A Conversation with Jason Mraz
Mike Ragogna: Hello? Is this Doctor P?
Jason Mraz: [laughs] I do play a doctor part time, yes!
Ragogna: So I'll get to your joining the cast of the musical Waitress in a second. But first, it's been fifteen years since Waiting For My Rocket To Come. Can you believe it?
Mraz: I can't! When I first got started, there were quite a few veterans in the business that said, "You'll be lucky if you get ten years to have a career." I'm very lucky that here I am fifteen years later and I'm still getting jobs, I'm still making music, I'm still touring, and the music still holds up. I'm so very, very grateful.
Ragogna: To me, the elephant in the room has always been that the title was so bold. Like how did your mom react when you told her that title?
Mraz: I didn't even ask. It was one of those elephants in the room with my family, even with my parents. It's a lyric inside "A Curbside Prophet" and it passes by in a way that sounds optimistic, slightly tongue-in-cheek, slightly double entendre, but mostly optimistic, and that's how I felt about the debut. At the time, I think I was a little more rebellious, adventurous and willing to take those risks lyrically. Nowadays, I prefer to play it a little safer and keep it a little cleaner and sing songs that are straight to the heart.
Ragogna: That album was an instant hit. It featured three hits including a number one single. What was your reaction as that was happening? How did that affect you?
Mraz: Well, I definitely wasn't prepared for success, that's for sure. I had to go from being a coffee shop guy who only had two musicians, a bassist and a percussionist, to growing. We had to grow into larger venues—not overnight, but it felt almost instantaneous. It called us into being bigger musicians and it called us into having a busier schedule. I honestly signed up for this thinking I wouldn't ever have to have a job, I could just play music at night. But it actually called me into service during the day as well, making a lot of appearances, doing a lot of rehearsals and a ton of travel. But it also was the realization of a dream. It surprises you when that happens because it's never the way you think it's going to turn out. But it was a good thing. It definitely shaped me. I'll tell you this, too; the single "The Remedy" was a song that was really medicine. It was about my friend Charlie who had cancer and his mantra was, "I'm not going to worry my life away. I'm going to do what the doctors tell me and the experience is going to make me stronger." That caused a ripple through our whole community as he practically dodged a bullet before our very eyes. Then when I released the song of his story, it took on that life and became a song of healing for many, many people. So then as I was traveling, I got to meet more and more people who were in recovery or who were in battle and/or just surviving with cancer, or had loved ones with it. It became very transformative for me. That was really the tipping point where I decided that I was going to become more of a musician of service rather than just some cocky rock 'n' roll kid.
Ragogna: And that comes through, especially in your later albums. For example, Love is one giant love fest. And world service seems to have become a mission for you.
Mraz: Exactly. When I put music out, I have to ask, "What's the purpose? Why am I putting this music out? What's the effect I hope it has on listeners, and ultimately society?" It's really been a joy to dive into that and try to be of service. I think that's what good entertainment does; it frees us from concern, it heals a broken heart, it makes us feel like we relate to one another. I really take pride in writing the kind of music that can hopefully make us aware of those things.
Ragogna: What's your advice on keeping the faith or pushing back during what feels like an era of assault?
Mraz: I think “please” and “thank you” is a great place to start. We have to each individually take responsibility for everything. Even say you're in a marriage or a relationship that's not going well, don't wait for the other person to apologize—otherwise, you could be in it for twenty years and never resolve anything. If you take responsibility first, even if it's not your fault, you can start to heal whatever is broken. That can be done in the household, at the workplace in a larger setting, in a town, in a city, et cetera. Ultimately, if we all did that, if we all took responsibility and inspired other people to do so, we could truly shift all of the so-called negativity and divide that we're experiencing so that rather than shine a light on the divide, we take responsibility for it.
Ragogna: Beautiful. By the way, that topic seems to be in your new song, "Can't Hold Out On Love", in the film Father Figures. What went into writing it and how do they use the song in the film?
Mraz: It's the movie's theme. We actually wrote the song in the soundstage while watching the film. We wanted to take actual elements from the story and then put them in the song and hopefully have a song that just resonated with real life. Songs are brilliant because their wings unfold and they fly around in bizarre ways, free from films, free from the writer and all that. I honestly can't write a song that doesn't include love in it anymore, but there are so many ways to bring us back to love that are required. Eventually, love will hit you on the head somehow. Maybe it's through this film.
Ragogna: You're performing in the musical Waitress. Your previous history with that musical as well as with Sarah Bareilles is a little complicated. Can you take us through that?
