Jason Mraz is celebrating his birthday the only way that he knows how — by dropping a catchy new album.
His new album, “Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride,” arrives on Friday, including the toe-tapping “I Feel Like Dancing,” the romantic “Pancakes & Butter,” the funky “Feel Good Too,” and the contemplative “Little Time.”
“It’s my eighth studio album and I’ve tried, with every effort, to always do something new,” Mraz told WTOP. “This new album covers some new ground, especially in the dance arena. I wanted to make some disco and some up-tempo music that, in a way, emulated electronic dance music but without going fully electronic; still played by humans. And still try to maintain optimism about our future, and still try to maintain some youth while I’m getting older.”
If you download the album, you can gear up for Mraz’s upcoming concert at Wolf Trap in Virginia on Aug. 6.
“When I try to build a set list for a show like at Wolf Trap, for example, I want to put in something I’ve never done before or try to fill in the blanks with maybe a genre, sound, style, tempo, mood or lyrics that I’ve just not yet tackled before,” Mraz said. “I got to work with some of my best friends called Raining Jane, four incredible artists that have a band of their own. We wrote and recorded these songs together. They are, of course, in the super band that will be at Wolf Trap.”
The concert is a homecoming of sorts as Mraz was born in Mechanicsville, Virginia, in 1977. He attended Lee-Davis High School, which has since changed its name to Mechanicsville High School, where he learned how to perform by participating in the school chorus, drama club and even cheerleading squad.
“My parents always had the radio going or their console stereo — the kind that had an eight-track and a record player and a tuner all in one big giant piece of furniture,” Mraz said. “We also had a piano in our house, so my mom was always very generous to show me some chords and let me bang on it and be very loud in the house … We were so lucky to have music in schools. I had music in my public schools as early as the second grade.”
After high school, he briefly studied musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City before returning to Virginia to focus on songwriting while attending Longwood University.
“That’s where I started playing guitar and entertaining my college roommates,” Mraz said. “I was a big fan of Dave Matthews, who was a local act when I was growing up. So I thought, ‘If he can do it, then someone like me has just the same chance to go out there and make a living on original music and imagination’ — and it’s worked out.”
Upon moving to San Diego at age 21, he began singing and strumming his guitar in a California coffee house. There, he recorded the live acoustic album “Live at Java Joes” before eventually being signed by Elektra Records.
“I noticed that all of my heroes had spent some time on the West Coast. So, I said, ‘I needed to make at least one pilgrimage,'” Mraz said. “What I did not anticipate was getting caught up in the web of the West and being totally inspired by the people, culture, philosophies, geography, topography of the land, the weather. Not to say anything bad against Virginia weather and all of those things, but it was just new. … I met some great people who introduced me to the coffee shop scene.”
His first album was aptly titled, “Waiting for My Rocket to Come” (2002), featuring two major radio hits — “You and I Both” and “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry My Life Away)” — which inspired listeners around the world.
“That was a really unique expression to have these rap verses and this big song pop chorus,” Mraz said. “It scared the heck out of me when I created the song in the studio with others because it was a big stretch from my coffee-shop style to this huge recording style … inspired by one of my best friends growing up, Charlie, who was a cancer survivor. His philosophy was, ‘I’m not going to worry my life away, I’m going to go through this experience.'”
After his second album, “Mr. A-Z” (2005), Mraz released his massive third album, “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things” (2008), featuring the smash hit “I’m Yours,” which was nominated for Song of the Year at the Grammys.
“I was really sitting around playing the guitar with a longing to write a song; longing to reconnect with that source that gives us our ideas, plants dreams in us, which maybe animates us. Everybody has a different name for whatever their higher power may be: The Great Unknown,” Mraz said. “So, I was singing to The Great Unknown. Singing, ‘Make me an instrument, I’m yours, I’ve fallen through the cracks, I’m trying to get back, I’m not gonna hesitate anymore, I’m yours.'”
That same album won Grammys for “Make It Mine” and “Lucky,” the latter a catchy duet with Colbie Caillat.
“She’s so gracious, kind, such a beautiful voice, pitch perfect, just the easiest to work with. She’s a no-drama mama,” Mraz said.
His fourth album, “Love is a Four Letter Word” (2012), charted even higher with the hit single “I Won’t Give Up.”
“Even if it’s not a relationship, you could just be going through a hard period in your life and the song could be sung looking in the mirror,” Mraz said. “That’s kind of how I felt. I’d been going through a breakup that was pretty devastating, as they all are. I not only wanted to not give up on the friendship that we had, but I didn’t want to give up on myself and make myself feel like a loser and diminish my own quality of life. So the song is a little bit about both.”
His fifth album, “Yes!” (2014), delivered the single “Love Someone,” while his sixth album, “Know” (2018), featured songs like “Have it All” and the Meghan Trainor collaboration “More Than Friends.” It also included “Might as Well Dance,” the music video of which featured actual footage from his own 2015 wedding.
“That originated as a slow song on our answering machine, but I thought that it had such potential that once I turned it into kind of a country-funk number — I’m a big fan of country funk — it just started dancing,” Mraz said.
His most recent album, “Look for the Good” (2020), provided reggae catharsis during the pandemic.
“It was written before the pandemic. I wrote and recorded that in 2019,” Mraz said. “I knew that 2020 was going to be a heated year being an election year. And those years can be very negative for everyone, they just feel very tense. So I wanted to create an album that countered that tension and reminded us to look for the good, to live healthily through a debate season and continue to lift others up. … Ironically, 2020 turned out to be a stranger year than any of us ever imagined.”
Now, he invites folks to pick up his new album as the perfect way to celebrate Pride Month.
“If you’re celebrating pride, celebrate and be yourself,” Mraz said. “If you’re not celebrating pride, let others be themselves. … We all come to this earth miraculously and we all deserve the same rights to experience what it’s like driving these little meat suits around. Everyone is going to look, feel and sound different, depending what side of the planet you’re on. … Let’s honor everyone’s unique experience and let them live the best life they can imagine.”