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Interview with Singer/Songwriter Jason Mraz

Aired November 16, 2012 - 05:30   ET



JASON MRAZ, SINGER/SONGWRITER (singing): -- cool done run out. I'll be giving it my bestest. Nothing's going to stop me but divine intervention. I recon it's again my turn --

SARA SIDNER, CORRESPONDENT, CNN INTERNATIONAL (voiceover): He's the singer/songwriter behind one of the biggest hits of the past decade.

MRAZ (singing): -- learn some but I won't hesitate no more, no more -

SIDNER (voiceover): It was this catchy tune that, in 2008, catapulted Jason Mraz to international stardom.

MRAZ (singing): I'm yours.

SIDNER (voiceover): But this was not sudden success. The American singer had been building a following for nearly a decade. Now, at age 35, Mraz is busy crisscrossing the globe, promoting a new album, and talking about some of the causes close to his heart.

MRAZ: And I have the power, now, to contribute in a way that, hopefully, inspires others to contribute.

SIDNER (voiceover): This week, on "Talk Asia", we're along for the ride. From the coast of Africa.

MRAZ: My name is Jason. Jason.

SIDNER (voiceover): To the waters of Antarctica.

Plus, performances from his latest tour, coming up on "Talk Asia".

MRAZ: My name is Jason Mraz and I'm very grateful to be here. I hope you are, too.


SIDNER: Welcome to "Talk Asia".

MRAZ: Whew, that is hot.


MRAZ: Thank you.

SIDNER: You're welcome. We've got some tea, there.

MRAZ: Yes.

SIDNER: We're going to go back. Way back. You were in Virginia?

MRAZ: Yes.

SIDNER: And then went to New York and started studying at the Music Academy - the dramatic academy there.

MRAZ: Yes.

SIDNER: Why did you leave? Why did you leave school?

MRAZ: Well, in the field I was studying, musical theater, I found it was very competitive, you know. In addition to singing, you had to dance and act. And I felt I'd be auditioning for the rest of my life just so t hat I could be a waiter. All my strength was in singing and songwriting, which was a new discovery for me when I was 18. And I decided if I pursued songwriting, which is what was closest to my heart, then there would be no competition. I would just live my life being myself and living my dreams.

SIDNER: Was it rough on you to have to sort of do what everyone was asking you to do? Did you have to sing and act? Did you do all that?

MRAZ: Oh absolutely. And I did it a lot when I was a kid. And it was the best, you know? To be a part of a big cast and be other characters - it's a great way to learn how to express yourself. And live on your edge, I guess. And spontaneously. So I was able to use those tools in my own work, later. But I much enjoyed not - I enjoyed writing my own musical for my own life.

SIDNER: Is that imperative, now? That people who are in the music business also write their own songs? So it used to be, way back, that someone would hand you a song and they sing it.

MRAZ: You know, there's still a lot of great songwriters out there who hand in songs. And there's a lot of brilliant singers and performers out there who sing other people's words. But I enjoy doing both. Growing up as a singer and a cast member and now as an adult - a songwriter. I get the luxury of choosing the kinds of songs that I want to sing. Because I will write, you know, hundreds of songs, even though only 12 appear on the album. That's 12 that I've chosen to song of my catalogue.

SIDNER: Let me ask you about when you did leave Virginia. I read that you packed up your stuff and got in the car and you headed to California.

MRAZ: Yes.

SIDNER: What was that like?

MRAZ: Oh, it was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life. Because it was - it was the second time I was dropping out of school. I was leaving everything - my job - everything behind that was secure and going to this unknown coast. I had no contacts. I had no idea what was going to happen in the industry. I had, you know, one friend that was going to let me live on her couch. You know, and that was it.

But something - it was like a magnet - something out there in California was really calling me and I just thought it was going to be experience. In fact, that's what it has been. Experience. I just wanted to go and have something stimulate all of my emotions and senses so that I could write something great. And I thought it would be a short trip, and it turned out to be, you know, a lifetime.

SIDNER: When you were in the car, were you thinking about, you know, "What am I doing? Should I turn around?" You ever have a moment where you thought, "I can't do this"?

