7 p.m. Sept. 16
EMU Convocation Center
799 N. Hewitt Road, Ypsilanti
Jason Mraz is all love, because even when the wordplay-toying troubadour isn’t singing about it, he’s spreading it. To everyone.
Since the hipster launched his career eight years ago with “Waiting for My Rocket to Come,” he’s been an outspoken gay rights supporter – maybe even more (sexually “open-minded,” as he told us). But Mraz is also remarkably talented: How else do you hold a record for most weeks on the singles chart – ever? But, for 76 weeks, there he was with “I’m Yours,” off his latest studio album, 2008’s “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.”
As the singer-songwriter readies his upcoming release, due next year, he’s working out the new material on the road, stopping at 7 p.m. Sept. 16 in Ypsilanti. We stole a few minutes with Mraz, 33, to chat about the new tunes, his Bjork-loving inner girl, being a gay rights activist and how, sometimes, he walks around naked.
Word is there’s lots of love on this upcoming album. What kind of love – romantic? bromantic? gay?
You know, “The Love Album” was actually a working title for this record, and it’s still in the running. Love is always a recurring theme in my work. I feel like everything I try to create is to reveal a blessing from a hardship or just to add more positive articulation to a situation or the current state of the world. Optimism has always been my genre – so yeah, it’s bro love, it’s love for all, it’s equality.
You’ve said your songwriting tends to have a feminine sensibility about it. Are you tapping into your inner girl for these songs?
Um – maybe. As a songwriter, my inner girl is Bjork. And I know that sounds weird – we’re nothing alike – but I love her singing style, and that’s what pushes me over the top as a singer.
The inner feminine in my songwriterness is nothing more than keeping a diary (laughs). Whenever I open up that thing and start scribbling in it, I feel like a 12-year-old girl.
Do you have a special pen?
You know what, I get attached to pens, I do. And then I always get upset when I lose them.
You should get Bjork onboard for this gay rights song you’re interested in doing with Elton John. You three, what do you say?
Yeah! That’s not a bad idea.
Has that song reached Elton yet?
It hasn’t. I went to his Oscar party and I had the flu. I couldn’t talk without coughing, so I chose to just sit there tight-lipped because I didn’t want to cough on anybody’s face and be repulsive. But if anything, I got a little face time and I’m going to see him again in October, so hopefully!
You’ve been incredibly outspoken about gay rights. How did you get involved in the fight, including Cyndi Lauper’s Give a Damn campaign?
They came to me. I did a project with the True Colors Fund and Broadway Impact in New York – a fundraiser/small cabaret performance thing – and I got to know a lot of great people in that organization. Then they put out the Give a Damn campaign and they just called me up.
I was always turned on by people making a difference. And most of my management team is gay, a lot of my friends in San Diego are gay, and so are a lot of my high school friends. It seemed pointless for me to not speak up when I have such a huge audience that I can speak to.
Have you always been close to gay people?
In high school, my best friend was gay. Also, a friend of mine got kicked out of his house because he came out, and so my dad, being a hero, took him in. I was bullied myself in high school, and then taking a gay kid into our house – it felt so good to do that.
I went to musical-theater college, so I was probably the only straight kid there. And now, you know, I’m in the entertainment business.
Could you empathize with gay people because you were bullied for doing something that wasn’t considered macho – cheerleading?
Yeah, I just didn’t understand it. In fact, I had older family members that were kind of closed-minded that would talk bad about other people and use stereotypes and it never sat well with me as a kid. Those are the kind of things that make kids grow up to think that being gay is wrong or that people of color are unsafe to be around, and so I wanted to overcome that. I wanted to make sure that my kids didn’t grow up that way.
What did you learn about yourself by experimenting with your sexuality when you were younger?
I learned that I’m not really into facial hair! It has nothing to do with being too selective other than I kind of like smooth features (laughs). Going up against someone else’s facial hair or chest hair, it’s just not my thing. And yeah, that’s about it.
In 2005, you told Genre that you’re “bisexually open-minded.” Are you still keeping your options open?
Well, I would say it’s still an option in that I’m open-minded, but I’ve found someone who just makes me feel so great. I’m with a beautiful woman, and the way she supports me and holds me up gives me the strength to go out and fight for these causes.
Did you ever attend a gay wedding while California, where you live, allowed gay marriage?
I have not been to a gay wedding, no. My friend, (recording artist) Abby Schwartz, is engaged. She’s the one that actually got me into the LGBT center in San Deigo, which really kind of led me to the whole fight. So she’s engaged, and hopefully I get an invite to her wedding.
What song of yours would make a good gay wedding song?
I’ve written a few for this next record that I hope are good wedding songs. I mean, I’ve heard people use “I’m Yours” and “Lucky” for their wedding, but I’ve written one called – fuck, I don’t even know what it’s called – but I’m calling it “This is What Our Lives Look Like” or “This is What Our Love Looks Like,” and it’s just getting present with the person standing in front of you. It’s basically wedding vows.
On tour, you change up your set-lists for each show. Is that because you get bored playing the same show night after night?
Yeah, a little bit. And I feel like we have a lot of material, and it’s going to be tricky to sneak it in without boring everybody. I’m changing up my band, I’m changing up the feel a little bit, but it’s not going to be a stretch. It’s just going to be tight and exciting, and it’s still going to be a show about community and participation. And it’s never planned, so the current events and the current weather conditions and the room and the energy of the audience all weigh in to how great the show will be.
You test the new songs on the road, right?
Yeah, I’ve been in the studio for quite a bit this year, so now – before I put the final touches on the album – I want to get on the road and see how these songs feel, because they’ll change so much as soon as you get onstage.
You’re hitting all sorts of venues. What differences do you notice in the crowd and vibe between different rooms?
You could play the same room every night and always have a different vibe, different crowd. It’s really about the day: Was there traffic coming in? Was there traffic on the way to work this morning? Everybody comes in with some kind of energy, so I’m no longer attached to the room. I make the best of every situation.
My friend claims that there’s more pot depending on where you perform.
Oh yeah, that’s true. Festivals, obviously. With theaters you’re less likely to get away with pulling out an apparatus – and getting it done.
Some pretty risque photos of you are floating around online – some in which a guitar is the only thing covering your bits and one of you in your underwear. Are you an exhibitionist?
I’m growing more into my exhibitionism. Where I live at home is more like a compound, and so my significant other, she’s always getting an exhibit. We frolic around naked. And then she and I both went to Burning Man, an exhibitionist dream that’s kind of off the radar in the desert, and so that’s nothing but sheer exhibitionism.
But you know, I’m growing more into it as I’m growing as a young man. I’m still a well-mannered kid – and I’m worried that my mom is looking at everything!