Mraz: So I'm actually in the show now, it started for me November 3rd. I'll be here through January. Two years ago, Sarah invited me to sing a couple of songs on her concept album of this musical, so I said, "Yes, of course," because she's a brilliant artist and I love her. Being associated with the music, I got to watch this musical come to life and be a hit on Broadway. As a fan, I saw it many times, never thinking they would actually invite me to be in the show and then sure enough, one day, I get a phone call from Sarah saying, "Hey, the show's going really well, would you ever consider being in it? We're always casting people." It took me no time to say yes, because it was something I've yet to do, yet to experience in my life. It also made me really nervous. Any time I feel super nervous about something, I feel like that's a sign that I'm supposed to do it. So I packed up my bags and moved from San Diego to New York and I'll be living here for four months while taking on the role as Doctor P in Waitress, which is very exciting.
Ragogna: Wait a minute, who's taking care of the avocado farm?
Mraz: Aw, my cats! I had to leave my cats behind so they'll water the trees and they'll make sure the fruit goes where it needs to go.
Ragogna: Are you getting a little nervous about the concept of wanting to be an actor now?
Mraz: Yeah, I am. I tell you what though; I'm not going to go out and pursue it but if my phone rings, I will answer it.
Ragogna: Jason, what advice do you have for new artists?
Mraz: I would say read. Read, read, read. Educate yourself, and then write about your own truth, your own life, and what you're passionate about. Don't try to copy someone else because if you're copying someone else who's popular, it's way too late. By the time you get your thing in there, that trend or that thing will be over. I think as a new artist, you are born uniquely you and you have your own very specific life story and that's worth sharing and the humanity in that will touch anybody.
Ragogna: And what advice do you have for a little solar-powered radio station in the Midwest like KRUU?
Mraz: You have bragging rights, so I say brag away, because I love the fact that you are a solar-powered radio station! I think renewable energy is long overdue and I commend you for doing that.
KRUU’s GM James Moore: We really appreciate those words coming from you, Jason. We think "solar" is a four-letter word, too.
Mraz: It sure is. It's called "Free"...F-R-E-E! More people should get on board!
Moore: It's nice to see the cost coming down and really the way it's being embraced even at a time when the dinosaur element is pushing the other way. I think people are going to the right place by themselves.
Mraz: Exactly, and as the technology is becoming more available and affordable... Twenty years ago, nobody had cell phones. You could hardly afford them. But now everybody has one. We're finally moving in that direction with solar cells. Before you know it, it will be silly to not have them, hopefully. It's pioneers like yourself and people who have invested in it so far like myself to keep that technology moving forward so that eventually, it's affordable for everyone. Thanks for being a leader in that.
Moore: Thank you very much, Jason. It was really a community effort and we really appreciate it coming from you.
Ragogna: Thank you Jason, all the best, talk to you again...
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
KATE CRASH’S “NOT THE KIND TO FIND SALVATION” EXCLUSIVE/PREMIERE
According to Kate Crash...
“On ‘Not the Kind to Find Salvation’... Unraveling the lies of following worthless leaders, lovers, and quick cures that only accelerate your demise. ‘No I'm not the kind to buy salvation, why did I ever let you lead me?’ Vibe: Rhodes organ, the heavenly shadows sinking your heart."
A Conversation with Andy Partridge
Mike Ragogna: Andy, you’re a featured guest on the new Downes Braide Association album, Skyscraper Souls. How did that come together?
Andy Partridge: I had worked with Chris previously, knocking up a few songs for other people, one of the projects was that Sarah Brightman album about the cosmos, where she was going to perform some of its songs from the International Space Station. Shame that project fell through. We came up with some great numbers. Maybe she's a better singer than she is astronaut material?
Anyway, Chris and I stayed in touch. Out of the blue, he just asked would I like to contribute some things to an album he was making with ex-Yes/Buggle Geoff Downes—a bit of guitar here and there or anything I thought the tracks needed? So I said sure, just send me some tunes.
So I played a few guitar solos, sang some backing vocals parts and strummed an acoustic and a mandolin. It all came out so well that I ended-up ruining four of their songs for them...HA!!
MR: How did you submerge yourself into these tracks—by their topics, what was going on musically in the arrangement and basic tracks, or through some other method?
AP: I got into “Darker Times.” For example, when I heard Chris' main vocal, he had a seemingly throwaway line "We are all one energy" that knocked me for six. I thought, "That's it, that's the keystone to the whole song." So I sent him a three or four-part tracked-up choir of myself singing that line over and over, almost like a plainsong or mantra. We both thought it worked well, but I don't know if he was aware of that little gem of a line that was hiding in his song. It's my favorite on the album. I feel quite tearful when I hear it, which is a great sign.
With the specific requests for a “guitar solo,” I did my thing and sent him something like four takes to choose from...which he did.
“Glacier Girl” just pushed all my buttons to wheel out the 'cold' scenery. I'd been working that week on some Christmas songs for another artist and had lots of sleigh bells laying around my shed—my home studio in the garden—so I thought I'd push myself into repetitive strain injury once more and put them on this track. Christmas happens in Winter; Winter is cold, thus sleigh bells. The acoustic guitar was something that I intended would make a frosty thin, rhythm feel. It ended up still a little too warm, so I pointed it with a mandolin. That seemed to put it deep in the tundra to my ear. It's all about painting the right scenery for me.
