You may know the words of his songs backward and forward. You may also know that he is an accomplished philanthropist and activist for equality, love, and compassion toward everything that lives. Although it is all quite impressive, what you may not know is that Jason Mraz has been influenced by food in a way that has changed his outlook in life completely.
He is an exemplary individual whose greatest abilities are not found at the music store shelf, but expressed through every one of his words. His messages become songs, and not the other way around, and it is the quality of his humanity and the everyday practice of values like gratitude and love that make him truly unique.
In this interview, Jason takes us though a journey of discovery, inspiration, empowerment, awareness, and knowledge of real food, that shines brightly above anything you may know about him. Without further ado, Mr. Jason Mraz.
Let’s talk a bit about Yes! and the meaning behind this powerful record.
Well, Yes! is an album that was written rather quickly; however, it did take me 12 years to realize it. Twelve years in that I longed to make a simple lush acoustic album. I needed the years to learn how to arrange music and how to craft the songs that could stand alone without a lot of production. Eight years ago on that journey I met my collaborators to this Album, Raining Jane. What they bring is this unique musicianship and the tenderness and the awareness that I needed to help me convey these messages. Raining Jane and I have been recording together for about 8 years, so I knew what was possible going into the studio to make this record.
I wanted the messages on this record to be simple. I wanted them to be full of affirmations, songs of healing, songs of hope, and songs to fulfill our psychological needs; to help us to remember forgiveness and compassion with ourselves, especially, but also with our families and our community. The messages are about environmental stewardship and reconnecting the spirits through nature.
I felt all of this positivity under this umbrella of the word Yes, which is opening your heart, to step out of our comfort zone and step into a new project. That’s essentially it. It’s hard to talk about an album (chuckles), for an album can be described in millions of words.
You have a way of sending these messages. As a songwriter, you can actually touch people with a word, or with a line of thought. The simplest of messages can have the most powerful meaning: “When you love someone it comes back to you” is one of the messages you send in your song. Is this ‘simple message’ concept part of what you practice in life?
Yes. I aim to keep things that simple. I get a lot of my inspiration and information through yoga class, which is a very simple practice of breathing and listening. Then I can take that same practice off the mat in my other practices like gardening, or relationships. I find less can be more. You want to take the shortest steps to get to your goal; and I find that as a songwriter, that’s the greatest challenge. How can one get directly to the message, without wasting too much time?
A writer I met many years ago told me: “Trade in clever for truth”. When I started writing, I just wanted to be clever and have all kinds of weird words and things, and I found that it was harder to convey a message. Once I had success with songs like “I’m Yours”, “I Won’t Give Up”, or “I Won’t Worry My Life Away”, I felt the power of a simple affirmation; a simple message.
Even my own life experience was being transformed through these simple affirmations. That became part of my writing practice as well as my life practice. I learned in my own life that whatever I put after the words I am, I am going to become. I am, being the two most powerful words that we can utter. Do we want to say I am sorry, I am hopeless, I am tired?…because we will become those things. I always wanted to write things that uplifted me and gave me strength in my everyday life.
You are describing the whole concept of lifestyle medicine. We forget sometimes that health is not only about exercising, but it’s about feeding your mind and feeding your body in the same manner you feed your soul to make it comprehensive. It’s not one thing or the other. Is it difficult for you as a busy entrepreneur and musician to keep this lifestyle medicine approach all the time?
It’s not so difficult now because I’ve been practicing this lifestyle for about seven years. Seven years ago I found the practice of gratitude. That means to say thank you, specifically, for food. I learned how to start saying thank you when I sat down at my meals, and I encourage other people to do this because I feel this is the gateway to transformation. When we say thank you, it takes us to the next level. It gets us out of our worry. It slows the mind down from whatever business we have, and we become present to what is before us. If we sit down at our meal and we say thank you, thank you to the farmers who grew this food; thank you to the distribution team that managed to get it to a farmer’s market, to our store, to our table; thank you to the micro organisms under the soil whose precious life matter to make the food grow. What that does is that it increases your awareness about obviously what you have and what you have to be grateful for, but what’s in front of you, and where your food comes from.
My diet is also a result of having grown up eating the Standard American Diet. Many of my family members are obese, or largely overweight. I’ve lost some of my family at a young age and I know it is directly related to diet. I obviously didn’t want that for myself.
That practice of gratitude transformed my whole outlook on food. To go back to your question for a second, it’s been easy to incorporate this into my life for the last seven years. In my dressing room for example, where normally I might have put a couple of beers and some bread with sandwich stuff, now, I ask to have fresh greens from the local farmer’s market, a couple of root veggies, whatever seasonal veggies are there, and if you have a juicer, bring us one. I incorporate that into my life, and continue to say thank you for the local food, the opportunities that I have in business to share my messages, and all of the above. Thank you goes a long way, and it helps you bridge the gap between cultures.
Through the years, I’ve learned how to make it work for me. I’ve learned that the old school rock n’ roll method of eating pizza, and drinking beers and soda is just not sustainable for a musician. Your body will get tired. You will run out of energy. In my job I wanted to be present everyday. I wanted to have my voice work perfectly; and I found that through eating whole foods, and avoiding processed foods and food products, I was thriving. I was transforming, not only in my physical but my mental ability. I’ve learned to incorporate that into my life and into my travels. I bring with me a second case with a small blender, and some whole food concentrate powders like vita-mineral greens to keep me where I want to be if I should end up in a part of the world or in a neighborhood that is experiencing food scarcity. If there is no fresh food there, I know I can turn to my little suitcase where I’m always hoarding nuts, apples, and things that I find on my journey that keep me going.
