Jason Mraz has released a new album, “Yes,” and begins a tour to support the album on Aug. 21 in his hometown of San Diego.
But in talking to the singer/songwriter, one gets the sense Mraz is as excited to draw attention to Raining Jane, the all-female group that collaborated with him on the album, as he is about his own role in the project — which was central to the project considering it is officially a Jason Mraz album and not a Jason Mraz and Raining Jane release.
“They’ve been together for 15 years,” Mraz said of Raining Jane.
“They’ve always been independent, self managed and self releases. They always earned, through playing shows, they earned the money to pay for their albums. Through playing shows, they earned the money to pay for their touring band. They’re very, very hard working young ladies. It’s a real treat to see them now elevated to this level.”
Mraz first encountered Raining Jane when he played a festival in September 2006 at the University of Redlands and the group was also on the bill.
He was so impressed with their music, musicianship and overall aesthetic that he proposed scheduling a songwriting session with the group, which includes Mai Bloomfield (vocals/guitar/cello), Chaska Potter (vocals/guitar), Mona Tavakoli (drums/vocals) and Becky Gebhardt (bass/guitar/sitar).
Over the next seven years, those songwriting retreats — which were dubbed “Ladies Weekends” — became annual events for Mraz and Raining Jane, and a few collaborations surfaced. The group co-wrote with Mraz the song “A Beautiful Mess” on his hit album “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things” (yes, the 2008 blockbuster release that included Mraz’s signature hit single ”I’m Yours”). Another tune, “Silent Love Song,” was donated to San Diego’s Fire Relief Project in 2007.
But when the time came for 2012’s songwriting retreat, something different happened.
“It was a regular writing session like any of our other retreats,” Mraz said. “But the quality of the songs, they just went up a notch and they surprised us all. So we immediately scheduled another one (writing session) for just a few months later. Usually it was just once a year, but after this October 2012 session, we said ‘Let’s get together again soon.’ And we did, and again we just had a lot of success in a very short time. So I said let’s do it one more time.
Let’s get together again. So we had a third session, and that’s when (a song on “Yes”) ‘Long Drive’ was born.”
After the third writing get-together, Mraz compiled the newly written music, which amounted to about a dozen songs. He presented them to his label, Atlantic Records, suggesting choosing some of the tunes for an acoustic EP with Raising Jane.
“I pitched it as a side project,” Mraz said. “I said it doesn’t need to anything big. It doesn’t need a big budget. We don’t have to go crazy.”
Atlantic apparently shared Mraz’s enthusiasm — and then some. Instead of signing off on the EP, the label suggested that Mraz make the songs his next full-on full-length album. Soon Mraz and Raising Jane were convening in Omaha, Neb. to record “Yes” with producer Mike Mogis (known for his work with artists on the acclaimed Nebraska-based label Saddle Creek Records).
Although the “Yes” project was expanded to a full album, Mraz, Raining Jane and Mogis stuck with the idea of making it an acoustic album (aside from a few electric touches added here and there).
A more spare, predominantly acoustic album, of course, isn’t much of a stretch from the sunny easy-going, melodic pop that has been Mraz’s stock and trade over the course of four previous albums that earned him comparisons to the likes of John Mayer and James Taylor. To be sure, the instrumental palate, which is nearly all acoustic and tastefully textured and full, is a bit of a contrast. And the ladies of Raining Jane bring new dimensions in vocal harmony to the music.
But tunes like the cheery shuffle of “Hello, You Beautiful Thing,” the rhythmically assertive ballad “Best Friends” and the amiably frisky “Everywhere” will feel plenty familiar — and pleasant — to Mraz fans.
And Mraz remains his positive, sensitive and encouraging lyrical self.
Even his complaints about intrusive technology, which could have put a prickly edge into the song “Quiet,” quickly melt into a sweet love song.
Mraz is looking forward to his current tour, which will feature Raining Jane as his backing group and will put the music in an instrumental setting similar to the one used on “Yes.”
“The five of us, myself and Raining Jane, bring the new album (“Yes”) to life the best we can, which is pretty darn close to the album versions,” Mraz said. “ Then we use that same sort of acoustic, eclectic filter to run my old catalog through. So we do bring back my other songs and Raining Jane helps me reinvent them and reinterpret them. So there are old favorites with a twist. Or we resurrect songs I haven’t included in my show for many years.”