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Jason Mraz Spotlight Influences

May 4, 2007
By Jamie Steinberg
Starry Constellation Magazine

Q) How did you get involved with Spotlight Influences and what made you want to take part in it?

A) They came to me. I've been friends with the people at Target for a while. Ever since my first album came out, they were really supportive of it, putting my music on the shelves. They came up with this concept of Spotlight Influences and came to us. I've always loved albums like that and series like that. Starbucks has done one and there has been a variety of them. I could find my favorite band and they'd be playing a set list of their favorite tunes. I said, "Heck yeah! Sign me up!" It's tricky because you only get twelve songs. We started with maybe forty or fifty and then they have to clear them all. It depends on who is going to let you put their music on this certain CD. It just kind of gets scaled down to ten or twelve and then, hopefully, put them into a play list. It's pretty fun!

Q) What was the process you went through to choose your eleven songs?

A) The process was basically going from the thirty or so that were chosen. I would put a little asterisk next to the songs in my favorite order. Luckily, the top twelve were pretty close to the top twelve I had on my list. Still, any of the forty I put on my list would have been great choices, but these I really stood by because song like "Rainy Day" was really strong in my family. "Pick Up The Pace" by Young MC was the first concert I ever went to. He opened for Milli Vanilla and I bought the cassette. I'd play the tape every time I cut the grass. It just became this rap song that I loved and wanted to do my whole life. All of the songs truly are in my top twelve and "Rainbow Connection" was number one on my top twelve. That's the song I have the oldest memory of. If I can think back to being the youngest, "Rainbow Connection" is the one I have the most musical memory of. Knowing that was on the top of my list, when they called Paul Williams to clear the song, it just came together.

Q) How did the chosen artists shape who you are as a person and performer?

A) A lot of it lies in the lyrics for me, the way the lyrics are combined with the melodies and the music. With Soul Coughing's song "Screenwriter's Blues," Mike Doughty wrote it and he just inspired me to go deeper with my lyrics and get crazier with the cadences and over use of alliteration. Jeff Buckley is a great lyricist who combined with sweeping melodies. Kenny Rankin's "In The Name of Love" is an incredible scat number. I've always been a fan of the scats. Kenny is the master of that! Each one of those begins with the lyrics and melodies and then how it plays into the funk and the rhythm of each track.

Q) What is it about the song Rainbow Connection that made you want to pick it as your personal performance piece?

A) To me, there is just a sense of community in that song and a sense of oneness that has been achieved in that song. For generations and generations, there has been this call for peace and oneness. You know, "We are one, brothers and sisters!" I feel like, in that song, it's there and it's been achieved. There is a sense of comfort when I hear that song and I think that goes for a lot of folks. It represents not only a movie, but an era. It represents a creator, Jim Henson, who is just such a loving and creative soul. He affected a lot of us who were born in the seventies and eighties who got to grow up with these characters.

Q) Is this a song that you will perform at your concerts or is this special for the CD only?

A) I've been known to perform it. I do it on guitar in the cadence of Kermit, but when I brought in Paul Williams (that's who I am singing with on the track) who wrote the song, it was an honor. He also wrote "We've Only Just Begun," which was a huge hit for The Carpenters. He wrote the words for "The Love Boat" theme song. This guy is just incredible! We wanted to do it in a different style with a rolling piano. More of a lounge piano jazz bar and hope that the words just kind of sang in a different way. When I do it live, I just do it on the guitar and keep it simple.

Q) What would you say to those individuals that feel you have influenced them?

A) I don't know. I truly don't know. I guess it all depends on the person and it would be within the one-on-one because I don't know what they would want to ask. I would say thank you and I am honored because I write signs in my bedroom and in my own little studio world. I don't know where they go. I just kind of put them out there and I hope people pick up on whatever it is I am picking up on. I would just say thank you.

Q) What will your fans be surprised to learn from your comments in the liner notes?

A) I didn't write too much. I was looking through Jamie Cullum's book (who also is doing Spotlight Influences) and that guy wrote a ton of stuff! I just kept mine short for each song, just a couple sentences for each, hoping to explain why it appears in the CD. Also, what they can listen for in the song. If you listen to the CD and you know my music, you can actually hear the influences.

Q) Your song Geek In The Pink was featured on "American Idol." Did you see the performance and what did you think of his rendition?

A) I thought it was great! I sent Chris [Richardson] an email congratulating him on such an awesome job. I thought he gave the song exactly what the song has been needing. He's got that voice for that kind of song. I signed it "Chris Richardson Idol Fan" and he wrote me back! He was like, "Wow! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to even do the song. It's a confidence booster!" Then, he signed it "Jason Mraz Fan Since The Beginning," which is really neat. I thought he did a heck of a job! I didn't get to see it when it aired, but I saw it on a YouTube link. I did see it and it was super cool. It was an honor, an absolute honor, to see that sort of thing unfold on television.

Q) Who are some current artists that you are into?

A) I love an all girl band that's out there now touring the US that does it all themselves called Raining Jane. I am really supporting them now. I listen to a lot of San Diego artists. I've got Gregory Page in my car and Two Spot Goby, which is a band from Brighton, England. I listen to a lot of unsigned artists. I find that a lot of my time is spent listening to independent unsigned artists, bands that are basically making a living through Myspace. That just inspires me because it is new music and it's fresh. They are not really creating music in a competitive sense or in a trendy sense for radio. They are creating music because they can just create it and make it available through Myspace. They are creating music because it makes them feel something, where ever small town they are based in. They make music because music is the reward and not because cash is the reward. I am drawn to a lot of independent and just upcoming music by unsigned artists.

Q) Where do you get inspiration from for your lyrics?

A) It comes from life. In the past it has been relationships, whether it has been girlfriends, family members or best friends. More recently, it has been coming of age. As you get older, you kind of get a different perspective on things such as what might be more important or less important, political issues or environmental issues and war is over has always been a theme. War is not over, but the politics that are around that are easy to draw from and mostly just life. You can walk down the street and see life unfold, just watching the ladybugs on the mailman or you can open your paper and read life from all around the world. I did a lot of traveling in 2006 and did a little bit this year, all the way to India and seventeen different countries. I really drew a lot from those experiences. Hopefully, my album will be a more worldly theme this time.

Q) What would you like to say to your fans and supporters?

A) I am humbled constantly that I get to do this for a living, that I get to be an artist, a photographer, a thinker, a dreamer, a writer and musician. The only reason I can do that on a larger scale is because of supporters. I think it is fantastic! I will continue to take care of myself, my health and my mind and my heart so that I can keep going!