MRAZ: No, no. I kept going. And my car broke down twice on the way. And that just added to the excitement. Even when I first got on the freeway leaving Virginia, I was even saying out loud, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm doing this". Knowing that I had, you know, 3,000 miles ahead of me.



SIDNER: For some reason, I don't know what it is, but that song gets stuck in your head and will not leave. Is there an art to that? Because there are a few songs that really do that.

MRAZ: Sure.

SIDNER: They just won't leave your head.

MRAZ: Yes, well I call that sacred geometry - when everything's just right and it feels really balanced so that, when it unfolds to the next part, you feel totally familiar and at ease within the song. I don't yet know exactly how to do it every time, even though you can look and see there's a formula to it, but I think it's also a message of right places in the right time. When a song like that connects with, you know, either an individual or, obviously, the masses.


MRAZ (singing): -- the sky is yours. So please don't, please don't, please don't. There's no need to complicate. 'Cause our time is short. This, oh, this, oh, this, is our fate. I'm yours.

Well, every friend of mine will give each other high-fives when your beautiful mind is to your own devices. You do what you like and you always like what you try. You touch me like an iPhone application. Move me like a smooth jazz music station. Doing what you're doing the way that you used to do them, oh my god.





SIDNER: Did you ever imagine that your music and your talents would take you to where they have?


SIDNER: I mean, you're known globally, now.

MRAZ: Thanks to you.

SIDNER: I don't know, I think it's thanks to y our music.

MRAZ: Well, you know, it's been a long, beautiful ride so far. You know, 13 years performing in public places and every year, our radius seems to get just a little bit bigger and I don't know why that is. I'm not a virtuoso on an instrument. You know, I'm not always singing in pitch. I laugh, sometimes, my way through the shows. But I'm an honest songwriter who's always tried to bring the audience with me on my journey. In hopes that they see their own lives reflected in their work.


MRAZ: You guys are feeling me tonight. Let me hear it. Oh, yes.


SIDNER: Is there any difference between an audience, for example, in Korea than there is from the audience in L.A.?

MRAZ: No, there isn't. I mean, the only difference in the show is I'm going to say "Ko sum ni da" at the end of the show in Korea. And in Los Angeles, I'll say, you know, "Thanks amigos" or whatever.

I have a very awesome seat in the house every time I play. When the lights come up and the sound turns on, I'm playing for a room full of human beings and geographical and political borders just all dissolve and we unite through rhythm inhalation. I mean, I'm so blessed - grateful that, you know, audiences around the world connect to English music.


MRAZ (singing): When there is love, I can't wait to talk about it with -


SIDNER: And how much time is spent really forming the music that you eventually play?

MRAZ: I get my most creative sort of energy after a show, so I love to go back to the hotel and compose new material.

SIDNER: Adrenaline rush.

MRAZ: Exactly. And I have to get it out somehow, otherwise I can't sleep. You know. So, I spend a lot of time - my touring isn't about collecting souvenirs and always being on the go, it's - my saners (ph) are writing in my journal and creating new music. Because that stuff fits so easily in your backpack when you're traveling around the world. And it's something I think I can share later with either more fans or future family members that I may have.

SIDNER: Does music and does writing music kind of bubble out of you? Or do you struggle sometimes? A lot of people talk of writer's block or feeling that pressure from the company to get, you know, a song out.

MRAZ: I've experienced, you know, block and pressure. But that's your own fear of letting it bubble out. It's like trying to cap something that 's already incredibly carbonated. But if you just let it bubble out, it just tickles you and you can't stop laughing and you can't stop creating and just like some of these answers - I just can't stop talking.

SIDNER: That's good. Got to let it flow.


SIDNER: Let's talk about fame for a minute. Because at some point, you know, a lot of people say it's not real, but it's certainly present and there. What does it feel like to have this kind of recognition?

MRAZ: Well, in one of my songs I say, "Fame is nothing more than loving someone". So I'm grateful every day that there are so many fans and people out there that love my music and feel they're connected to me though that.

SIDNER: Does it bring hassles, though? People - lot of paparazzi out there. A lot of people kind of -

MRAZ: Yes.

SIDNER: -- trying to see into your life?

