songs make me feel and how they have been the soundtrack to my life. Each song impacts me in a different way; sometimes filling me with excitement, igniting nostalgia for memories of the past, or making me reflect on the new memories I want to create. I remember the times I’ve slow danced the mornings away with a partner, moving around in a sleep deprived, giddy haze. Those long nights spent without a loved one, lying on my bed listening to ‘Sleeping to Dream’, Christmas holidays spent with family in the sun, and the nights I’ve driven hundreds of kilometers with his entire back catalogue playing. Each album is filled with music that is thoughtful, witty, spontaneous and dynamic; coming together to move, inspire, amuse and heal.
Below are some of my favourite songs from Mraz over the past decade.
Mr Curiosity (Mr A-Z, 2005) Although a magnificent song full of creative storytelling, chilling falsetto’s and delicate piano, it wasn’t until I saw Mraz perform this at the Sydney Opera house in 2011 that I fully appreciated just how beautiful it really is. Seated before us on piano, the song unfolds in the most amazing ways, incorporating elements of classical music and opera-style vocals.
Below is a video I took from the performance, which is truly captivating (apologies for the person coughing behind me!).
Equally suprising, and hilarious, was Mraz’ improvisation during the classical section. If you listen carefully you will also notice during the classical section that he adds a little comic relief. Mid vocals, we hear him sing (in perfect opera-style vocals):
“Oooohhh take it fuckinnngg easyyyy…”
I love that even when he has the audience spellbound in the palm of his hand, he still can’t resist adding that cheeky element to the performance.
Older Lover Undercover (From The Cutting Room Floor, 2001)
I chose this video because it’s so honest… A young and goofy Mraz singing and having a ball with a little crowd in Java Joe’s. He’s still finding his voice, but he’s having the time of his life. I also love the spontaneous rapping from the guy in the audience!
Sleeping to Dream (A Jason Mraz Demonstration, 1999)
Another favourite of mine, Sleeping to Dream is the perfect companion for a night of reflection. The lyrics are thoughtful and beautiful, creating a perfect dreamscape for the loneliness felt when you’re apart from the one you love.
“I found myself in the riches Your eyes, your lips, your hair well you were everywhere out there/ But I woke up in the ditches, I hit the light and I thought you might be here but you were nowhere well you were nowhere… Sleeping to dream about you and I’m so damn tired/ Of having to live without you… It’s just a little a lullaby to keep myself from crying myself to sleep at night…”
Childlike Wildlife (A Jason Mraz Demonstration, 1999)
The vocal play and scatting in this song is just one of the elements that really makes this track amazing. It’s what Jason does best.
“Oh the smell and tastes of the past nights
Well they’re still locked up in my gentle jaw…
The madness of slow motion as you move your legs to walk
I’m very much aware of this madness when you talk… “
Love For A Child (We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things, 2008)
Written about his parents divorce, this track is an honest thought exploration into the loss of innocence as a child, and reflects on the changes that Mraz went through following this event in his life.
“What about taking this empty cup and filling it up with a little bit more of innocence
I haven’t had enough it’s probably because when you’re young
It’s okay to be easily ignored
I’d like to believe it was all about love for a child.”
You Fuckin’ Did It (LOVE is a FOUR letter word, 2012)
With lines like ‘You touch me like an iPhone application/ Move me like a smooth jazz music station’ and ‘You’re like my laughing gas, You got the cat to dance/ You’re like Lance on a mountain in the Tour de France…’ this song is a fast-paced spoken word jam that shows Mraz and Toca doing what they do best. A partnership of comedy and wordplay. A definite must see!
(Note: Skip ahead to 2:05 to listen to the song).
Song A For Friend (Mr A-Z, 2005)
“Well you’re magic he said/But don’t let it all go to your head
Cause I bet if you all had it all figured out/ Then you’d never get out of bed
Well no doubt/ Of all the things that I’ve read what he wrote me
Is now sounding like the man I was hoping to be…”
This has long been a favourite of mine. No matter the number of years which pass, this song has never failed to resonate deeply within me. The layering of vocals, the way they sustain, echo and sink within my soul is truly spiritual. It’s a song that builds really well, and it’s that final return to the chorus at the end that absolutely kills me. Exploding from that quiet place of reverence which I am resting in, I am on fire, and that’s where he ultimately has me. No matter where I start the track….the beginning… half way through…a minute in…I fall in love in an instant. It’s one of those songs I never want to end.
