For the December, 2005 issue of High Times, Shirley Halperin profiled Jason Mraz, who celebrates his 44th birthday on June 23.
If there’s one major perk to having a platinum-selling album, it’s finally being able to splurge on some of the things you’ve always wanted. Like the palatial 3,600-square-foot home outside of San Diego where singer-songwriter Jason Mraz now sits, loading up his glass bong. Nestled in a development-free spider-infested avocado grove, the Spanish-styled mini-mansion (which includes a guest house that’s soon to become a recording studio) boasts four bedrooms, 360-degree views, three fireplaces, a hot tub for eight and a tiki-lounge-like bar area adjacent to the pool. Talk about the ultimate stoner pad!
Turns out Mraz—whose 2002 debut, Waiting for My Rocket to Come, yielded the Top 60 hits “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” and “You and I Both”—had exactly that in mind when he bought the five-acre property a year ago and invited his bandmates, merch guy and art director to move in.
His inspiration? Bob Marley. “I visited the Marley house in Jamaica,” Mraz explains. “And on the tour, they tell you that Bob and all the Wailers lived there—they all slept together, they all cooked together… It was a way for them to stay unified and be creative constantly. I like the idea of having a safe haven for exploration. [At my house,] there’s always someone practicing an instrument or painting or just chilling, being high. It’s a really happy place.”
But most important to Mraz is having a place where he can record on a whim. “Before, if I wanted to record a song, I had to pay to rent a studio. Now, I’ve got the musicians there to do it, and I can just go in my living room, hit ‘record’ and get it done.”
Mraz did just that for his long-awaited follow-up album, Mr. A-Z (Atlantic), devoting several disciplined months to constructing a CD’s worth of white-boy hip-hop (“Wordplay,” “The Geek in the Pink”), Casanova crooning (“Bella Luna”) and sensitive-guy melodic pop (“Life Is Wonderful,” “Mr. Curiosity”). But while he may have enjoyed the comfort of working from home (like tracking vocals off his deck), it also meant long days and nights with little escape. Enter legendary producer Steve Lillywhite, the man behind U2’s and the Dave Matthews Band’s biggest records.
“There were a couple of days where Steve could see I was getting exhausted,” Mraz recalls. “We were supposed to be experimenting, but he could tell I was running out of ideas, so he’d say, ‘Go smoke, come back in 15 minutes and let’s do this!’ Or, when we took weekends off, he would tell me on Friday night, ‘Take a big hit of LSD this weekend and come back on Monday with a fresh perspective.’ He was basically like my gonzo lawyer from Fear and Loathing.“
Not that Mraz needs much encouragement. Though he describes himself as a “safe rebel,” the 28-year-old Mraz has been a dedicated toker since his high-school days in Mechanicsville, VA. Upon graduation, Mraz left for college in New York City, where he discovered acid. “I tripped a lot in my musical-theater years,” he says. “It gave me the courage to be me and to take these different little adventures in my mind.” After that, Mraz spent the next few years honing his craft at open-mike nights in bars and coffeehouses across the country, where pot—and the occasional super-strong brownie—were always around.
“One of the bonuses of having a job like mine is, I don’t remember the last time I bought a bag,” he says. “Like, last week I was in Boulder, and this guy outside the radio station put a huge nug in my hand. I was on my way to the airport, so I rolled up as much as I could and smoked it. Then I pulled over at a Wendy’s and left it on the curb. I figured it’s Boulder, and I’m sure one out of every five people that pulls up to Wendy’s is probably a stoner.”
On the road, Mraz adds, “You can acquire enough that when you’re [done touring], you’ve got a surplus.” But even this seemingly clean-cut self-described geek has learned to be careful. “In 2000, we got busted on our way to Austin to open up for James Taylor,” Mraz says. “It was 8 in the morning; we camped the night before and had been on the road for five minutes when we got pulled over. They searched the car, and we had it right between the seats. So we spent two days in lockup, because it was a Saturday and we couldn’t see a judge on the weekend.” Still, he downplays the experience. “I wasn’t a big James Taylor fan anyway.”
Jason Mraz: A Rebel with a Cause
A rebel indeed, but what exactly is Mraz’s cause? “I think pot laws are ridiculous,” he says. “But what pisses me off more is the way alcohol abuse is promoted [in this country]. My sister was almost killed by a drunk driver. And I’m not saying that driving stoned is good, either, but there’s something to be said about driving slower than the speed limit.”
For the most part, Mraz preaches pot responsibility. “I don’t smoke onstage and rarely do I curse, [because] I still try to do what I call a family show,” he says. “One of the greatest compliments is when a parent tells me, ‘If my daughter’s in the car with her music, I’m okay to turn your music up.’ So I want to be respectful with whatever I do, but I try to be vocal about [pot] by having NORML on my Web site, which is a great place for people to get more information on the benefits of marijuana reform.”
These days, Mraz is limiting his THC intake to a few times a week. “I keep it as a reward,” he says. “A spliff here and there to get me a functional buzz, so I can still write, use the phone, do whatever I have to do.” And while he readily admits that weed has “opened up certain doorways of my creative spirit,” it’s his intellectual side that’s reaping the benefits now.
“Marijuana causes me to be an observer,” he says. “Like less present. It gives you a mirror, and I’m all about constantly examining my soul and its purpose. A lot of this job is about publicity and fame, and I have to put that in perspective. Like, what does that mean to me and to other people? Marijuana helps you study that.”
To further his “study,” Mraz has his bandmates—particularly drummer “Toka” Rivera (“he gets stage fright if he’s not high”)—join in on the research. “Everybody I know smokes pot for every possible kind of purpose,” Mraz proclaims, motioning over to the guys. “Pot laws don’t exist in our world. And it’s only a matter of time before our generation of politicians will be working the system for us. I hope we’ll see that within our lifetime. Now let’s smoke to that!” he says, and proceeds to pack the next round.