Even though “Mr. A-Z” is Jason Mraz’s follow-up to his successful debut album, in some ways he considers it his first — the first that totally reflects his artistic vision.
Mraz says 2002’s of “Waiting for My Rocket to Come,” his major-label debut, reflected his lack of experience, and the guidance from execs at his previous label: “(Before), I had just been born, really.”
“I was following their rules, and I hadn’t done anything at the company to prove my ideas,” says Mraz of Elektra Records. “The first album I was just bewildered like, ‘Oh, you do it like this?”’
“Waiting for My Rocket to Come,” which contained the hit single “Remedy” (co-written by the pop-production powerhouse The Matrix), sold more than 1 million copies, catapulting the singer-songwriter from his guitar-strumming coffeehouse shows to headlining performances.
But instead of boosting his confidence, the laid-back Mraz says it made him a bit leery — he wasn’t quite ready to give up his homegrown performing persona for pop stardom just yet.
“I was a coffee-shop guy and I was making a pop record,” says the 28-year-old Virginia native who built a following performing in dives and shops in San Diego.
“I was nervous about that, and deep down, I didn’t want to do it, but it was only because I was scared not having tried anything like that before. But I’ve always got a voice that’s louder that says, ‘Just try it. The worst that can happen is you’ll be back in San Diego and having the time of your life.”’
On his ownThough Mraz made it back to San Diego, it would take awhile — he spent months on the road, riding the “Rocket” wave. When he started to think about his next project, Warner Music Group consolidated its labels, and transferred some Elektra acts to Atlantic Records while dismissing top Elektra executives. With a new team at the helm, Mraz felt energized — and in control.
“There wasn’t anybody specifically watching over us, so we were able to pretty much say, ‘You give us the money and we’ll go take care of it,”’ says Mraz, sitting in the office of Atlantic Records President Julie Greenwald, his new boss.
“Right there, we had their trust, their faith. And based on my two years of touring the last album ... I knew what I was getting myself into this time. I knew what the steps were.”
One of the first steps he took was securing producer Steve Lillywhite — known for his work with U2 and the Dave Matthews Band — to work on the album.
“We put him on our wish list, on top of our wish list,” Mraz says, “and he was open. ... felt like we could be friends. I felt like this was the guy who could make me feel comfortable in the studio.”
The album has a more polished, mature sound than his debut, and is more experimental — one song even features an operatic voice in the background.
But at the album’s core remains Mraz, songs about relationships and that wry sense of humor and wit that his fans have come to expect and enjoy (visitors to his Web site get an extra dose of it with regular, often hilarious updates to his online journal).
“The new company taught me that I was the artist, and they could trust in the new ideas that they had,” says Mraz. “I think most importantly I just learned to be myself. It was just going into the project with confidence.”
Mraz professes not to care about whether “Mr. A-Z” will be able to match the heights of its platinum-selling predecessor: He even pokes fun at the dreaded sophomore jinx in his first single, “Wordplay,” noting how some have predicted he’d be a one-hit wonder.
“This album, I wasn’t too worried about the pressure, expectations. I have a lot of faith in this album, I think it’s going to do fine,” he says.