It’s been almost fifteen years since Jason Mraz was last profiled in High Times Magazine, and the multi-platinum performer is giddy. When we connect by phone, Jason’s still enjoying the release of his new album, “Look For The Good,” and is particularly eager to discuss the track “Time Out,” given its 420 vibes.
He’s also excited to share his newfound openness surrounding his cannabis use, and the higher level of comfort he now has with cannabis in his music. “I’ve probably snuck [cannabis] in and had innuendos and puns throughout my records, but I now want to stand on my own two feet and just be proud of cannabis and myself at the same time. I have less paranoia these days, thanks to legalization, and I think that will only get better as we grow.” Growth seems to be a major throughline throughout our conversation, as Jason discusses his new body of work, seemingly for the first time as both a spiritually grounded artist and cannabis connoisseur.
Let’s start with “Time Out.” It’s included on the new album, but wasn’t it previously written?
Jason Mraz: The song had been demoed and road tested but had never been recorded. It was written with Raining Jane back in 2012 when we were in Hawaii, and at the time, we were taking a time out, retreating from our lives and diving into new ideas.
As an acoustic singer-songwriter group—myself and Raining Jane—there are other styles we want to swim and surf on, but we may not be able to pull them off ourselves as authentically as possible. Knowing what we’d be able to accomplish once we put a bigger band together, we teamed up with [music producer] Michael Goldwasser, and I sent him “Time Out” along with some other songs that were already in my stash. He understood [the track] immediately, knew what we were trying to do and what he wanted to achieve with it.
And is the version on “Look For The Good” ultimately how you envisioned the song would sound?
Jason Mraz: We actually made a version of the song for our “Yes” record in 2014, which was close, but none of us had studied reggae the way Michael Goldwasser has, and none of us had been in a reggae band up until that point. It was our attempt at reggae, and while it just didn’t fit the rest of the record and got shelved, it was always a favorite of ours.
As soon as we made the first demo with Michael, it was awesome. It got better when we brought the musicians in, and it got even better when we started to play it live, slow it down and loosen it up.
How did the collaboration with Sister Carol come about?
Jason Mraz: That was Michael’s connection. He had produced Sister Carol on previous efforts of hers, and her music was some of what Michael shared with me very early on when we first met for lunch, when I’d asked him for listening recommendations. Her older stuff is amazing, but she also has an album called “(Thc) The Healing Cure,” which really stood out to me. The entire album is about herb—not exclusively cannabis—but all kinds of healing herbs. I really resonated with that because I don’t like that cannabis is taboo, while other herbs are free to roam.
“The Healing Cure” was this really potent album and to me and [Sister Carol] stood out as a wise woman teaching us about a lot of different herbs and their many constituents. I have a song on “Look For The Good” called “Wise Woman,” and I thought, “This is awesome. Sister Carol is a real wise woman, we should get her on a track.” Once we had the songs swirling around wondering what we could [collaborate on], we proposed “Time Out” and a couple of other tunes to her not knowing what we’d get back. She recorded in Jamaica and sent us back her vocals and I was blown away. She had brought her herbal wisdom to the song, and that’s just what we needed. Raining Jane and I skirt around the healing herbs, but Carol just gets right to it. She doesn’t leave anything out and I love that. It kind of gave us a permission slip—an authority—saying, “It’s okay to talk about this. It’s okay to not only experiment with [herb], but to allow it to enhance your life.” Cannabis is one of many topics we’re trying to equalize on this record, and “Time Out” addresses that, thanks to Sister Carol being an authority on plant medicine.
To that end, what sort of role does cannabis play in your life?
Jason Mraz: Quite a big one. I don’t advocate for young people to use it for creativity, but I have. [Laughs] And what I mean by “not for creativity” is that I allow [cannabis] to enhance my view, to enhance my perception, to enhance my physical state and how I feel. But I also feel that my ideas still come from within, I still generate my own ideas. So that’s why I don’t advocate for young people to use cannabis for ideas [because] your ideas are already within you. I would still advocate for going on a hike, taking a walk through the forest, jumping in the ocean. These are all experiences and I think cannabis is an experience like that.
You’re saying cannabis helps nurture and give birth to ideas that are already within you.
