By: Chris Azzopardi*/Special for TRT–
How cool is Jason Mraz? For one, his unwavering fight for equal rights led him to shoot a Human Rights Campaign video recently; he’s also waiting to wed until everyone can and, not long ago, united with Cyndi Lauper to tell the world that he, too, gives a damn.
And hey, it doesn’t hurt to know that he’s laid-back in the sack. Not just as a curious kid, but even now as an adult who, as he told us during this interview, is down for some three-way fun. As Mr. Feel-Good releases his fifth album, Love is a Four Letter Word, we got Mraz on the phone for a candid catch-up on music, marriage and the evolution of his wordplay – and set a few things straight: his misleading words in Instinct and how, when it comes to sex, he’s “keeping his options open these days.”
Chris Azzopardi: So, the grungy look: Is that what happens when you make an album about freedom and love and everyone getting along?
Jason Mraz: Yeah, maybe so. I certainly admire John Lennon, George Harrison and David Crosby – the guys before me that did it. I think it’s a rite of passage that not necessarily every artist has to go through, but I feel that I have to experience. And I’m enjoying it.
Q: What about the boyish geek in pink? Is he still in there?
A: Yeah, of course. From that I sprang.
Q: How have you changed since Waiting for My Rocket to Come?
A: You know what, I’m still scared. And from that fear, I’m still hopeful. I still don’t know what I’m doing and from that not knowing, I’m still very excited. And those contradictions are what keep me going. That’s the kind of stuff I continue to write about. I guess how I’ve changed is that I’ve learned to just accept what is. I certainly try to influence and inspire, but I am also not attached to the outcome, and I didn’t know those things during Rocket. I was just like, “Give me a pack of cigarettes and let’s go.” And now I don’t smoke anymore. I have more tools under my belt.
Q: So your rocket finally came?
A: Yeah. But I want it to get off! (Laughs) I tried to get it off. I jumped off several times actually, like “Ooh, OK, this is what this feels like. Yeah, no thanks. Let me start over.”
Q: Between doing the Human Rights Campaign PSA recently, a Give a Damn video and being on the cover of Instinct, how do you feel being a poster boy for gay rights?
A: I love it, because this is my way to finally fight back. There were a few kids in high school who called me a fag or just would always intimidate me, and I didn’t know at that time what I was going to grow up to be or who I was going to grow up to be. I hadn’t had enough intimate experiences to know, so as a young man I questioned how my sexuality was going to evolve.
My best friend in high school came out when I was a senior and I thought that was the bravest thing anybody could do – to stand up and truly be themselves. I’m not bashing my town, but at that time in my life there were other kids who bullied those who were gay or different. I ended up just leaving town for many reasons, for pursing a dream mostly, but I didn’t feel encouraged or inspired by my peers.
Now that I have this opportunity to shine a light on the subject and be a straight man and be outspoken, I’m making up for that lost time – I’m making up for that kid, that geek in the pink, that didn’t stand up – and I’m using my voice now for good, and it makes me feel really darn good.
Q: You should. We need our allies.
A: The civil rights movement happened because all parties got involved. And this, I think, is one of the final steps in the civil rights movement.
Q: You mentioned experimenting as a young person, but now you identify as straight. Early in your career, however, I recall you stating that sexuality is fluid and that everyone is somewhat bisexual. Have you changed your mind? Are you still keeping your options open?
A: Yeah, I’m keeping more of my options open these days. The older I get, the more fearless I become. That’s not to say I’m absolutely fearless. (Long pause) Man, I should be really careful with my words, especially with this question.
Q: Talk about the “straight” label itself – do you dislike labels?
A: Were we to live in a society that was equal, those labels wouldn’t really exist or matter – except maybe at the DMV or someplace where, for some reason, you have to put down gender, race or age. I don’t get it. I don’t get why sexuality has to be such a big deal. You know, I’ve been invited by couples to join them, and I’m really turned on by that. (Laughs) I’ve never taken them up on it, though.
Q: We can leave it at that, then. Your decision to wait to wed until there’s marriage equality was a bold move to make, especially since – according to the recent Instinct interview – it became one of the reasons your relationship with Tristan Prettyman ended. To people who might not understand your decision to wait, what kind of message are you hoping to send?
A: I would like to add that my words in Instinct may have been written or may have been spoken incorrectly. It wasn’t that my partner wasn’t into the fight for equality – she absolutely was – but it was the frustration in the partnership, the waiting that was one of many factors that made it difficult.
I can’t speak for her anymore because we’re not together, but for me it was a great opportunity to experience what it feels like to only be able to go so far in a relationship, which I know some of my gay and lesbian friends have experienced. They’re like, “Well, we’ve been together for seven or eight years, we’ve even got a kid, yet we can’t get married. We can’t get the tax benefits. We can’t visit each other in the hospital.” It just seemed very unfortunate.
So, my personal protest really gave me that kick in the stomach that I wasn’t expecting: “Oh man, this really is frustrating,” because my partner really wanted to get married and I saw that and I acknowledged it but I’d already committed to this and I surprised her with it. She said, “All right, let’s go for it.” But it wasn’t easy.
Q: “I Won’t Give Up,” the first single from your upcoming album, could be a love letter to the gay community. Have you thought about it that way?
A: I wanted the song to be able to connect with anyone who has something worth fighting for – whether it’s the fight for equality or someone who just wants to lose five pounds. The song is available for anybody’s fight. Hopefully, though, I never see the song on two sides of the same fight. That would be awkward.
Q: Love is a Four Letter Word lacks the scatty wordplay we’ve come to know from you. What’s that all about?
A: It shows up in a different way now. That scatty rap and wordplay is still in the core of my writing and what I do; for instance, the bridge of “I Won’t Give Up”: “I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily/I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make.” The essence of that is a scatty, rappy wordplay all about alliteration and rhythm. On this album I wanted to have an intention with the words and have an intention with the lyrics rather than just pass it off as goofy wordplay.
Q: Since the album’s all about love, and without quoting Whitney Houston, what’s the greatest love of all?
A: Oh man. I think it’s the love of oneself, because it’s once you truly love and accept yourself that you can accept others loving you and you walk around with the confidence and strength to love others and actually be of service to the world, so it’s that – accepting and loving oneself. And it has nothing to do with being self-absorbed. It’s just getting over your shit so you can step out into the world and make a difference.
*Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.