Those who have followed Jason’s journey over the last decade will be familiar with the way in which both he and his music have progressed. While his songs have always been predominantly positive I’ve noticed a definite shift in his music in the last 5 years, and although the humorous cheeky songs are still there (such as ‘You Fucking Did It’), for the most part his music has become a vessel for love, positivity and healing. And within all of this you will find that women, are central to Mraz’ music. The beauty of loving a woman, earning her love and fighting by her side is the heart of almost every song he writes.
I love the way that his lyrics manage to paint a balanced view of relationships that neither put a woman down, nor put her on a pedestal. Likewise, women are not passive playthings for him to sing about, but rather intense, charismatic and dynamic beings.
“Any melodramatic role is just a garment of the soul/ I respect your nakedness and the way that you unfold/ You’re just another older lover/ And you’re undercover” – Older Lover Undercover
“‘This is the most unusual story, of the most unusual girl/ She’s the paint in the picture, of a most unusual world/ She can crawl out of a frame, while she’s hangin’ on the wall/ And she’s callin’ my name, she’s not so usual” – Not So Usual
“She was the girl with the broadest shoulders
But she would die before I crawled over them
She is taller than I am
She knew I wouldn’t mind the view there
Or the altitude with a mouth full of air
She let me down the doubt came out
Until the now became later” – Please Don’t Tell Her
“You’ve got the best of both worlds
You’re the kind of girl who can take down a man
And lift him back up again
You are strong but you’re needy
Humble but you’re greedy…
Your style is quite selective
Though your mind is rather reckless
Well I guess it just suggests
That this is just what happiness is” -A Beautiful Mess.
“I want to be the one who will help you ignore Mr. Loneliness leaning his head into your door/ I’m hoping you can feel me, I’m hoping you can feel me in your chest/ I’m hoping that you notice how you’re blessed -Who’s Thinking About You Now
If I’m completely honest I must admit that Jason’s latest album ‘LOVE is a Four Letter Word’ is a little happy sappy in parts for me, but at the end of the day I’m still a strong supporter of what he aims to achieve through his music. He’s not just putting out music for the hell of it, and with his latest album selling hundreds of thousands of copies (over 100,000US in its first week) it’s evident that the world also recognises the power behind his craft.
In my life I have been lucky enough to experience the healing sounds of Jason Mraz live, not once but twice. The first was in 2011, where I saw him perform acoustically at the Sydney Opera House with Toca Rivera on percussion. It was such a memorable gig in my mind, filled with memories of running in the rain outside the Opera House, skipping a turn style at the train station with my girlfriend and running along the water’s edge in our dresses (reports may confirm we hadn’t purchased any train tickets – but I can neither confirm nor deny this), and getting so deliriously ecstatic during the show that we started yelling like teenage girls.
The performance I witnessed that night was truly spiritual; the way Mraz’ voice projected and echoed to the core of every person in that 360 degree room was something you just had to experience. I was so entranced I barely took a photo that night, and if you know me well, that says all that needs to be said
In March this year I was lucky enough to see Mraz again, this time at the 24th annual Bluesfest in Northern NSW. I went along not knowing quite what to expect, but confident that it would be a night to remember. My friend and I managed to sweet talk our way out of work early on Easter Thursday to make the concert, and during the night the one thing we kept coming back to was how lucky we were to experience such a show.
I was glad I’d gotten to the Bluesfest tent 45 minutes early that night in order to secure myself a spot front of stage, because the next 90 minutes brought me to my knees emotionally. In that moment just before Mraz began to sing, with the smell of incense drifting through the crowd (a welcome change from the usual smell of weed that drenches the air at festivals) I felt my heart stop in my throat. In that moment, the band launched into a new song written especially for the festival; a positively grooving reggae track about the power of music.
“Music is the quickest way to heaven
It’s the source of all creation
Listening to music will change your DNA son…
Love is what energizes me
There is love within the rhythm I am breathin’
I take the music! In everywhere I go…”
Unlike the intimate little Sydney performance I saw in 2011, this year Mraz brought his entire band with him, which included horns, violins, guitar, bass and the incredibly fierce, sexy and strong Mona Tavakoli on percussion. I was somewhat initially skeptical about seeing Mraz perform without Toca Rivera, his sidekick for more than a decade, however I was pleasantly surprised by Tavakoli. Seated in amongst her array of percussion instruments, she is a fierce sight to behold. With her head down, she attacks her instruments with animalistic passion, a smile peeking out from beneath a mass of thick, dark curls.
