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Jason Mraz is in a happy place

Walter Tunis
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Seven years ago, folk-pop songsmith Jason Mraz introduced his relentlessly sunny tunes by way of a hit debut album titled "Waiting for My Rocket to Come."

Mraz is a much bigger deal now with a wildly popular third album called "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things" and an inescapable, tropically flavored radio hit in "I'm Yours."

In a phone conversation from Melbourne, Australia — a region where "We Sing" conquered the charts as readily as it did in North America — the singer confessed he sings his songs the same way he lives his life: with a ton of sunshine.

"It's a reflection of my own demeanor because that's how I choose to live," Mraz said. "I practice gratitude for every little thing that I can. But it is a practice. It's a challenge. I'm human. So some days you do wake up with the blues and you've got to figure out how to fix that.

"It's through those life practices that I keep positive and upbeat. This is what has trickled into my music. If I discover something that helps me stay refreshed and loving, then I can't wait to put that into my music."

A Mechanicsville, Va., native of Czech descent, Mraz, 31, briefly studied musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York before moving to Southern California. After settling in San Diego, he began showcasing songs in local coffeehouses. "Waiting for My Rocket to Come" was released in 2002, with "Mr. A-Z" following in 2005. With those recordings came touring. Tons of it — so much, in fact, that Mraz disconnected for nearly a year from the road before making "We Sing."

"I was basically on the verge of, well, boredom from having toured so much," he said. "I also wasn't sure what I was going to be writing about next. Tour life is great. But I feel I need real-life experience if I'm going to be making a new record. I didn't want to write like a songwriter who exists only in the music industry. So I took that break so I could go live my life somewhere, somehow.

"But I also went back to the coffeehouses I used to play in San Diego and began playing there again every Sunday night for that entire year off so I could still keep music in my life and keep the challenges as writer and performer present. The rest of the week I was writing, recording, surfing, working on my garden, raising my cat and enjoying everything I worked for."

But before work began on "We Sing," Mraz considered reworking a song he had issued in 2005 on the EP disc "Extra Credit." As reflective of the sunny optimism that pervades his music as any tune Mraz had cut, it already had become a concert highlight. The song was an acoustic-based reverie called "I'm Yours." During the course of a year — from February 2008 to February 2009 — it topped or nearly topped almost a dozen different music industry charts.

"For me, when I analyze it, I can hear myself letting go on that song," Mraz said. "The whole song happened in a spontaneous moment — probably in about 20 or 30 minutes. Then I recorded it quickly. I refer to still it as my happy little hippie song. So I said, 'This is nice. This will be fun to play live.' And that was it. I left it at that, and it just grew.

"What I was able to watch from the stage every night was that people would sing it to each other. That's when I knew it was much bigger than me. Wherever those words came from, the song resonates with a lot of people. It's not a song that you have to be a Jason Mraz fan to understand."

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