MRAZ: I don't necessarily want to call it a hassle, because it's a luxurious hassle to have. But there have been a few occasions where, you know, every minute or two minutes - certainly in airports and some hotels - someone wants to stop you and have their picture with you.

And occasionally, someone doesn't even make eye contact with you. They just want to stand next to you and get a picture. So you feel more like a sighting than an actual interest of theirs or a friend. So, after enough of those back-to-back, you just sort of feel taken advantage of. So, I do my best to ask what the person's name is. "Wait, what's your name?"

SIDNER: Yes, so you're making direct eye contact with them.

MRAZ: Great, it is us in the photo, cool.

SIDNER: What are some of the things that you dislike about the music business. Because there's the artist side and then there is - there has to be a business side or you wouldn't be able to travel as much as you do. What do you not like about the music business?

MRAZ: I mean, I've tried to make the best of the business. You know, I guess what I don't like about it is that it is a business. And in a business, that means there's going to be competition or standard or there's going to be committees or boards. And occasionally, we'll have a say in how the art is conveyed or distributed. But, you know, I've been very fortunate to work with great teams all around the world. And focus on the business where I can create my own foundation.

SIDNER: What are some of the causes that you have? Did you go to the Antarctic with Al Gore?

MRAZ: I did.

SIDNER: What was that like?

MRAZ: I did. I met Al Gore. He and I were both on a talk show and I met him and shook his hand and said, "I love your work, I love your presentation. If you ever need, you know, a musician to help you rally or anything, let me know". And sure enough, I got a call about six months later - he was taking a trip to Antarctica. His first return since he was a senator in 1988. To show 150 entrepreneurs, entertainers, scientists, researchers first hand, the stark realities of climate change.



MRAZ: It looks like a movie set when you're there. As if it's a pool with nothing but Styrofoam walls around you.

SIDNER: Cold Styrofoam walls.

MRAZ: Yes. And it was on my flight home that I became incredibly confronted that, OK, I'd just gone to this beautiful place, but our boat burned 40 tons of diesel and now I'm on an airplane in business class and they're handing me this fresh fruit and I can't even imagine where the fruit came from. The journey it took and what chemicals might have been used for it. And everything just kind of flooded on me. It was enlightenment, but of the dark kind.

SIDNER: It felt bad.

MRAZ: It felt pretty bad. So I came home and I worked with my team to start a tree-planting project. So, in an effort to raise awareness about our impact on the planet and do my best to sequester and offset our carbon.


MRAZ (singing): Well, every friend of mine will give each other high- fives when your beautiful mind is to your own devices. You do what you like and you always like what you try. You touch me like an iPhone application. Move me like a smooth jazz music station. Doing what you're doing the way that you used to do them, oh my god.

Freedom. You deserve your freedom. Freedom.




MRAZ: James and his men perform a rescue and really get with the communities to get the kids out of danger and out of labor. They come here. It's a shelter. It's like a rehabilitation center where, you know, they're cared for. They give you proper nutrition.

MRAZ (singing): Freedom. Freedom. You deserve your freedom. Freedom.

MRAZ: -- think I never met a real hero until I came here. And I got to work alongside real heroes. Real, modern-day abolitionists. Really modern - real activists doing the work for anti-slavery.


SIDNER: Child slavery?

MRAZ: Yes.

SIDNER: Particularly in Africa.

MRAZ: Yes.

SIDNER: Is that a, sort of, a shocking thing to you that, in 2012, that this still goes on? Slavery still exists.

MRAZ: Yes. Incredibly shocking, which is why I make it one of the beneficiaries of my foundation. That issue - to raise awareness and to help provide resources for those who are actually working on the ground. When I went to Africa and I worked alongside a gentleman named James Kofi Annan, who was once a child slave and, when he was a kid, he just wanted a rescue boat to come and take him off the boat and off these harsh conditions that he was forced to fish in for about eight years of his childhood.

And I've been helping the organization, but I was able to go first- hand to see how my money was actually putting gas in that boat that he now operates. So he now is a rescue worker. A real-live Indiana Jones in my opinion. And, after seeing that and learning about this issue, I felt that we could make a huge difference using the powerful tools that we have on the internet and television today.


