JASON MRAZ Singer 'remedies' his rough past
It's important to celebrate being different, he says.
By JOHN BENSON
Known as the "Remedy" kid with the sideways red baseball cap and granola hip-hop delivery, Jason Mraz arrived on the music scene a few years ago as the missing link between Eminem and Dave Matthews.
While hit single "Remedy" is a fun tongue-twister of a ride, Mraz received his fair share of media criticism, calling his music prosaic and watered down adult contemporary fare.
So when it came time to write the follow-up to his debut, 2002's platinum selling "Waiting for My Rocket to Come," Mraz didn't have to look far for inspiration. But no one would have guessed that his recently released sophomore major label album, "Mr. A-Z," would unabashedly take on all aspects of Mraz's angst-filled personal and professional past in such a poignant and upfront manner.
The disc opens with a decidedly nonrapping, traditional singer-songwriter-esque, "Life is Wonderful." It's followed by lead single -- and "Remedy"-sounding -- "Wordplay" and the autobiographical "Geek in the Pink." In quick succession, Mraz takes on his own demons, his critics and his high school bullies.
"It's like a chess game, man. You have to get yourself set up to enjoy the rest of the game," said Mraz, calling from a tour stop in Michigan.
If that's the case, then checkmate for Mraz, who let it all out on "Wordplay." The singer systematically deflects each of his criticisms as if he's been keeping a list since day one.
"They're buried in my skull and haunt me daily," Mraz said. "Not daily anymore but maybe once a week. But most of the album had been written. So I sat down to write a single and the only thing on my mind was, 'How do you write a single?' 'Blah-blah-blah, it's all about the airplay.' That was the original lyric and then slowly I started to tweak it and it became 'Wordplay.' It's just a three-chord pop song I was able to put a little bit of me into."
Born in Mechanicsville, Va., Mraz was always drawn to the arts. After high school, he moved west, landing in San Diego's coffeehouse scene, where he was eventually signed by Atlantic Records. His debut quickly followed with his smooth rap delivery of oftentimes intricate but insightfully funny lyrics almost instantly catching the mainstream's ears. It was a classic example of be careful what you wish for.
"I don't want to be placed on some pop pedestal as the 'Remedy' guy to certain people," Mraz said. "I've always tried to be kitschy and tongue-in-cheeky. And to me this has been one kind of big lottery winning that I've been riding the whole time. I'll always be a kid from Virginia who is going to be enjoying the fact that anytime he runs into a girl from his high school, he feels great about himself because now she's pregnant and fat and I'm making a living doing something I really enjoy doing. But I just kind of took a job working in pop music."
If Mraz seems bitter about his past, he is. That's what will happen to you after a lifetime of being picked on in high school, shoved into a locker and called "faggot." But instead of taking up arms against his oppressors, Mraz's peaceful Columbine moment can be found on "Geek in the Pink." The singer-songwriter, who appears Oct. 19 at the House of Blues, is hoping this song becomes a concert anthem for likeminded individuals.
"You have to celebrate the inner geek," Mraz said. "And that's what we do on this tour. A lot of people who come to our show are me in high school. They are these crazy little guys that you can't tell if they're gay or straight and there's all of these geeky girls and basically the room is filled with these people you can tell maybe don't fit in.
"I love that we have a song in the show that celebrates us inner geeks. Don't give a [crap] what anybody thinks because the more that you stand out, the more of an original you are. The more unique you actually are. It's taken me 10 years after high school to realize that."