Multi-platinum-selling singer-songwriter Jason Mraz left behind his organic avocado farm and a collection of 20 odd hats at his home in California to do two shows in Hong Kong as part of his world Good Vibes tour.
Following our phone conversation last month, we caught up with the laid-back I’m Yours singer yesterday before the first of the two concerts, chatting about his unique songwriting process, and how he uses joy as a compass to navigate life.
First we had a challenge for him. Ten years ago, during his first tour to Hong Kong, a Young Post reporter challenged the now 41-year-old singer to write a song about kidney beans - which he did, performing it live that evening at his gig.
This time, we challenged him to write a song on the spot on a topic of our choosing; once again, he rose to the challenge, and serenaded us with an original about toilet seats.
“Let’s get off that toilet seat/Don’t you wanna lose the feeling in your feet/This song sure has a stinky beat/Yo, put down your phone/Let’s get off that toilet seat/toilet seat,” he sang.
Mraz explained that taking something unlikely (kidney beans, toilet seats) and rethinking its purpose helps boost his creativity, enabling him to write meaningful lyrics.
“As a kid, I was often given objects and asked what else they could be: ‘What is it?’ ‘It’s a bottle cap.’ ‘What else is it?’ ‘It’s a red light, it’s a hat’,” he said. With our challenge, he explained, “a toilet seat on a hinge could also be a nice puppet; but it could also be viewed as a ring that we are all married to.”
He added that he tries to use this creative approach in other ares of his life: “I also try to do that with current affairs and my emotions - I always ask myself: ‘What else could this be?’ ”
Another song-writing trick he uses is to swap an action word for one that isn’t normally used with a particular noun - his way of “flexing [his] poetic muscles”.
“You can change the verbs,” he says, giving us an example: “The ceiling tiles don’t just hang, they weep with moisture.”
Mraz has released some hugely successful tracks over the years, but says he’s no longer concerned about whether or not a song will become a hit. Instead, he uses his fans and live shows as a litmus test to determine which songs will make the final cut on an album.
“If I’m transformed by a song I wrote, and have grown in the writing process, then I’ll take it to the stage; and if I see a lot of people liking the song, I’ll then put it on the record,” he says. “But I can’t start with that vision [of the song becoming a hit] in mind, or else I’ll just never write anything.” (Surely Toilet Seat would be massively popular!)
Although he has been releasing music for nearly 20 years, Mraz says he is unsure where his success came from. “I always wonder, ‘Why me?’ I know so many great musicians - many of whom are much better guitar players or songwriters than I am - that still don’t get the stage time or the recognition, and I still struggle with success,” he admits.
For anyone considering pursuing music full-time, Mraz believes it’s important to learn more about yourself and know what your calling is. “Everybody wants to quit their [day] jobs, but quitting your job is not going to necessarily lead to happiness and fulfillment,” he says. “But if you quit your job in pursuit of your true love, I think that’s something that’s worth doing.
“Living my dream is a lot of hard work, the other jobs I didn’t care because I was just working for somebody else - sometimes it sucks, but the payoff is great,” he says, adding, “if you have a plan A, don’t have a plan B - just follow your joy.”