Like Mraz, Tavakoli is also very much involved in the community and is the co-founder of Los Angeles ‘Rock & Roll Camp For Girls’, a NFP organisation that encourages young women to find their voice through music. I believe very much that we as humans have been created to make a difference in the world around us, and it’s beautiful to see two souls such as Tavakoli and Mraz doing what they can to spread positivity. Tavakoli uses her entire body during her performances. From the stomp of her foot, to the rattle of a tambourine in her hand, the violent stab of her head and the quirky little dance routines she performs with Mraz, she exposes everything that makes her who she is. Passion, intensity, positivity, strength…Tavakoli uses her body to express herself completely, but not in the way that many mainstream female artists resort to. There is no need to exploit your sexuality when you know who you are, when you learn the truth of how music speaks.
Likewise Mraz proved to everyone young and old, that good music can stand on its own two feet. Dressed in a black shirt, some humble cargo pants and his trademark hat, neither Tavakoli nor Mraz needed fashion or fancy set design to sell their music. Watching the band dance around with their own little quirky moves did more for my soul than a top 40 song with a catchy beat ever could, because long after the music and the set had finished I knew the soul message of Mraz’ show would stay with me for years to come. It is not just about putting some half-hearted lyrics over an explosive beat…it’s the feel of a song, the soul message, that I long to hear.
During the 90minute performance, Mraz showcased a great range of songs from the last 10 years, blending some of his biggest hits into seamless medleys and delivering a diverse set that moved between reggae jams, electronic rock and acoustic percussion. There were also some brilliant covers done by the band during the night, such as Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds and Crowded House Don’t Dream it’s Over, but it was his performance of an older song which I feel took the band to a whole new level. If you’ve listened to the 2005 album MR A-Z you’ll remember a song by the name of Plane, a simple track which achieves its power through a blend of piano, strings and powerfully sustained vocals. This night however, the song was revamped into a spine tingling electronic rock track which left us all standing in awe.
Although starting much like the original recording, the song grew to a beautiful powerhouse of electronic rock; the haunting reverb of Mraz’ voice an overwhelming delight amongst the frenzied flashes of light and darkness, his voice soaring higher and higher above the guitar and drums. Suddenly all music was cut, and in the darkness we heard a heartbeat rhythm pounding over our voices, the rhythm resonating through my entire body. It was a moment that left me shivering and overwhelmingly high.
Anyone who has listened to Mraz’ back catalogue knows that there are at least 3 versions of every song he has ever written, and with each performance you can be guaranteed to be treated to something new. I believe it is a rare and beautiful gift for an artist to be able to consistently connect with their audience and to deliver the unexpected; another reason why he is such an important musical mentor in my life.
Another great moment from Mraz’ set was during Song For A Friend, another favourite of mine. Showing his origins in freestyle rhymes, Mraz began rapping midway through the song about the importance of staying away from the fake glamour of fame, and learning to hold your own. The verse “Forget culture, FUCK being famous, hold your own and remember what your name is, be yourself everyone else is taken”, elicited screams throughout the crowd, as people everywhere related to the importance of humility. The way the dust particles billowed through the lights made it feel as though Mraz voice was barrelling in towards me, bathing every one of us in blue and red rays of positivity, love and ecstasy.
As Mraz finished the set and farewelled us all, I noticed a mother and her little girl walking towards me. Leaning in towards the fence the woman asked if she could step in front of me for just a moment, as her daughter had a question for the security guard. Lifting her little girl up above the fence, she handed him a special a special gift for Mraz: a hat with the words ‘I love you Jason’ written inside. It was pretty cute, and not even the security guard could say no to that! I think everyone was in a mood of love and gratitude, which is the very essence of who Jason Mraz is.
Trying to put into words the sensations and emotions I felt during this set is at times challenging, but I believe the power of music is something we should try to share with everyone around us. During much of the night I was covered with chills, over and over again. I felt childlike, I felt unburdened. I think that’s what music should achieve.