I was advised 10 years ago to buy some land and I found an avocado farm back home. I took that on to grow the fruits. At first I wanted to just live out in the wilderness, but the trees really spoke to me, and I’ve been taking that on. Through the years, I’ve added a variety of other food trees, and low crops that can feed our family. The founder of Café Gratitude said to me years ago, “Farms are the future university,” and this was about the same time I started learning about food scarcity, and food deserts. I’m realizing now that local is the new organic.
This goes back to saying thank you when you sit at the table. Thank you for this food. Where did this come from? How far did this food travel to my plate? How many people are involved in this? That awareness made want to eat out of my same zip code. It made me want to find my farmer’s market, meet my farmer, and made me want to become a farmer myself.
What is your favorite part of being a farmer?
My favorite part is actually the labor! (He chuckles). I love when it is time to dig a new row in the garden or it is time to turn over the soil. I love to dig a hole to plant a new tree. I just love that hard work because the rest of it is going to be about my patience maturing. I sure have had pleasure seeing that happen. When I first got started, I was impatient – I didn’t want to wait for this thing to grow! I’ve got to wait how long? How many years? Now, literally seeing the fruits of the labor, it has taught me how to be patient in every other field that I work in.
The reason why I love the labor so much is because at the end of that day you can see progress; whereas, otherwise you have to wait an entire season or at least a couple of weeks to see some progress.
Has your plant-based diet influenced your music?
Yes, it has. It has added lightness to the music. It has added a spirit to the music. It has added an awareness of nature, and it has also added “groundedness”. All those are qualities of whole foods. When you eat them, you are going to feel light, grounded, connected to nature, and connected to spirits because your energy inside your body is going to be flowing the way that it naturally can. I feel that it definitely has had an impact on my music.
My diet is also a result of having grown up eating the Standard American Diet. Many of my family members are obese, or largely overweight. I’ve lost some of my family at a young age and I know it is directly related to diet. I obviously didn’t want that for myself. I could see my future if I had continued to eat that way, and I also wanted to be an example for my family. I wanted to learn as much as I could, and share these breakthroughs in modern eating to help transform their life experience while they still had time.
That flows over into my music as well because I want my music to also be of service. I just don’t want to be out there for the sake of consuming or to offer some quick product for somebody to consume. A lot of music nowadays is made that way. It is made to consume quickly and then you have to move on. I wanted the music to be of service for the soul, to the mind, and to the heart, and I think that is also a reflection of the transformations I’ve had through food.
You are an accomplished artist, farmer, surfer, photographer, producer, and now filmmaker. Are you an accomplished cook as well?
Well, that’s what I’m learning. I am very fortunate to have a partner in my life who is a phenomenal cook. In fact, she ran a restaurant, a little healthy café, for many years in Southern California. It was in that café that I would go and get smoothies and salads, and I fell in love with her. Now I have her in my life, so as I bring the food from the garden and from my fruit trees, she does the magic. She’s been studying nutrition and taking our household to the next level, and with that, she is teaching me how to prepare food. That was at my request – I said, if you ever for some reason happen to get a cold or a flu, and you are in bed, I want to be able to make you a good soup! Or I would like to make you something that will warm your heart.
Thank you for this food. Where did this come from? How far did this food travel to my plate? How many people are involved in this? That awareness made want to eat out of my same zip code. It made me want to find my farmer’s market, meet my farmer, and made me want to become a farmer myself.
Otherwise, I can make a really great salad! I can also make some pretty interesting raw desserts, too, and also a world of smoothies and juice concoctions. I can also roast some veggies or steam them and make some pretty well-balanced and colorful plates. Having said that, my gal has the magic, and she only reads cookbooks and food magazines, and I’m very, very, blessed.
Could you share one of your raw desserts with us?
The easiest that I make regularly is that I mash avocado and banana together. I eat this during my show. When I come backstage before the second half of the show, I will quickly eat avocado and banana to give me that good quick energy. When I want to make something fancy, and I have to use avocado because I have hundreds of them always falling off the trees, and I don’t want them to go to waste, I use avocados and raw cacao. I stir that up like a pudding, and it turns into a rich chocolate mousse. I sweeten it with dates and maybe a touch of vanilla. All your guests will think they are eating regular chocolate mousse, and they’ll never guess that is avocado pudding, essentially.
I also love sticking an almond or a walnut in a date and just laying those out. People find that they taste like candy.
Your songs speak of the power of love, which is the only thing, in my opinion, that will save humanity and the species that inhabit the planet. What would be a message of love to everyone who reads this interview, to practice more kindness, compassion, and enlightenment in their lives?
When I discovered the practice of gratitude, I noticed there were many things that I didn’t know I didn’t know, that were revealed to me. I saw the world differently. I could empathize with the world, and I could forget myself for how I treated myself or treated others and the world around me. It really was a game changer for me. A lot of times we bring our regrets and our failures with us into the future. The practice of gratitude can help us be okay with our past, and see before us an unwritten, bright future. Most importantly, the practice of gratitude brings you to the present, and that’s the only time in life that’s certain, the present moment. In this present moment, the choices I make today out of love are going to greatly impact tomorrow. I feel that the practice of gratitude is always the first step to take to arrive where it is your heart dreams.