By Matt Hickman
Since Jason Mraz burst on the scene with his slick-tongued, witty and socially conscious hit ‘The Remedy’, in 2002, he’s hardly slowed at all.
With more than seven million albums sold and a portfolio of catchy ear worms able to halt the scan for even the pickiest FM listener, Mraz has enjoyed nearly 20 years of stardom, all along the way making sure to use his platform to promote social issues.
The one thing Mraz hasn’t done in all that time is perform in Alaska, and that will change Saturday, Aug. 3 when he headlines Salmonfest at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik. We caught up with him from the road last week for a little Q&A.
Will Salmonfest be your first performance in Alaska? What made you want to be part of it this year?
Yes, Salmonfest will be my first performance and visit to Alaska. I heard about it a couple years ago and was happy to receive an invitation. It is an honor and a privilege to play music for a living. Knowing this, it’s important to continually align my performances with causes that improve the world by engaging and awakening audiences.
What are some of the causes dearest to you and how has your music and fame helped you shine a light on those issues?
I am a constant believer in love over fear, and an advocate for the advancement of equality. Music success has given me a chance to see many sides of the planet and revealed to me that there is suffering everywhere. And yet, systems continue to chase dollars, threaten and oppress with war and violence, none of which are sustainable solutions. We could feed the whole planet, house the homeless, care for the sick, and thrive on renewable energy in harmony with the planet if we choose. But we are still tied to a grid, powered by greed and fear. Songs are part of a solution as they can harness the power of love through positive thought, inspiring and informative speech, generous action, courageous and constant belief, and unwavering attitude, all anchored in rhythm, melody and tone.
Songs are mantras that can help awaken, engage, transmute, and transform. I support many organizations so long as they are in alignment with love.
How closely have you followed issues regarding salmon in Alaska and the mining projects that threaten it?
I have only recently become aware of this issue. But I am not surprised. The exploitation of natural resources is for short gains, which businesses and stockholders thrive on, working hard and fast until the resource becomes depleted and they sell their stocks, abandoning their equipment, leaving the planet and her inhabitants in ruin. They don’t care about the bigger picture nor the future generations they are stealing from.
Progress today is measured by how much one can do or accumulate in a day and this is harmful to both human and planet. This rate of speed by which progress is measured creates a demand for such minerals, oil, fast fashion and fast food, adding consumers to the blame. But I believe people are good, and that we would rally around every change necessary. But, unfortunately, rising to an occasion is usually only seen in times of recovery & crisis management. I like that Salmonfest is trying to stay ahead of the problem with collaborations and solutions. Every action matters. There are no small acts. And each generation must pass a baton to keep the momentum to whatever it is they are fighting. I may be new to Salmonfest, but I’m happy to help and hold that baton.
Looking back, how did you make the leap from solo troubador to rock star? Was the ride everything you thought it would be?
I didn’t make any leap overnight, except for the night I physically moved myself out of college and started driving to California. I was 21 and I heard a call. Every day since then has been critical in my journey, serving many people and purposes.
Troubadour is a talent. Rock Star is just a title. Being part of a legacy of troubadours is a journey that isn’t final, nor has a definitive ending. I am in constant learning and evolution. I realize there are songs in me still eager to come through, just as there are relationships and issues I’ve yet to face… I still have a job to do.
How did you hone your gift for fast and witty wordplay in song? What were your influences?
I find influence in many forms. Musically it’s anything that sounds talented or divinely guided, which can be found in all genres. I get my quickness from growing up singing classical, jazz, and hip hop. I choose witty, I choose to have fun and not be boring or predictable.
For folks who’ve only heard your hits, what three deep cuts of yours should they listen to to get who you are as a complete artist?
I think ‘93 million Miles’ (from 2012’s ‘Love Is A Four Letter Word’) offers a glimpse at where I’ve come from and where I am today, which is kid from a small town who received a blessing from his parents to follow his dreams and is now just trying to stay present and enjoy each moment in this precious, miraculous existence.
‘Love Is Still The Answer’ (from 2018’s ‘Know.) is a contemplative song that I think all my songs are secretly attempting to achieve.
‘Quiet’, (from the 2014 ‘YES!’) is a favorite, too. It addresses constant change in the world, and how constant friends and relationships can help us stay strong or happy through it all. My artistry and abilities are only possible because of listenership, and constant support of colleagues, friends and family. They make me a complete artist.
How has the role of the activist-artist changed over the years, especially in the political climate we live in now?
The older you get, the more you learn, the more pissed off you become. Add that to the older you get, the less time you have, so as time passes, I ask why not try to affect change, influence policy, and improve matters? Leave the world better than you found it.