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Jason Mraz sings out loud
Jason Mraz is on tour for a couple of reasons right now.
One is as a kind of victory lap for his latest album, 2008’s “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.,” which was certified platinum or better in 16 countries, including the U.S., and won a pair of Grammy Awards for the singles “I’m Yours” and “Lucky,” a duet with Colbie Caillat.
“I’ve been indoors and off the road for almost a year,” explains the Virginia-born, San Diego-based Mraz, 33, who released his first album, “Waiting For My Rocket to Come,” in 2002. “This gives us an opportunity to play with some new technology — we’ve been building a lighting display out of recycled materials, so we want to see if that works — and try to reconnect with some fans in cities we haven’t been to in many, many years as well.”
But for Mraz, it’s also a chance to unveil some of what’s been keeping him indoors recently, namely new material for his fourth studio album, which he hopes to release in 2011.
“It’s not going to be a show entirely of new material,” he promises,“’cause we wouldn’t want to bore people with songs they aren’t familiar with. But night after night after night we’ll be able to sneak in a couple songs here and there that we’ve been working on in the studio to see if they work or not.”
Mraz, in fact, has “tons and tons of material” he’s been working on with London-based producer Martin Terefe, and will likely come out of it with more than one project. “I’ve got two very different sounding albums,” he says. “If I cut all of the material in half, I’ve got something that’s fresh for the summer, ready for people to dance to, and I’ve got something else that’s a little different, a little more lush and tender.
“I kinda hope that I do (have two albums),” he adds, “because I’ve been doing three years between each album now ... But I’ve got so much stuff right now that it hurts my feelings to leave some of it off one album, and I would like to know that I’ll have a follow-up album all ready to go.”
Mraz describes his new work as “just all varieties of pop, really” and includes titles such as “Sandiscoreggaefornia,” “In Your Hands” and “Disco DIY.” He’s also put together some eyebrow-raising collaborations, including teaming with Willie Nelson last November to record “The Way is Love,” an unreleased Roy Orbison song that was demoed about six months before his death in 1988.
“He recorded it just on a hand-held dictaphone,” Mraz says, “and his wife (Barbara Orbison) sent us a copy. No one’s ever recorded it or released it, so we’re gonna give it a shot.”
In May, meanwhile, Mraz went to Brazil to record a love song called “Simplesmente Todo (Simply All)” with Milton Nascimento, who sings in Portuguese while Mraz performs in English.
“I was always a fan of his music,” Mraz explains. “I never understood a word he was saying, but something about the tone and the sounds ... in his music was definitely resonating with me. More and more people I met were telling me he was the greatest lyricist in Brazil, and I was really intrigued.” Mraz also did some writing with Dido, which he expects to be “the first of a few sessions ... that could be a really beautiful pairing.”
Mraz says that “if I had to hang my hat up today, I’d definitely be happy about the record I could put out.” But he plans to hit the studio again in mid-October with the lessons he learned from the road to “see what else gets added or tweaked” before making final decisions. “My goal,” he says, “is to have everything wrapped up in early November and at the early part of 2011 hit the road and start visiting all the countries again.”
Mraz’s past year, and career, has also been marked by his efforts as an activist, from playing at Farm Aid (as he will again next month in Milwaukee) to taking part in protests to abolish child slavery in Africa and aiding residents in the Gulf region following the recent BP oil spill.
“It’s been great to put the messages form my journeys into these new songs,” Mraz says. “Music gave me access to the world, and ... I’ve learned I can affect more people through one song than I can by just trudging around with a backpack from community to community. Sure, I can have an impact on one person’s life that way, but I love that a song can circumnavigate the globe so quickly and affect so many people.”
Jason Mraz performs at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center, 799 N. Hewitt Road, Ypsilanti. Tickets are $42. Call 734-487-2282 or visit www.emu.edu.
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