Jason Mraz may still be the geek in the pink, but these days, the pop-rock-rhymer is hoping to distance himself from his cigarette-puffin’, girl-chasin’ past and move toward a simpler, more sustainable life.
Since returning from his Mr. A-Z tour two years ago, Mraz has focused his attention on greener, non-music-related pastures. Last year, he partnered with two friends to launch Blend Apparel, a line of bamboo T-shirts. This year, he’ll publish his first book, printed on Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper that’s 20 percent recycled and wood-free. The book also happens to be word-free: it’s a collection of Polaroids, a medium he loves because “you actually have to think about what you’re going to shoot … it keeps me at a slow pace.”
Despite his best efforts, Mraz’s pace has quickened in recent months, as he’s been traveling by biodiesel bus in support of his new album We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things. He’s partnered with the good folks at Reverb to help make the tour as sustainable as possible and provide an educational element for his fans.
I caught up with Mraz during the East Coast leg of his tour to discuss his recent lifestyle-180. For a guy known for his upbeat, quick-witted lyrics, the conversation was surprisingly zen, but Mraz showed palpable enthusiasm as we chatted about his love for California coastlines, Barack Obama, and his new Sigg water bottle.
You’re touring in a biodiesel bus — tell me about that.
We certainly are. Right now, we are traveling in an 80/20 biodiesel bus — so 20 percent of that is biodiesel. But it is an effort to make less of a mess as we travel all around, and that is thanks to our friends at Reverb for organizing that for us and introducing us to a greener lifestyle while on the road.
What else are you doing?
Everyone has a Sigg aluminum water bottle, so instead of asking for cases and cases of plastic water bottles, we just get a couple of big gallon jugs and we have refill stations. … And we have a lot of information at our merch table that lets you know how you can get our merchandise organic, or how you can participate in greening your community, or select brands that are doing something to help the environment. Also, we’re doing what we can to offset the energy that we use. It’s a nice package; it really is a nice way to roll.
As you’re educating the audience, do you feel like you and your crew are learning as well?
Absolutely. I had never thought to carry the water bottles along with me. I would usually buy a big [plastic] water bottle from wherever I would pick up water and I would use it for a few days until I felt like there was bacteria growing inside of it, but it never clicked with me to get a water bottle and refill it.
When I’m home, I’ve always used canvas tote bags for the grocery store. But especially on tour, I make sure to take my backpack with me so that if I go somewhere to shop, I don’t have to get a plastic bag. I hate the plastic bags. I’m noticing more and more guys on our tour who hadn’t been turned on to this lifestyle are starting to adopt it as their own, and they’re actually being more conscious of their basic food choices. So it’s spilling over into more of a lifestyle kind of side effect than just about waste and the planet.
What inspired this partnership and changing your own lifestyle?
It probably started about two years ago at my house. It was right when I got off the road. … And we started over basically — cooking our own meals, composting everything, having a garden, being really meticulous about our recycling. We started to notice how we were saving money and we were having our own fresh produce coming up in the backyard. We were making fewer trips to the curb with our garbage because we were making less garbage. I was like, wow, this is actually easier. We’re saving space; we’re saving time; we’re saving money. And the house is clean and all of our energy is great — our personal energy, that is. And that was it. I just sorta got hooked on it.
After that, it was like, well, what else can we do? And I went out on one show with Guster in New York and they had Reverb — their buses and all their information set up right there. They gave me a little packet [of information] that day, and that was it. I said next time I go on the tour, I’m gonna call these guys up.
Where are you living now?
About 30 minutes outside San Diego — beautiful places and beautiful farmland; people growing avocado and citrus and flowers and raising horses. We’re five minutes from the beach as well. It’s a magical place.
Does living near the beach and being a surfer influence your decisions as well?
Yeah, of course. I started spending every morning at my local beach. And on days when it rains, we usually have to spend anywhere from a day to three days — four days on a hard rain — outside of the water because the coastline is so fucked up. [The coastlines are] just so polluted that you’ll get sick. And it made me realize, we are some dirty people. Humans are becoming a bacteria over the surface, and I want to do what we can to clean this up. So I joined the Surfrider Foundation and wanted to give my attention, give my time, give my money to an organization that’s protecting our coastline.
Sitting in the water and just sitting out in nature, it absolutely makes you realize what’s important in life — or what’s not so important. As soon as I started surfing, suddenly my interest in fashion disappeared. And suddenly my interest in so many different material things — brands, commercials, and just things in general — started to disappear. I started to clean out my home and send things to the Goodwill and simplify my life. Really, all I need is a wetsuit, a surfboard, a guitar, and …
And a water bottle.
[Laughs] And a water bottle, and that’s it.
What’s the responsibility of artists — as public figures as well as people whose jobs require them to do a lot of traveling — to lessen their footprint and the footprint of the industry as a whole?
Every now and then I get offended when someone says, “Oh, I wish that musician or that actor would just shut up about politics or stop talking about the planet. Who are they?” Well, they’re a citizen as well. They’re a citizen of the earth, they’re a citizen of the U.S., they’re a citizen of whatever town or city they live in. They have the right to vote and they have the right to speak up. And they’re writers. They’re people who tour the world and who speak in a different sort of language, in a poetic sort of language. … I think it is important for them to sing about it and speak up about it.
Do you feel like you do that?
Well, I’m beginning to. I haven’t had much experience in the past because I was youthful and all I was doing was smoking cigarettes and chasing girls and having fun in the music business and dancing and trying to make people laugh. Entertainment was my only background, but now as I start to have more and more life experience, I certainly do want to speak up when appropriate. I don’t see myself changing my themes and singing songs about protest or songs about war and climate change, but it is infused in there, no matter what. It is the sign of the times. I can’t help but sing about the things that are affecting me. … But I haven’t yet written songs to support my candidate. I haven’t yet written songs that say [sing-songy voice] reduce, reuse, recycle … I haven’t gotten that far.
Who do you respect — who inspires you — who’s already doing this?
Certainly Guster for what they were doing — Adam [Gardner, Guster guitarist/singer], for starting Reverb with his wife. For someone who spends a lot of time on the road and realizes, “Hey, we can do this — it’d be easy to do this.” Definitely can respect that.
I love the idea of what Jack Johnson did with his studio, running it off of solar energy and wind energy and building a studio right in the middle of L.A. out of all-recycled materials: recycled wood and the walls are stuffed with used pairs of blue jeans as sound baffling. Saving money and using old parts to put that together, I can most certainly respect that.
I’ve been out of the loop as far as what other artists have been doing. I haven’t heard too much new music recently.
You’ve been surfing!
So who’s your candidate?
Obama all the way. … I love that he came from the streets of Chicago and [started] with community organizations and getting people excited about participating in government. That’s where he comes from. He’s got a great background in Constitutional law, so he knows what this country is about and what it was started for and how it’s supposed to work, and he sees how it’s gotten out of hand. And I like that he has different kinds of experience. I love that he doesn’t have war experience. I don’t want a candidate that has war experience. … I just love him. I think change is awesome. I would love to see a guy like that lead the country.