Jason Mraz: Or even spin the idea somewhat. A lot of times what I like to do is write a song or start a song, get it to a good place, and then cannabis is an evening treat. Then I’ll go back and listen to what I’ve created and I’ll start editing and changing based on that altered state.
To me, being a spiritual person means asking, “Why are we here and how did we get here?”, and being courageous enough—or stupid enough—to try and answer those questions. Cannabis is one of those ingestibles that might amplify those questions and maybe even help us get to the answers, or find that no answer is acceptable, and that being here now is really the answer. Because there’s really nothing to understand other than the “now” moment.
[Cannabis] also helps my knees feel better. I have a lot of stairs [at my home] and we do a lot of farming and gardening, and by the end of the day, my knees hurt. And that’s the beauty about herbs and the beauty of what Sister Carol sings about, how herbs have many different constituents and many different healing properties assigned to them. And they’re not just for one thing—like getting high or for headaches—but for a multitude of things.
Cannabis is something I found when I was eighteen and it’s been my companion, my herbal ally ever since. For me, alcohol wasn’t sustainable. It didn’t really help me remember the “now” moment or truly be in the “now,” and I always felt a bit hungover. With cannabis, there was this magic grace, where every morning I woke up and felt great.
Even though it’s been an ally of mine for over twenty years, and I was actually in High Times Magazine back in 2005, I’ve still never confidently figured out how to feel openly okay with my cannabis use. That’s largely because I grew up during a time when it was prohibited. In Virginia, you’d be arrested and it wasn’t a good look. So [weed] was hidden from our view, and it was our subculture thing. Even as an adult, I’m still having to learn to be okay with sharing [about my use]. My parents are currently visiting with me and I’m finally comfortable enough to smoke in front of them and show them my plants. Doing the same in my music also takes baby steps, and I’m really grateful that Sister Carol is kind of holding my hand into that world.
On that spiritual tip, was there a defining moment early on in your career that reaffirmed music was the right path for you?
Jason Mraz: I always felt I had encouragement, even from a young age, whenever I would perform. I started performing on my grandmother’s fireplace mantle and later at the mall for talent competitions that I lost. There was always this thing that would happen when I performed, which was it seemed like people would lean in and listen and give me their greatest wealth—their time and attention. I felt like that was an incredibly powerful gift. It’s an incredibly powerful tool to be able to cause someone to stop and listen, and I knew I wanted to learn more about that magic trick.
At the same time, I didn’t want to get a regular job. That just did not feel like who I was. I wanted to work for myself, and almost every gig gave me the encouragement to do more. My parents were very supportive and encouraged me to pursue music, knowing I could always fall back on a nine-to-five. [It was like], you might as well pursue music first and see how it goes.
I’d like to say I walked into a coffee shop and crushed it and they gave me my own night, but it didn’t happen that way. The first time I played a coffee shop gig, it was just awkward. So I went to a different coffee shop and honed my skills for a summer, and then went back to the more premiere coffee shop and tried again over the winter. I worked my way up year after year, season after season, and there were great moments along the way that would give me these bigger boosts, like right before my first album came out.
I was at The Gorge [Amphitheater] parking lot, not even opening for Dave Matthews, but opening for the audience waiting to get in to the Dave Matthews concert. It ended up being a really huge deal because of how many people were there and how—on our second day at the parking lot—Dave Matthews came out and listened to us. Then he jumped on our stage and played a few songs, which gained a lot of attention. Almost overnight a large number of Dave Matthews fans were curious about us, and we started to get more and more tour opportunities. That all happened very quickly, but it also happened because we were prepared and ready to rock that parking lot.
Throughout the years, there would be these little moments like that, which would get us to the next level. Then you get to the top and you realize you’re not really meant to stay here all the time. It’s a journey, and there’s no place to get, other than constantly figuring out how to do great work and appreciate the gifts you’ve been given. Now that you’ve captured people’s time and attention, what are you going to do with that? Are you going to take advantage of it? Are you going to show people how cool you are? Or are you going to try and teach people something, teach them how to live an inspired life and pursue their dreams. Or teach them about regenerative farming or Black Lives Matter. What is it you want to teach with that time and attention? That’s the real power of music and the real power of performance.
Follow @jason_mraz and check out his latest album “Look For The Good” now available everywhere