Photos: Tammi Tan
Video: Foong Mien Shi
Can you guess who – or rather, what – had the honour of being the very first ones to listen to Jason Mraz’s latest album Yes!?
For those not in the know, Jason is, in addition to being a Grammy-winning artist who has sold millions of records, the owner of a huge avocado farm in California, where he also resides. And right in the middle of the plantation is the studio where most of the record was made.
“We recorded with all the doors and windows open, so the plants and trees were the first to hear it,” Jason revealed at a roundtable interview with us yesterday. “They would like to give us a Grammy. (Laughs)”
How the singer, who is here in town for a two-night acoustic show with indie folk group Raining Jane, came to be an avocado aficionado is completely unintentional: he was looking for a home that was “out in nature”, settled on a location that happened to have hundreds of the fruit trees, and decided to keep the growth going. Besides the guacamole ingredient, the farm also produces other tropical fruits and vegetables.
So, after nearly 15 years of making music and 10 years of caring for crops, which does Jason find more challenging?
“Making an album is harder work, because there’s a science to gardening, and how much effort you put in is how much you’ll get out of it,” he explained. “[As for] music, it requires a different energy source and a different kind of science – we can duplicate or replicate what others have done in the past, but to make a new sound, a new statement, and something that comes from the heart, takes a lot of experimentation, practise and risks.”
The outcome of a harvest is also much more predictable. “I can plan out my garden for next year and know what it’s going to look like and what it’s going to yield; but I can honestly tell you that I have no idea what my next record will look or sound like.”
Well, he may not know, but we’re willing to guess that it will, like his five albums so far, carry an uplifting vibe with encouraging messages – a signature trait of Jason’s offerings.
“My positive songs stem from negative experiences – when I’m in despair, I turn to music to elevate myself into a more spiritually connected and optimistic individual, rather than become defeated by my own thoughts,” he said. “It’s my effort to change my world through my thoughts, speech, actions and attitudes.”
Read on for more from our chat with Jason and Raining Jane’s Mona Tavakoli on what to expect from the Singapore stop this year, a fun fact about avocados, and ‘3 Things’ Jason will always say Yes! to:
How does it feel to be back in Singapore?
Jason: It feels great! I’m always surprised to still be on this adventure, which started 12 to 15 years ago, and with every album I’m amazed that my music is still received around the world.
Mona: It’s Raining Jane’s first time here in Singapore so it’s really special to us.
Jason, you’ve performed here before; what’s different about the show this time?
Jason: The biggest difference is that my backing band is Raining Jane (who are featured on Yes!). I like to keep my shows fresh every time people come to see me, because while the songs, material and messages are the same, the way we tell the stories is different.
What are ‘3 Things’ (a track on his new album) you will always say “Yes!” to, no matter what?
Jason: I always say yes to anything Mona asks [Mona laughs, “It’s true”]; I always say yes to coming to Singapore to play concerts; and I say yes to green juice all the time. If someone has a green beverage, I’m going to drink it.
What about three things that everyone should say no to?
Jason: Racism, any kind of inequality in the world, injustice…
Mona: Because we’re in Singapore, littering.
Jason: No littering, because wherever we go, that helps us to stay conscious of our environment, which is nice.
Mona: One thing I’ve noticed about Jason after being friends with him for eight years, is that if he finds a piece of litter on the ground, he’ll pick it up and throw it away when he finds a garbage bin.
Jason: Or I’ll put it in my scrapbook. [Chuckles]
Jason, you got your start playing shows in coffee shops. Do you still chill out in cafes?
Jason: I’m a regular at several coffee shops back home and sometimes I still play there. Life there remains the same, which is nice. (Deadpanning) But they don’t put on my music because they know that I’ll probably walk out if I heard it there.
How do you spend your first two hours every day?
Jason: Right after waking up I do a little exercise routine called the Five Tibetan Rites, which I find helps clear my mind from anything I might have dreamed or read the day before. I definitely try to avoid my phone and computer because I don’t need to start my day with questions and concerns. If there’s time, I love to go to the gym, and if I’m travelling, I like to read the papers while having some tea or green juice. But if we’re touring intensely, I sleep for those first two hours, because after I wake up we have to get going.
If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be and why?
Jason: Sara Bareilles. [Her music] is beautiful, it’s energetic, it’s alive, it’s current – and I want some of that.
Mona: I think it’d be really fun to work with Prince because he’s just so creative and out there. He wears pants that don’t cover the butt! I would really enjoy being the drummer behind him. (Laughs)
Share with us a little-known fact about avocados.
Jason: The ancient Aztecs referred to it as “ahuácatl”, which is the same word they use for testicle. That’s actually because most fruits resemble the part of the body they’re good for; for instance, a walnut looks like a human brain, and sure enough, they’re great for the brain.
Jason’s second Singapore show is happening tonight, 18 November, at 8pm at The Star Theatre. Tickets, priced from $68 to $168, are available on Sistic.