“I have a gift for you,” Jason Mraz said, arms outstretched.
Cupped in his palms was an avocado, bumpy and green. It came from a tree on his farm — “100 per cent organic, Mraz Fresh,” the sticker read. Last year, he sold 34,000 pounds of the fruit to Chipotle stores near his Oceanside home. He grows other things on his land too — peppers and corn and leafy greens. If he could, he said, he’d spend most of his days there, hands in the earth.
Mraz wants to garden more, surf more, have a kid, put some of the money he’s saved from selling 4.5 million albums toward a good cause. So he’s started a campaign with his manager: ‘#RetiredAt40’. He has one more album left on his contract with Atlantic Records, and then he plans to check out for a while.
“I’m just ready for a break. It feels like a corporate job sometimes,” the 37-year-old said, sitting in the wings of the Spreckels Theatre, where he was rehearsing for the start of his 31-date tour.
It’s a surprising admission from the singer-songwriter, whose fifth studio album, Yes!, opened at No 2 on the Billboard 200 chart in July. With two Grammys under his belt, Mraz appeared to have settled into a professional groove. His songs have remarkable longevity, and in 2009, his single I’m Yours broke records when it stayed on the charts for 76 weeks.
“At the time, that was a really big deal,” said Keith Caulfield, associate director of charts and sales for Billboard. “He speaks to a large number of people because he’s singing about things that are easily identifiable.”
Since he came on the scene with his trucker hat and goofy wordplay a dozen years ago, Mraz has made a name for himself as the glass-half-full guy. On Yes! — made with longtime collaborators Raining Jane — he sounds like a man contented, basking in the glow of having found his soul mate.
“And love is a funny thing/It’s making my blood flow with energy,” he sings in Love Someone. “And it’s like an awakened dream/As what I’ve been wishing for is happening.”
“I think the reason my music focuses on optimism,” he said, “is because that’s what I’m focused on so that I’m not depressed all the time. It’s no accident that every song is about, ‘Here’s how you can feel better,’ because it’s just in my nature to generally wake up on the wrong side of the bed.”
He makes a conscious effort to maintain his mental health — meditating, repeating daily mantras, coming back to the present. It was a shift that began in 2006, when he did a few shows with the Rolling Stones and saw how well they took care of themselves. Mraz, meanwhile, was smoking cigarettes and eating junk food.
An archetype of a hippie
He’s since morphed into the archetype of a mellow, Southern California hippie that East Coast elites love to mock. He sells packets of seeds at his concerts. He’s a partner in Cafe Gratitude, whose five vegan restaurants serve up dishes with names such as ‘I Am Open-Hearted’ (gluten-free pancakes) and ‘I Am Vivacious’ (baked kale chips).
“This,” he explained, motioning toward his Thermos, “is a dark roast mate grown by the Twelve Tribes. I don’t know if you’re hip with the Twelve Tribes, but they’re a commune. I feel that if the ... hits the fan and society collapses and our monetary system falters and we’re out of resources — the Twelve Tribes are the ones you’re gonna wanna be in bed with.”
At 21, he began modelling his career after Dave Matthews, figuring out the steps the musician had taken to become famous.
“Dave ended up taking the $100-million route, which is a little too much work for my interests,” he said. “Raining Jane teases me that I run at about 80 per cent. I’m 20 per cent reluctance.”
As a result, he’s ended up in what he calls “the friend zone”.
“People aren’t walking around with my Trapper Keeper,” he said, grinning. “I’m not on their newsstands on their People magazines. But people might hear me on the radio or while they’re on their jog or in the kitchen baking. I’m totally great for that.”
“Whenever there’s turbulence on a plane, I think, ‘This plane’s gonna go down,’ and I kind of get [mad],” Mraz said. “I stress that I haven’t spent enough time in Virginia with my parents. I keep thinking I want to go back home and help them clean out their garage.”