Jason Mraz speaks with The DePaulia on intimate tours, social activism


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jason Mraz performs on an acoustic guitar in March 2011.

A Grammy award-winning artist as well as an activist and philanthropist, Jason Mraz is a multi-talented musician whose decade-long career has resulted in hits such as “I’m Yours,” “I Won’t Give Up” and “Lucky”. Following his most recent worldwide “GOOD VIBES” tour, Mraz is once again touring, but this time in a series of more intimate venues with his longtime collaborator Raining Jane.

In addition to a successful music career, Mraz also devotes his time to the Jason Mraz Foundation, whose mission is to “shine for inclusive arts education and the advancement of equality.” Ahead of his closing performances at the Chicago Theatre on Nov. 23 and 24, The DePaulia had the opportunity to speak with Mraz about his political activism, philanthropy and, of course, his music.

What made you decide to choose Chicago to close out your show?

I have some friends and family in the area, plus it’s the week of Thanksgiving. Also, it’s a short tour, so I knew we didn’t want to tour much, I wasn’t sure if we’d even make it out to the Midwest. Because we’re working on new material, we like to realign ourselves on the live scene before we go back into the studio. Touring helps us understand the potential or the value of a song, or the lack thereof.

What is it about playing intimate venues that has more appeal as opposed to a stadium tour?

It’s easier to tell a story in a theater, since theaters are designed for conversation, and some of our show involves conversation with the audience and each other. The buzz is still the same; you’re still getting the honor of people’s time and attention. That’s where the buzz comes from, not the size of the crowd. Playing a smaller venue is like teaching a yoga class – you have two hours to guide them on a journey, and it’s more intimate that way.

When touring, it seems like many artists prefer to focus on their more recent material as opposed to maybe their older and more well-known hits. What’s your approach to making a setlist when you have such an expansive catalogue?

I have to resonate with the songs with who I am today. When it comes to some of my older material, I had a different attitude then. I don’t connect with that young man anymore who wrote those songs.

This current tour is one of many that features your collaboration and longtime friendship with Raining Jane. What is it about them and their music that has kept you so close for so long?

When I first saw them, they were playing positive at a festival, they had a positive attitude and I was drawn to that. Also, I’m a solo act and I need a band – I thought of how great would it be to work with a band with a pre-existing flow and an attitude. We connected in 2000 and realized it worked. To be back together as a five-piece in an intimate experience is a thrill. We’re all the same age, we’re all married to each other. We want to make music first, it’s what we love to do. We want to dance and delight on people’s time and attention.

Your organization, the Jason Mraz Foundation, has a pair of upcoming performances of an original musical called Shine, which features performances by non-profit groups that help bring the arts to underserved communities. Can you talk about the inspiration behind such an ambitious project?

We give grants to arts education programs that have an emphasis on inclusion and the advancement of equality. SHINE musical adventure is intended to spotlight the talent of the organizations we’re giving grants to. The throughline is that everyone in these organizations loves the arts. It’s one thing to write a check, but we want to give them a big stage and a big experience so that they know what it’s like to perform on a bigger scale.

In addition to music, you’re also a big activist. In a political climate where some believe that artists and entertainers should stay in their field and keep quiet about politics, why do you feel it’s important to speak up?

It’s important for every citizen to be vocal. Telling an artist to stay in their lane is like telling a plumber to only fix toilets. They only say stay in your lane when they don’t agree with an artist’s views. Artists, in particular, have an ability to make an impact because artists are already canvassing the country when we tour state to state. We need to vote louder, be vocal about the issues we care about. When we vote, we’re not voting about the people, but the issues we care about. My views are for people. I could hang on to my success, but that doesn’t benefit everyone. This past season had some really significant elections; Trump’s election shows that people need to be more engaged than ever.

You can find Jason Mraz and Raining Jane live in concert at the Chicago Theatre when they perform Nov. 23 and 24 as the closing dates of their tour, “Ladies and Gentleman, An Evening with Jason Mraz & Raining Jane.”