Jason Mraz reveals early retirement plan, but first, a ‘Yes!’ tour
“I have a gift for you,” Jason Mraz said, arms outstretched.
Cupped in his palms was an avocado, bumpy and green. It came from a tree on his farm — “100% organic, Mraz Fresh,” the sticker read. Last year he sold 34,000 pounds of the fruit to Chipotle stores near his Oceanside home. He grows other things on his land too — peppers and corn and leafy greens. If he could, he said, he’d spend most of his days there, hands in the earth.
Mraz wants to garden more, surf more, have a kid, put some of the money he’s saved from selling 4.5 million albums nationwide toward a good cause. So he’s started a campaign with his manager: "#RetiredAt40.” He has one more album left on his contract with Atlantic Records, and then he plans to check out for a while.
“I’m just ready for a break. It feels like a corporate job sometimes,” the 37-year-old said, sitting in the wings of the Spreckels Theatre, where he was rehearsing last week for the start of his 31-date tour.
It’s a surprising admission from the singer-songwriter, whose fifth studio album, “Yes!,” opened at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart last month. With two Grammys under his belt, Mraz appeared to have settled into a professional groove. He’s big enough to book three nights at the Pantages — the first show is Thursday — and his songs have remarkable longevity. In 2009, his single “I’m Yours” broke records when it stayed on the charts for 76 weeks.
“At the time, that was a really big deal,” said Keith Caulfield, associate director of charts and sales for Billboard. “He speaks to a large number of people because he’s singing about things that are easily identifiable.”
Since he came on the scene with his trucker hat and goofy wordplay a dozen years ago, Mraz has made a name for himself as the glass-half-full guy. John Mayer addresses his fear of growing older, and Ed Sheeran touches on the vagaries of love, but Mraz’s songs tend to be uplifting. On “Yes!” — made with longtime collaborators Raining Jane — he sounds like a man contented, basking in the glow of having found his soul mate.
“And love is a funny thing / It’s making my blood flow with energy,” he sings in “Love Someone.” “And it’s like an awakened dream / As what I’ve been wishing for is happening.”
“I think the reason my music focuses on optimism,” he said, tapping the lid of his travel mug, “is because that’s what I’m focused on so that I’m not depressed all the time. It’s no accident that every song is about, ‘Here’s how you can feel better,’ because it’s just in my nature to generally wake up on the wrong side of the bed.”
He makes a conscious effort to maintain his mental health — meditating, repeating daily mantras, coming back to the present. It was a shift that began in 2006, when he did a few shows with the Rolling Stones and saw how well they took care of themselves. Mraz, meanwhile, was smoking cigarettes and eating junk food. That same year he told The Times his ideal weekend would include a brunch of caviar and mimosas at the Hotel Bel-Air.
He’s since morphed into the archetype of a mellow, Southern California hippie that East Coast elites love to mock. He sells packets of seeds at his concerts. He’s a partner in Cafe Gratitude, whose five vegan restaurants serve up dishes with names like “I Am Open-Hearted” (gluten-free pancakes) and “I Am Vivacious” (baked kale chips). He doesn’t drink alcohol but likes weed, which he usually smokes most days after 4 p.m.
“This,” he explained, motioning toward his Thermos, “is a dark roast mate grown by the Twelve Tribes. I don’t know if you’re hip with the Twelve Tribes, but they’re a commune. I feel that if the ... hits the fan and society collapses and our monetary system falters and we’re out of resources — the Twelve Tribes are the ones you’re gonna wanna be in bed with.”
Mraz talks about this stuff with his fans too. He blogs about why hemp should be legalized and urges his concertgoers to support local farmers. His doesn’t think his audience — a mix of college kids and retirees — seem to mind, partially because many of the causes he supports are en vogue.
“I like seeing the age range out there — the silver-haired couples having a great time,” he said of his demographic. “It makes me feel like maybe I’m continuing what they loved about Jackson Browne or Crosby, Stills and Nash. They’re still coming to concerts and seeing something that’s from that lineage.”
Despite his bohemian ethos, it’s clear that Mraz’s success was no cosmic accident — he’s far from laid-back when it comes to his music. During a run-through at Spreckels, he easily assumed a leadership role, urging his bandmates to try different arrangements and fretting about whether the crew had taken a lunch break.
“Can we just try that one more time with the orb, and then we’ll make sure the crew gets some healthy nourishment?” he said to some guys at a switchboard. They promptly turned on Mraz’s concert background video, which includes dreamy images of the planet and snippets from his trip to Antarctica with Al Gore.
That’s a long way from where Mraz started out, playing open mikes just a few miles from here at the Java Joe’s coffee shop. At 21, he began modeling his career after Dave Matthews, figuring out the steps the musician had taken to become famous.
“Dave ended up taking the $100-million route, which is a little too much work for my interests,” he said. “Raining Jane teases me that I run at about 80%. I’m 20% reluctance.”
As a result, he’s ended up in what he calls “the friend zone.”
“People aren’t walking around with my Trapper Keeper,” he said, grinning. “I’m not on their newsstands on their People magazines. But people might hear me on the radio or while they’re on their jog or in the kitchen baking. I’m totally great for that.”
If #RetiredAt40 really does come to fruition, Mraz doesn’t plan on giving up music entirely. For each album he’s released, he has 70 leftover songs. He’d like to make an album for kids, and one filled with Christmas or gospel music.
“The reality is, I think he’s really happy in his personal life right now,” said Sam Riback, Atlantic’s senior vice president and head of West Coast A&R. “He’s had more success than he could have imagined. So could he retire at 40? Maybe. But there’s a songwriter and a storyteller and performer in him. I have a feeling he’s gonna have many songs to write.”
So maybe. But maybe not.
“Whenever there’s turbulence on a plane, I think, ‘This plane’s gonna go down,’ and I kind of get [mad],” Mraz said. “I stress that I haven’t spent enough time in Virginia with my parents. I keep thinking I want to go back home and help them clean out their garage.”
Where: Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd. L.A.
When: Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.
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