MR: What was the recording process like and are you pleased with your contributions? Did the final mixes surprise you in any way regarding how your musical contributions were used?
AP: The recordings were all me, in the shed, which is tiny. Barely room to swing a Strat. I remember the main worry at the time was that my 12-year-old computer was making far too much fan noise, on the live mic things, to be of any use. I did some trials with the backing vocals and Chris told me that he thought it was an acceptable level of gale force howl, so I just charged on.
Because you only hear the barest bones of a song, it's always a delight to cast a beady ear over the finished mixes. I had to take “Darker Times” off before I got to the end of the first listen. My lower lip was trembling, I was thinking "this sounds beautiful." I am a Nobel Prize winning softie at heart.
MR: Andy, you’re considered one of the great singer-songwriters, one of the latest covers of your material being by The Monkees, “You Bring The Summer.” First off, what are your thoughts on how that recording turned out?
AP: Apart from the fact that I was absolutely floored to be asked to write for some of my boyhood heroes, it was truly an honor. I loved that band, still do. They had the best songwriters in the US at that moment in time—maybe only missing out on Brian Wilson. Their TV shows helped to set even further in concrete, my Hard Day's Help of an idea that bands all lived together and were smart-arsed, but lovable. Lennon and Dolenz are responsible for how I turned out.
I really wanted to write something that sounded like it could have been on their TV show in '67, all twangy guitar hooks and instant nursery rhyme melodies. Very formative music for me, it's in my genes.
Liked how it came out, still can't believe that's me and not Neil Diamond, Carole King or Boyce and Hart.
MR: You also co-wrote most of Mike Keneally’s Wing Beat Fantastic album. How do you treat co-songwriting differently than solo songwriting?
AP: I like collaborating when your sounding board is a big talent like Mike K or Steven Wilson. These people know what they want or can focus in on where to take your offerings. It's very different writing for yourself. That's a more solitary case of mining down into your often murky soul and seeing what you can dig up? Will it be of any use? Is it too personal to waggle about in public? That sort of thing.
If I'm writing for another artist, they often say, "I'd love to do a song like such and such," then you have a style or a subject matter you can imitate or leap off from. Sometimes that even happens with myself. Maybe one day, I won't be finding a song and I'll start messing around with another well known tune...only to have something of your own fall out unexpectedly that sounds nothing like what you were busking, in melody or lyrics. A good example of that was the XTC song “Books Are Burning.” That came out through messing around with The Beach Boys’ “I Get Around”! NOTHING like it.
MR: How do you balance your creative outlets of performing—which you did on the new Downes Braide Association album—and songwriting? Do you actively keep both lively through practice and home recording, perhaps even on a daily basis, or do you use recording and songwriting opportunities to come for creative stimulation?
AP: Writing is my main outlet. When I record my own demos at home, I play as fully on them as I would in a big boys studio. You need to do the best you can...or why bother. Music isn't my only creative outlet though, and this goes for virtually every artists that i've know. They may be a professional musician, but they also tend to sculpt, or write poetry, or paint, or whatever. It's rare that any artist limits their output to one branch. You'd have to wrestle Joni Mitchell to the floor to prize that paint brush from her...for example.
MR: Your group XTC evolved from a punk-ish band to masters of pop. Would it be fair to say the band's musical evolution accelerated with the Todd Rundgren-produced album Skylarking? By the way, in 2017, what are your thoughts about that album and why it’s considered such a classic?
AP: I wouldn't say that, no. I think we were going that way steadily from English Settlement onwards. The acoustic guitars were coming in, the mellotron from Mummer onwards. The Dukes of Stratosphear was the full flowering of our psyche ambitions. Skylarking was merely the second Dukes album in our minds. Todd was a big Anglophile anyway, he was destined to make that record sound like that. I think it all had a foreseeable and inevitable progression.
To my ear, the album was well arranged, that's mostly, but not all Todd's doing. Colin was maybe at the height of his song writing powers? As for me, I wrote a few goodies too. People seem to love it. My personal favorite is Apple Venus though.
MR: What are your thoughts about XTC’s contribution to music?
AP: We did good.
SOUL SCRATCH’S “PACIFIED”
According to Soul Scratch frontman Dale Spollett...
"When we wrote this song, we had no idea how topical it would be today. We live in a time where it’s very important for everyone to make their voices heard, and we just hope that we can maybe add a little to the conversation and get more people to speak out about what they believe."
XOE WISE’S “DOCTOR” EXCLUSIVE/PREMIERE
According to Xoe Wise...
“We wanted to write a song that speaks to those who were left rattled or unsure of the future after the presidency, a song that has a come together feeling. All of us are left wondering what the future for healthcare, civil rights, and humanity will look like, and we wanted to say we are here and we are not giving up. We have to unite. The band decided to go with Tom Petty style drums when exploring this, of course.”