MRAZ (singing): Freedom. Get me some of that freedom.


SIDNER: I'm going to have to ask you about surfing. If you had the choice, sort of, in your dream of dreams, would you chose to - you know, do you get a bigger rush out of surfing a huge wave off the California coast or playing for an audience in, say, Shanghai?

MRAZ: I'm going to go with playing for an audience in Shanghai.



MRAZ: Because I'm probably not going to die on stage in front of an audience. Sometimes, when I'm surfing, all I'm thinking about is survival. And I think that's the rush. I prefer to surf waves that are just more fun and you can have a conversation with your friends. But occasionally there's that big wave that just scares the pants off of you. So, I do prefer being on stage, but I got to surf. There's something that just - I guess because they're almost so opposite. My job - my hands remain so soft - my job is so non-laborious that, when I'm off the road, I like to do things that really push me a little bit harder than I would typically do on tour.

SIDNER: When you think about, sort of, other people kind of coming up in the business, is there anything that you would say to an aspiring singer/songwriter as a bit of advice or a bit of experience from someone who's done it and been there?

MRAZ: I always tell people to sing their own story - sing their own truth. Because each of us are born unique and are going to have our own experiences. And, when we speak our truths and reveal our vulnerability and we allow ourselves to be transparent in front of an audience, that audience gets to see themselves in the work. And then, if you're really beginning a journey through the business, don't wait for the business to find you, I would say. Create it yourself, even if it's your own backyard.

And obviously, we have the internet these days where you can film yourself and create your own channel. And that's great. When I started, that channel was putting up posters and saying, "Meet me at this coffee shop on Thursday night". And -

SIDNER: It's changed, now the world has really, really changed..

MRAZ: The world has really changed. Yes.

SIDNER: But for the good.

I've got to ask you about India, because I notice a certain someone on your cup and the beads around your -

MRAZ: Right.

SIDNER: India. Tell me about going there, and experiencing that. And how much it - it's obviously had some effect on you.

MRAZ: It did. Many, many years ago, I lost the plot, let's call it. I just finished touring my second album and I wasn't sure where I was going in my life or my career. And someone left for me, anonymously at a hotel, "Autobiography of a Yogi", a brilliant book written by Paramahansa Yogananda, which - it's hard to believe it's someone's actual life when you read it. It reads more like a "Harry Potter". There's crazy characters with superpowers and I read it and I just felt really drawn to it.

I felt a deep connection with it. And it turns out it was written in San Diego where I, too, had made a pilgrimage in my life. And decided I would pursue more, I guess, Yogic philosophy and the practice of yoga. And shortly after reading the book, I got invited to visit India. And I thought, "Oh, that never happens". And I just continued to have profound experiences on this journey. And I just felt, OK, the universe is trying to tell me something, and to put me on this path for a reason. And turn me on to new ways of being and new attitude about life and obviously then, after that, my music went global and I just felt there was a certain piece of understanding that I'd found. I would say thanks to India and what India produces for the world.

SIDNER: You hum your own songs? Because we all hum them. Do they get in your head as well?

MRAZ: I do, but I'm always humming for new ones. So, while you're still humming the old ones, I'm trying to think of some new ones for you.

SIDNER: If you were not doing music, if you did not find what you were looking for - success in music - what do you think that you would be doing?

MRAZ: I think I'd at least be trying. I think I'd still be trying. I might be doing other things to pay the bills - the last job I had before this was - I was an assistant manager at a tobacco shop. And I just worked behind the counter and sold cigars. And before that, I worked as a janitor at an elementary school. And I was a mailman for the United States Postal Service. But all of those jobs, I would just rush home and play my guitar.

And even though I was doing those jobs, I always felt like a musician. So I think even if - even if this gift hadn't given me what it has, I would still be trying.

SIDNER: I bet there's a lot of people out there that wouldn't know that the person who was cleaning the elementary school is now sitting on stage with thousands of people.

MRAZ: Yes. You know, most musicians are usually one song away from being a janitor. So I've always admired musicians for that. You look at them on stage and that's a talented janitor up there.

SIDNER: Right. Very good. Thank you. Thank you very much.