Since his first hit single “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” in 2002, Jason Mraz has built his musical career by crafting positive, upbeat music. This week sees the release of his new album, Look For The Good, a collection of songs that encourages us to find hope, optimism and gratitude despite the turmoil the world is experiencing right now.
The two-time Grammy winner talked with Live Happy to explain how this collection of songs came about, what he learned in the process of writing and recording this album, and what he hopes every listener takes away from it.
This is an exciting album to talk about because it’s so timely. Can you tell us how this whole project came about?
I knew it was going to be an election year, and election years usually bring out the debates and they’re very just heated, which is good. It’s a good thing because I think it helps us know ourselves and it helps us hear ourselves for what we are craving, what’s working, what’s not working.
On a debate year, I wanted to make sure we release some music that wouldn’t necessarily influence debates, but just would remind us to be kind; remind us to be human and treat the others on the other side of the aisle with dignity and respect, regardless of our beliefs. At the end of the day, we’re all still these very fragile human bodies made up of microorganisms and bacterias and viruses and things. Regardless of our political beliefs and geographical borders, let’s remember that we’re human.
That’s kind of what the songs are about. Let’s just remember that we’re human and we’re fragile and that there should be love for each other.
I love the reggae influence on this album, and I always feel like reggae is such a great carrier for positivity anyway. Can you talk about why you wanted it on this particular set of songs?
It really began as an experiment. It was something I wanted to make because as a live performer, whenever I would play a reggae song or I would say convert an older song of mine to a reggae style or fashion, I would get a different sensation from it. Then I would notice the audience would also connect to it in a different way. So, I thought there’s something magical about reggae that causes people to dance and connect.
As a performer, you pair that with some positive layers, like you pair that dance with and it feels like church in a way. I’m able to sing a positive message but I’m also able to dance on the fringe of ideas that are not as easily sung in traditional pop. The reggae genre allows me to breathe life not only into love and positivity but into transformational messaging or the kind of message that breathes life into an ever-changing world. I’ve not been able to do that necessarily in the pop category as easily.
Your music has always been so positive and uplifting. In that sense, you’ve always kind of swam upstream from the rest of the industry because positivity isn’t necessarily what we get out of what’s playing on the radio. Why has that always been important to you?
It starts with the love of performing and love of songwriting. I love singing, and so I became a songwriter because I love to sing. If I sit down with an instrument to sing, I just feel joy. So, it seems like what should be coming out of my mouth is something joyous, not something sad and depressing. Then if I have the luxury of someone’s ear and if they’re giving me their time and listening, I want to share with them my joy, not my sadness.
I always found myself wanting to share joy. Usually, I sit down at a piano to celebrate joy because life has gotten dark and out of balance. I say, “Okay, I’ve got to get to my instruments because that’s where joy lives. That’s where a bigger spirit in me dwells.” For some reason, joy songs just work better for me. They keep me going.
Does your positivity come to you naturally? Some people really have to work to think positive, and it seems like maybe you lean that way anyway.
Well, I do but I have to work at it because I get it through my music practice. Trust me, I get long periods of just melancholy and sadness, so I will shift to music and I will work on music or crafting something creative until that melancholy blows over, rather than just sit with the melancholy and start adding extra weight to it.
I work at it, I shift, I go to music, I go to crafting and I write. I go to journaling. I go to poetry until I feel that transformation and that transformation goes, “Aha, I am a powerful creator. I am worthy. I am new. I am renewed.” All of that comes through the creative process.
“Look for the Good” is the lead single, and it’s also the name of the album. Where did that come from?
That was actually a title that Michael Goldwasser submitted. Michael was the producer of this album, and he had heard his rabbi sermonize, “Look for the good and you will see the good.” So, if you go out in the world looking for it, you’ll find it. Same as bad news, look for the bad and you’ll find the bad. It’s easy to find. Look for the good and you’ll find the good. That was a title he submitted to this project. When he sent me an instrumental, a musical idea to work on, that was the title. All I had to do was sit down and expound upon that idea, which is what I love to do.
It’s just another version of gratitude. When you’re asked to look for the good or when you’re asked to say thank you like, “Hey, what are you thankful for?” the first thing we do is we start scanning either our memories or our environment for something good because we want to say thank you for that thing or that person or that experience in our life.
That’s excellent and it’s a great leadoff. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to this whole collection. Another song that I wanted to talk to you about is “You Do You” which features Tiffany Haddish. I love how it celebrates individuality. When people listen to that, what do you hope that they hear?
First, joy. Always joy. Freedom and joy. Those are my two favorite things, freedom and joy. They’re a favorite because I’ve been given those things in life through my parents, through the resources, through my public school. Just the system was designed for a kid like me to have freedom and joy, and so it’s been my work in my adult life to make sure others and every other human being also gets to experience freedom and joy.
“You Do You” is a song that says let us all be free to be ourselves and let us be joyous and let us celebrate each other for each other’s freedoms. We’re all going to have a different version of what that feels like, and we’re all going to have different versions of joy. There’s a lot of different ice cream flavors in that frozen food section. Everybody wants something different. Freedom and joy, that’s what I hope people get out of “You Do You.” That’s certainly what I get out of it.
Before we let you go, your wish to make the world a better place certainly doesn’t end with your music, so can you tell us a little bit about your foundation?
Yes, the Jason Mraz Foundation. It’s something I started back in 2011. Three years ago, we refocused it to focus specifically on inclusive arts education and the advancement of equality, and that is similar to programs that I came up through as a kid. Arts education is just such a great medium for collaboration. When you add inclusivity to that arts education, you’re not only getting a great arts training but you’re getting compassion and empathy and acceptance. You’re learning how to…you’re basically learning how to sit on that subway or train car and see the good in everybody.