When you hear Jason Mraz’s name, chances are you’ll conjure up a list of feelings that hint at a favorable mood. The man behind such hits as “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry),” “You and I Both” and “I’m Yours” just has a sound that exudes Southern California vibes and positivity.
Sure, most musicians would appreciate being approved by a mass audience, but that feeling can be a double-edged sword for a songwriter, who may hesitate to put pen to paper when inspiration calls for something a little darker.
Mraz – poised to kick off his spring acoustic tour March 8 at downtown Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium – doesn’t disagree with that notion. He understands that most of his audience shows up to feel a little bit better about life, and it’s asking a lot to expect them to hear him sing about a bad day that happened months, or even years, earlier.
“It’s just always been a personal preference of mine to not chase or put (downbeat songs) out and promote those. The few that I’ve tried, it gets old to perform those onstage,” Mraz acknowledges in a phone interview. He’s calling during a short break before the acoustic tour launches in Raleigh, having just wrapped a successful run on Broadway’s “Waitress,” which was extended past the initial booking.
“It just gets old to ask an audience to come on a journey with me through a time when I was feeling depressed or ungrateful,” he said. “Usually, the positive songs are a result of my being depressed for a period of time, where I finally have a breakthrough in my life that snaps me back into a feeling of positivity. If I can weave that feeling into a song, then I know that song has medicine in it, and that song will most likely be a good one.”
That approach toward songwriting is just one of many toward creating music that Mraz has adopted since breaking through to mainstream audiences years ago. The singer just celebrated the 15th anniversary of that breakthrough: 2002’s hit album “Waiting for My Rocket to Come,” by writing new liner notes that will be included in the record’s first-ever vinyl pressing. Releasing the album in vinyl would have been absurd 15 years ago, but Mraz hints that the old technology allowed artists to focus on the message they were delivering with each new release, instead of today’s constant contests for music fans’ attention.
“When I first got involved, CDs were still very much the medium through which we received our music, and with it was the concept of the album,” Mraz said. “You could still put 12 to 15 songs together, some of which were only going to be deep cuts that only people who bought the CD would like.”
Now, he says, music fans no longer listen to full albums and instead turn to singles and playlists online.
“It’s changed my relationship in how I create albums, because 10 years ago you could still say, ‘Yeah, these two songs are kind of weird, but they really help the flow of the record,’ ” he said. “Nowadays, I feel like I’m challenged that every song I record is a winner and that there is nothing that can be skipped.”
That can make it challenging to put an album together, he said, naming several songs that weren’t released from “Rocket.”
“I don’t know that I would be able to get those songs on a record today,” he said. “Everything is so (singles) driven, and the analytics behind streaming services work so that when a song is skipped, it gets demoted in the streaming world. You don’t want to create an album with songs that can be skipped, because it can only hurt you down the road, since data is being collected on your album as a whole. Basically, robots are listening to music more than ever, and robots are determining the popularity of such things.”
The tech-driven world of today’s music business is one reason the singer is looking forward to hitting the road this spring for his solo run of shows. Later this summer, he’ll stand on outdoor amphitheater stages for the “Good Vibes” portion of the tour.
But the intimate confines of his acoustic evenings – including the show in Raleigh – bring the opportunity to interact with audience members. That can be hard to do when someone is yelling from the lawn seats.
After a year off, which he spent on Broadway, he’s ready for that relationship with audiences again.
“Technically, my solo show doesn’t offer much more than a guitar and a (voice), so it has more of a storyteller’s vibe,” he said. “Since I’m alone, the setlist can change more often, and the audience can shout more requests out. That becomes the tone of the solo shows.”
As a result, the setlist can change every few nights, he said, “becoming something new entirely, just based on the environment and energy I’m finding.
“I like that, and that’s why I still go out and do the solo shows, as it keeps me connected to my catalog,” he said. “It keeps me on my toes and forces me to remember what songs I’ve recorded in the past.”