Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Talk With Jason Mraz At Music Matters Asia

By Eric de Fontenay

When Music Matters founder Jasper Donut broke the news to me that two-time Grammy winning artist Jason Mraz would be doing the conference finale, I have to admit that I wasn't all that familiar with him. Oh, I had heard his song "I'm Yours" a couple of times and seen his name pop-up on Mi2N as a Billboard-charting artist. But he, as so many major label artists, simply hadn't blipped on my radar screen. When I was informed that we'd be one of three international media outlets to have a private interview with the songwriter, I knew I had some research to do. The more I read about him, the more I looked forward to our meeting and hopefully understanding something of the secret that's made him an overnight star in Asia.

While billed as "an international superstar," his demeanor is if anything, a picture of humility. Warm and approachable, he's the type of guy you'd imagine sitting with around the campfire, discussing why music matters. And on the subject...

"I think music is the closest we're ever going to get to agreeing on what God is. In most cases, it's invisible, we only listen to it, and it has this power to move us, transform us, heal us, inspires us to contribute. Music, this invisible force, gives us an opportunity to raise awareness, raise money. I think even if you're deaf, you can feel the music vibrating through your soul. I think that it has a really powerful purpose.

"Our word, what we articulate, puts our thoughts into action, actually is a manifestation of that higher energy that fills us. So to put that word into song takes the message even further. I think when you speak it, it has a tendency to eventually just stop, but when you sing it, it's like you set it into motion forever and it just orbits the earth or it goes out into space."

Jason's third album "We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things" has proven to be a hit in Asia, receiving multiple platinum certifications in Korea (6x) and Indonesia (4x) as well as platinum certification in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. If that were not enough, the single "I'm Yours" has sold close to 5 million ringback tone downloads in South East Asia alone. So to what does he attribute this success?

"You know, I really wish I knew because it's not like I set out ahead of time with all of these elements in mind. I think if anything, the song "I'm Yours," did all the work, carried the weight. Because basically anywhere I showed up, people were already responding. I certainly didn't go there ahead of time and do the groundwork, no.

"Granted, we do have extraordinary companies. Warner Music had an extraordinary team spread out all across Asia that got the song out there to people. But also, the song was shared by fans and music lovers. Even before we got on board with our record companies, the song existed in the form of a demo which was available on the internet.

"So this story is really the success of a song and how it was the right message at the right time. It was a song that anybody could grab. It sounds like a nursery rhyme - a very simple melody and the message is all the sunshiny elements for peace and love. I think when you look at the history of music, there's always that song reoccurring - songs of peace and love and togetherness. So, really this is the story of a song, and I'm grateful that I get to be a part of that."

Part of that success though has to be traced to collaborations he's done with various Asian artists in the past. "When I did an extensive Asian tour last year, in every city I had a collaboration waiting for me because we had a duet on the album. It gave me the opportunity to work with female artists in many, many different countries which was exciting. I was also here to work with Japanese artists and a Chinese artist Khalil Fong when I was here last time."

Another element of his success is his use of social media sites like MySpace and Twitter to communicate with fans. This was actually a topic during the interview regarding a Twitter post he had shared with his fans about how the new album would be different from his previous works.

"Well, it's funny because when I make a record, I feel like I make the same record every time. But what's different is the time in which the album occurs, and it's certainly from my life. So what I said about this album being different than others is that so far, I haven't felt like I've had to sit down to write it - it's just being written. When I wake up in the morning, more verses get added to it, and that's kind of a bizarre experience for me. It's like something else is writing it and something else is giving me these messages, and I love that.

"So that was really my intention with that Twitter post - that this album was going to be different. Sonically, I hope it's different in that I've yet to really make an album that explores the full capacity of my vocals."

Jason will in fact be finishing work on the new album this June and July... but more about that in Part 2 of this interview later in the month.

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