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Interview: Jason Mraz talks about his positive new album Look For The Good and working with producer Michael Goldwasser

The singer-songwriter previews his new reggae album.

Jason Mraz
Credit: Jen Rosenstein

Jason Mraz has established himself as one of the world’s finest singer-songwriters since the release of his 2002 album Waiting For My Rocket to Come.

His last album Know. arrived in 2018 and it completed his long-time record deal with Atlantic Records. For his latest project, Look For The Good, Jason has signed a new deal with BMG and the album find him fully embracing his love of reggae music.

I caught up with Jason recently to take about the album’s positive message, find out what it was like working with producer Michael Goldwasser and to talk about the album’s closing track Gratitude’s long journey to being recorded…

I’ve had the new album Look For The Good for a little while now and it feels so timely. How are you feeling about putting music out at this time?

I have mixed emotions because I love getting music out, especially if it resonates with people during special times in their lives or unique moments in their lives. But at the same time the speed in which the world operates is a little different and to be out there selling a product is strange so that’s the part that’s weird. Most music nowadays comes through streaming services and comes across the airwaves so I am looking for the good in this and that is that hopefully my music can provide some type of peace or freedom and joy for these strange times. It’s a high honour for any musician to be heard and so if I can be heard during these times especially, then I accept that.

I think this album is going to bring a lot of comfort and positivity to people at a time when they really need. What was the inspiration for the record?

Well, I’ve been writing positive songs for a long time and that is the work that I do as a songwriter, I feel it’s my duty to paint as beautiful pictures as I can possibly paint with words and melody. That’s always my goal no matter what and knowing that in life there will always be suffering so how can I look for the good in any situation? I’ve been practicing positive songwriting for a very long time and I knew that 2020 was going to be a tumultuous year, just simply because it’s an election year, and there’s going to be a lot of things up for debate. It’s going to be heated and I thought now would be a great year to get the music out there that helps just, hopefully calm the seas and help everybody remember that we’re all family, that we’re all brothers and sisters, that we live on one planet home. That was the intention; looking at 2020 and saying, ‘how can we breathe life into positivity on a rough year?’ I did not expect it to be this rough.

Jason Mraz - Look For The Good

Credit: BMG

The album came about by my meeting Michael Goldwasser, who is a reggae producer. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and he suggested when we met that we do some music together and I was thrilled. We started working on songs and what I quickly realised was that the reggae genre being celebrated for the positivity that reggae sings (about) and the revolution that reggae sings about and the love and spirit that reggae sings about. Reggae is a kind of a gospel music in a sense. It’s a kind of country music in a sense. It gave me a platform to go to certain topics that I hadn’t yet figured out how to get into in the straight pop category. The back beat and the sound of pop music didn’t quite allow me to go full into certain quarters of my heart, I guess. Reggae opened me up a bit and it gave me a little more freedom to be singing, breathing life and shining a light into some dark corners in my life, I think.

We started last February, 2019, and that was the writing and the demo process. We made this album in August of 2019, in about a two week period. We put the band together, recorded most of it live with just some overdubs after that, and then it was a pretty long mixing process just to make sure everything sounded as good as it possibly could. We were all done by February (2020) so it took about a year of our life just focusing on it and writing, recording and mixing. I didn’t know what it was going to be. It started out as an experiment and a passion project because I love reggae and I wanted to try something new, but the end result was so potent, so powerful, so danceable, and so colourful I said, ‘oh, yeah, I want to try to find a home for this’. I actually went and got a brand new record deal after I made the record because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life. I had finished up my record contract with my last album, and I thought I’d try something new. After I made this reggae album, Look For The Good, I went right back out into the world and started trying to figure out how I’m going to get this record out to the public. That’s been the last year of my life doing all those things.

I keep gravitating toward the closing track Gratitude. It’s so relevant right now with much of the world in this pandemic situation andhaving the time to step back and understand what is important to us and what we’re grateful for. What’s the story behind that track?

I actually started that song in London. The seed of that song began in 2010. I’ve been sitting on that song for a long time originally working on it with Martin Terefe who I did, We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things with. It showed up on my shows a couple of times but it just never felt fully realised. I did a rewrite around 2015/2016 but it still wasn’t fully realised. When I was working on this project this year, I didn’t anticipate it becoming a reggae song but with the right band and the right vibes, suddenly it took off. It just jumped out. So I thought, ‘OK, I can dance to this’ and then I wrote a new section for the whole outro

During the whole recording session, I would freestyle the ending differently every time and just realise the power of slowing down and having gratitude for things. When you have gratitude for something, when you practice gratitude, you have to look for the good and that’s really what this album theme was all about, largely thanks to the songs Look For The Good and Gratitude, but every song has that slant and has that looking to the good piece in it. Gratitude is a practice I’ve tried to weave into songs for years and it’s not always easy but I thought we did a pretty good job on this record.

The features are really interesting on the record. You have reggae legend Sister Carol and actor Tiffany Haddish on there. How did those come about?

Sister Carol was one of the first artists that Michael Goldwasser ever produced so he and she are great friends. Her albums are one of the many that Michael turned me on to when when we began our relationship, and I especially loved her Herbal Healing album. It reveals how much of a wise woman she is and how much knowledge she has about herbal medicine and the positivity she has about cannabis, which has been a taboo herb for decades. She just seemed like a such a cool fit so we reached out to see if she’d want to collaborate and of course she was yes. That was fantastic. Tiffany was a friend of a friend out here in Southern California in the comedy scene. I happened to meet her and just quickly asked, ‘do you rap by any chance?’ because I was aware that she had her own foundation to help young girls and women and this song I was working on it needed some feminine presence. I have women in my band but I wanted a strong female feature that could really help amplify the message of this song. It’s a song about individuality as well as celebrating community at the same time. Just friends of a friend and the courage to ask her if she’d be interested in rapping because I was so nervous to do it, but she was fantastic.

Jason Mraz

Credit: Jen Rosenstein

The song Look For The Good was chosen for a PSA in New York for the Food for Heroes campaign. What’s it like to be involved in a PSA like that with everything that’s going on?

Oh, you know, there’s a billion songs someone could choose to listen to right now. To think that my little song resonates with anyone is always a high honour and then add to that I want my songs to help breathe life into actions and the Food for Heroes campaign is a fund for action. It’s to help feed healthcare workers. To think that they believed in my song enough to help draw some attention and energy to that fund into that act of putting together tens of thousands of meals is a huge, huge honour. I hope the song can continue to do that for many. We a songwriters didn’t write Look For The Good to try to go make it in the world or get things from it, we really just wanted to put out something positive that would hopefully outlive us and continue to breathe life into positive action. That New York campaign came early to us, it cam the minute this song was released. They jumped on it, which was really, really cool. I was really touched.

You’ve been doing lots of live streams while in quarantine. Look For The Good is an album that is going to sound so fantastic live with a full band. Are you planning to get back out on the road as soon as you can?

Absolutely, yes. The new band that is gathered around for this album is extraordinary and this is an album that needs to be celebrated live. You can dance to every song and it’s just so fun. So the answer to that is yes. I cannot wait. We were already hoping to start some of our live performances this summer and throughout the fall. All of that is being postponed to 2021. If we can figure this thing out, if everyone can stay healthy and we can figure out how to live in harmony with each other and the planet then, absolutely. I hope to put this band on the road for a long time (laughs).

Jason Mraz’s new album Look For The Good is released on Friday 19th June 2020. Watch the video for the title track below:

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