NEW YORK (AP) — Jason Mraz is freer than ever, and that liberation has allowed his curiosity to get the best of him — in the most optimistic ways.
Musically, the two-time Grammy winner released his latest album, “Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride,” in June, a pop record that’s a turn from his balladeering, acoustic persona. Like many other current dance projects, it was conceived during the pandemic, and the 46-year-old says his fans helped shape its direction.
“I’d been noticing this for years — on the setlist (when performing), we were missing the songs that kept the audience on their feet,” explained the “I’m Yours” artist. “Something I long for is more experiences of that, where I could keep an audience elevated … it was a little bit (of) the audience asking for it, more than anything.”
Led by up-tempo tracks like “Feel Good Too” and “I Feel Like Dancing,” the guitarist wrote his 10-track, eighth studio album with close collaborators Raining Jane, whom he worked with for 2014’s “YES!”
But Mraz, who’s prepping a September deluxe reissue of his popular 2008 EP, “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.” is also continuing a personal journey, one that publicly began in 2018 when he revealed he’s bisexual. The “Lucky” artist says he’s learning to embrace his identity, and the unknown paths that lie ahead.
“I realize I’m not final. And the more we grow and spread our wings, I think the more queer all of us may become. Because when we don’t limit ourselves to some construct of who we’re supposed to be in love with based on our society’s laws … we could find ourselves falling in love, or becoming attracted to all walks of human life,” Mraz said. “That’s what I found was happening to me.”
Mraz spoke to The Associated Press about his mom’s impact on the album, how publicly embracing his sexual orientation shapes how he now creates music, and why he needs forgiveness. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: The title of the album is a mouthful. How did you come up with it?
Mraz: We’re all on this ride through life. Life is basically just time traveling, and music is a great way to travel through time. And as I’m looking back, in my mid-40s, at 20 years in music, where I’ve been, what I’ve learned, how I can forgive myself for some of the things I’ve done, and then how I can be optimistic and purposeful … I feel like I’m right in the middle of my journey.
AP: What do you need to be forgiven for?
Mraz: Breaking hearts. When you’re young, you have relationships that are filled with so much promise. And then, if they don’t work out, you’re left with this feeling of failure or shame which is not always easy to recover from. … (Also) I look back at some songs that I maybe rushed through, either for a deadline or just my idea wasn’t fully realized.
So that’s one thing we constantly have to do in life, is forgive others and forgive ourselves of our shortcomings.
AP: How did your mom influence the album?
Mraz: My mom heard some early demos that I was working on early in the process and she thought, “These are great. They’re cute. They sound like you, but I’ve heard that before. … You should make a pop album before it’s too late.”
Then, unfortunately, my mom was diagnosed with cancer during our album-making process. And so, our sort of musical inspiration would really be, “What would cheer up my mom? What could cheer her on in life and what will she be excited to hear from us?” And luckily, she’s doing great right now.
AP: You first publicly mentioned being bisexual in 2018. Do you feel any different now, years later, about what you choose to share?
Mraz: I know who I am today, but I don’t know what my future holds and what future relationships I’m going to have. … I love doing stand-up with some friends of mine and I find myself talking about my dating experiences in the queer community and what that’s like. And just the ability — the freedom — to have that type of healthy banter with peers is a big step, versus who I was in 2018 when it was just a few secret peeps that I would share with.
AP: Are you approaching the way you make music differently now that you’re on this journey?
Mraz: It is different. I find even with my old songs, when I perform them live, some I’ve either just retired or I find new ways where I can make them gender-neutral. I grew up hearing songs that had “girl” in the title, and I don’t fully connect with that or even want to limit my audience to just, you know, “girl” … that’s been the biggest change.
AP: Most importantly, are you happy now?
Mraz: I’m so happy. I’m still not happy that I’ve broken so many hearts along this journey, but I feel that I’ve done a lot of work in healing those relationships. And I’m so happy to be where I’m at today.
Follow Associated Press journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton at @GaryGHamilton on all his social media platforms.