His last name remains difficult to pronounce for some and a source of prank calls for his dad. But that's not stopping Jason Mraz, who gives a spelling lesson on his upcoming dual-disc sophomore album, Mr. A-Z.
"Mr. A-Z is something my dad used to say, because he would have to spell it [for people]," said Mraz, whose new set has been moved up from August 23 to July 26. "Like, you're at the bank and someone's writing your name down, he would basically just say, 'It's Mr. A-Z.' It's a fun way of having a self-titled album."
Though the title's quirky tribute to his dad may clear up spelling confusion, it has also birthed a nuisance for Mraz-the-elder in other ways. "It's been a breeze having the public spell and pronounce his name correctly," Mraz explained. "It's great, but he still hasn't changed his telephone number, so if you look up 'Mraz' in the phonebook in Virginia, we're the only one, so he does get the telephone calls." The outgoing message on his dad's answering machine says that his son is out on tour to dissuade people from bothering him.
If fans aren't too busy wasting time fooling around with directories, they can catch Mraz this month on his college tour (see "Jason Mraz Turns His Tongue-Tripping Surname Into An Asset For Next LP"). The 27-year-old jokes that the tour is a not-so-veiled effort to go back to school in a noncommittal way.
"I never actually went to college," he said, "so if I do a college tour, and I hit enough colleges, maybe in like four or five years I'll get a diploma of some kind and make my parents proud." While it's unlikely that he'll acquire a degree by osmosis, he will at least be getting another stamp on his passport when he plays the StadtFest show in Vienna, Austria on the 30.
Mr. A-Z was mostly recorded at Allaire Studios in Woodstock, New York, and also at his home studio in San Diego. Mraz said über-producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Dave Matthews Band) taught him many things but that the best advice he garnered was not to reveal too much about his music. "Steve's got a lot of good advice. He said, 'Don't ever tell anybody what your songs are about.' "
Though not entirely negating that piece of sage advice — Mraz agreed that "TMI" can trap listeners into feeling a certain way about a song before they hear it — he's slowly begun doling out track details on his Web site over the past two weeks.
The first track, "Life Is Wonderful," is also the first song he wrote for the album. Unofficially dubbed "Crane" by Mraz and the band, the Zero 7-inspired song is a psychedelic, four-minute-plus introduction to the album. The sixth track, "Clockwatching," was the most difficult track to record but is Lillywhite's favorite, according to Mraz. Written on top of a washing machine in a Wyoming cabin, the song's beat and overall feel is a tribute to the Cure and other '80s bands of that ilk, he said.
The first single off Mr. A-Z is "Wordplay." Mraz described it as a tongue-in-cheek response to the reaction his pop hit "Remedy" got and the expectation that he has to churn out similar singles to please his record label. " 'Wordplay' is sort of a wordplay on having that pressure that comes with a sophomore album," he said. "When you turn in an album to a major label these days [you hear], 'Where are the singles?' "
Mraz said the single was a purposely exaggerated effort that he wasn't sure would fly when he submitted it. "I honestly didn't even expect anyone to buy it," he said. "It was kind of a joke turning it in, and everyone loved it. There are definitely little fun stabs at the record labels and what happens. They [were] like, 'Great!' "
"Wordplay" will hit radio in May, and a video shoot is planned for the beginning of the month, according to his rep. Mraz doesn't have a concept in mind for the treatment but is encouraging input from fans on his Web site. While ideas for the video are brewing, he already has some wild hip-hop-inspired dreams of what should happen off camera.
"I think I want to bring in the bling-bling, bring in the cars and the girls," he said. "I don't want cars and girls in the video, but when we're not shooting, if we could hang out in nice cars and naked girls ... that would really be something."