A year ago, Jason Mraz jubilantly drove a pickup from San Diego to play three unpaid shows in the parking lot of the Gorge Amphitheater near Seattle.
Sure, he had to bring his own PA, but the Mechanicsville, Virginia, singer/songwriter was opening for his heroes from nearby Charlottesville — the Dave Matthews Band.
And it would only get better.
"I'm in the middle of a song [on the second day] and slowly people are like standing up like gophers or something," Mraz said, impersonating the crowd. "And they're like, [sniffing], they can smell Dave Matthews, right. And suddenly they just start rushing the area and they're freaking out. And I'm like, 'This song ... They love this song!' I had no idea, you know, until I realized they were looking through me, behind the stage. And I glance over there, and I'm like, 'Christ, it's Matthews, what's he doing out here?' But it was cool, he came out to one of my favorite songs."
Matthews approached Mraz after the show and wished him luck. "Not in music, but on the stage, because it was a hazardous area," Mraz said, referring to the rickety platform on which he was performing. However, it would not be their last encounter.
"The next day, in the middle of our set, here he comes again, strolling up. I think showing off for the DVD that he was filming because there were choppers overhead," Mraz recalled, sitting in the restroom stall of a New York club, the location he selected for his first MTV News interview. "He came up and was like, 'You mind if I bogart your stage?,' you know, in that Dave Matthews mumble. I passed him my guitar, went over to the side, smoked a cigarette, and couldn't believe it."
Three months later, Mraz joined Matthews for several arena dates, this time in a real opening slot. It was right around the time his debut album, Waiting for My Rocket to Come, was released and Ryan Seacrest was introducing "Remedy (I Won't Worry)" as the most requested song on [L.A.'s] KIIS-FM. The song has been gaining momentum at radio and video outlets ever since and is currently #12 on Billboard's Top 40.
Mraz co-wrote "The Remedy" with Avril Lavigne hitmakers the Matrix and although the song is catchier than a commercial jingle — particularly the chorus: "The remedy is the experience/ It is a dangerous liaison" — it was actually inspired by a close friend who survived bone cancer.
"It was just such a surprise, you know? Like, we grew up together, we drank the same water, everything we did was identical, so why do I have a record deal and why is he in the hospital?" Mraz recalled. "That was kind of the initial feeling, but we spoke every day and he was like, 'Dude, don't sweat it, you know? I'm just going to go into the hospital, get this done, no big deal.' And he did.
"Cancer treatment is a very positive experience," he continued. "Everybody I've met anyway, they keep the most positive attitude because it really is the power of positive thinking that heals, and that's what the song is about ... and I kind of let the idea that I learned through him and through the ordeal flow over into a healing song for all of America and all of its recent tragedies as well."
Like "The Remedy," the songs on Waiting for My Rocket to Come find Mraz reflecting on his own everyday experiences or those affecting people around him, including falling in love ("Who Needs Shelter") and out of love ("Absolutely Zero").
"There's a song on the album, 'I'll Do Anything,' which is about this guy who is willing to do anything, say anything, full of one-liners, just to get laid, basically, so I put myself in his shoes for that song," Mraz said laughing. "Everything is based on relationships that I've witnessed — family, friends, labelmates, anyone."
Musically, Mraz injects his roots-rock with elements of reggae, blues and country, and occasionally delivers his lyrics like a rapper.
"I know a lot of guys out there who are playing music now [and] who are doing what I do, and I think that's from ... [if] you ask anybody what kind of music they listen to nowadays, they say, 'a little bit of everything,' " Mraz theorized. "And that's the worst answer in the world. It's boring, but it's true. We all listen to all kinds of music now, you know, from hip-hop to ... even there's a bit of country that we're all into — or alt-country — or some dub or some, you know, some pop music. I love Kelly Clarkson! C'mon, are you kidding me?"
Mraz is currently wrapping up a string of North American dates, which will be followed in September with tours of Japan and England.