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Music muse: Meeting Mraz

Five months, ago I was grooving to his CD on a car trip to Palm Springs and now here I was sitting in his home studio sharing some “superfood” with Jason Mraz.“If you’ve never had a golden berry, I recommend you reach your hand in here and take one,” Mraz said, offering up a handful of berries and raw nuts from a bag he had put together. ”There you go, you’re getting a mouthful.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Mraz on Jan. 6 when a writer friend and mentor of mine invited me along on an interview he was doing with the 31-year-old rising music star. The next time I would see him would be when he graced the stage of “Saturday Night Live” on Jan. 31 and performed two hits, “I’m Yours” and “Lucky” from his Grammy nominated CD titled “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things” (unfortunately I didn’t get to see that in person, though it was amazing to watch on my big screen TV).

Mraz was up for three awards at the Grammys on Feb. 8 — Song of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Engineered Album-non classical (unfortunately he went home empty handed, but got to share the big night with his special date —his mom). Next up, he will be embarking on a mostly oversees world tour that will take him everywhere from Rhode Island, Illinois and Tennessee to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Rome, Paris, Lisbon, Luxemburg and Brussels, to name a mere few.

As my friend and I pulled up to Mraz’s 5-acre Oceanside retreat, loaded with avocado trees, I wondered what type of person I might encounter. I knew I enjoyed his feel-good music, and if that was any indication of his personality I was hopeful I’d enjoy being in his company as well. But one never knows who they’re going to encounter, so I was up for anything. Luckily, within minutes of meeting him, I realized this was truly one cool human being.

Dressed casually in a button down shirt, jeans, plaid slipper-like shoes and one of his trademark hats, the extremely soft-spoken Mraz introduced himself to us with a simple “Hi, I’m Jason,” and led us into his beautiful three-room hardwood floor studio. Throughout the interview, he was forthcoming, relaxed (at one point he even scooted his chair back and sat down on the floor to stretch his legs out) and relatable.

Like me, he grew up filming videos with his brother (I made videos with my sister), has a dad who told him to do what you love to do and it won’t feel like a job, and uses writing as therapy.

“If I didn’t write songs I’d probably be insanely depressed, probably overweight, and who knows where I’d be? I’d be in a mental institution,” he said. “I make music out of a happy moment, out of a lesson I’ve learned, out of a hardship I’ve overcome, out of a love story I got to live, or a dream that I had. So for me it’s just a chronicle of my life and putting reason to the voices in my head.”

At one point he addressed me directly.

“You could stop everything you’re doing right now, Tawny, and do the only thing that makes you happy,” he said. “And if you do it with such passion everyone would stop and watch. And then one day you could just say, ‘Why don’t I sell tickets to what I’m doing?’ Or put a hat down and someone will tip you for your passion. That was as far as I ever thought it would go, if I could just make enough to pay rent.’”

Mraz said he began writing at 13 and honed those skills while in college when he started to infuse his writings with music and melody.

“What I noticed was I could make up songs about anything, on the spot, and it became a party trick,” he said. “People would come over and challenge me with objects or situations and I would just make up a song about it and get a big laugh and make people really connect. It was through that reaction and that satisfaction that I realized it was the only thing I want to do with my life.”

He said he feels his main responsibility with his music is for it to be a comfort for people and contribute to their happiness.

Although Mraz has been nominated for a Grammy before (in 2005), this year was the first time he attended the ceremony. He said that while winning the coveted music award didn’t matter a whole lot to him, he was going to go to say thanks for the acknowledgement.

“The accolades that are coming in from the Grammys are for work I did four years ago to a year ago,” he said. “’I’m Yours’ was written four years ago, and the studio version was recorded a little over a year ago, so it’s not like I’ve been sitting around waiting to be acknowledged for that. I’m grateful but I’d rather keep living life and writing meaningful songs.”

Mraz said attending the show could also set the stage for meeting a person he’d love to get creative with — Sir Paul McCartney, who was pitted against Mraz in the Best Male Vocal Performance category (both lost out to John Mayer for his song “Say” off his 2006 album “Continuum” and featured on the soundtrack for the movie “The Bucket List”).

“Maybe by going to the Grammys, if he’s there, maybe that’s my in, maybe I can finally say lets do this, lets get dirty,” he said.

Mraz said what he looks for in a musical collaborator is someone with good vibes who writes from the heart and not from their pocket. He said it’s been nice to get to a point where he can be more selective with who he works with and that one recent collaborator, Colbie Caillat, who’s featured on the song “Lucky,” “seems to have a little taste of that free spirit, putting her heart into her singing.”

Other people with that heart, he said, are contestants on hugely successful shows such as “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” with ratings that blow the Grammys out of the water.

“People love watching that because there’s real ambition, they’re real people,” he said. “I think they get young people jazzed up about nurturing their own talent. It’s the story ‘American Idol’ tells. You can see the small towns they come from, you can watch them develop and there’s a real human story to that. ‘American Idol’ tells a story about American families and the Grammys just shows Kanye (West) some more.”

If Mraz had won a Grammy, he said the trophy would go where all his sales awards are stored — his studio bathroom.

“(Awards) are fun to share but I certainly wouldn’t hang them anywhere else in my house,” he said. “They are not that fun. They don’t need to be in my main house, that’s for sure.”

Mraz said he’s had six or seven roommates in the past five years he’s lived in his home and that he never charges rent, he just asks that they contribute creatively to the house. He currently bunks with “a raw foods chef and a crazy clown rapper/gardener, so our food is insane and the entertainment is non-stop.”

Asked how he’d like to be remembered, Mraz answered as the guy who paid for the party.

“I’d like to be remembered for my generosity in hopes that it inspires other people to be generous,” he said. “What good is anything if you’re not going to share it?”

Mraz was more than generous to me when I met him, even indulging me with a picture and signing my CD. His philosophies are refreshing and his melodic, upbeat music is making a much-needed contribution to the world in which we live in. I can’t wait for more music from Mraz.

Tawny Maya McCray is a San Diego-based freelance writer

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Music muse: Meeting Mraz