The way Jason Mraz sees it, everything in life boils down to people saying “yes”. “Yes inspires creativity. It’s what allows creativity to occur,” he says. “Yes is love. Yes is what gave us life. We’re all here because two people said yes.” Saying yes has given this singer, songwriter, musician, photographer, filmmaker, and social activist a life beyond his wildest dreams. Since getting his start 15 years ago performing in coffeehouses in his adopted city of San Diego, Mraz has brought his positive message and soulful, folk-pop sound to rapt audiences around the world through his recordings, vibrant live performances, and philanthropic efforts. Along the way, he has earned platinum or multi-platinum certifications in more than 20 countries for his various releases, sold 48 million singles, made pop history with his record-breaking classic single, “I’m Yours,” racked up two Grammy Awards among six nominations, won a prestigious Hal David Songwriter Hall of Fame Award, performed in amphitheaters and arenas across the globe, and sold out such iconic venues as The Hollywood Bowl, Madison Square Garden, and London’s O2 Arena. Saying yes has been good to Jason Mraz.
So it’s not surprising that he would choose that word as the title for his fifth and first-ever acoustic album, which he wrote and recorded with his friends in the L.A.-based folk-rock band Raining Jane. “The whole album is the product of yes,” he says. “Whether it’s Raining Jane saying yes to our annual songwriting retreats, which led to this collection of songs, or my label giving us the green light to let them become my next album. If anyone on our journey had said no, we wouldn't be where we are. ‘Yes’ really is the connector.”
Mraz first met the members of Raining Jane — cellist Mai Bloomfield, guitarist Chaska Potter, percussionist Mona Tavakoli, and bassist Becky Gebhardt — in 2006 when they performed on the same bill at a festival at Redlands University. “I loved what they did,” he says. “I loved their musicianship. I loved their showmanship. Afterwards, I asked them if they would consider recording a demo with me. Their influence has been a part of my work for a long time.” One of their co-writes, “A Beautiful Mess,” appears on Mraz's 2008 album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things, a landmark album for Mraz, which earned platinum and multi-platinum certifications around the world. Tavakoli is a familiar sight to Mraz’s fans, having toured with him as a percussionist.
In October 2012, after Mraz wrapped the tour behind his fourth album Love Is A Four Letter Word with a triumphant sold-out show at The Hollywood Bowl, he and “the Janes” (as he calls them) met for their yearly writing retreat at his San Diego home, something they’ve done for the past seven years. The songs were so powerful that the group decided to get together again the following February, and again in Hawaii last summer. “I said to my label, ‘What if we put out this acoustic-based album that's written and recorded with these four amazing women? Just as a little side project,’” he explains. “Everyone loved it. We got a green light within 24 hours, but then they said, ‘This is not a side project, this is your next album. It’s that good.’ Ever since, we put a bit more time and care into the quality of the songs to ensure that the collection stands up to the rest of my records.”
Mraz has always wanted to make an acoustic album. “It’s taken me years to develop the right songs, musicians, and arrangements,” he says. To help, Mraz turned to one of his favorite producers, the Omaha-based Mike Mogis, who is known for his work with Saddle Creek label artists Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley. “I'm a huge Bright Eyes and Saddle Creek Records fan,” Mraz says. “I’m also a big fan of Mike as a musician, producer, and arranger. I like that he can make these supersonic albums that still have the artistic integrity that's usually assigned to indie music. I wanted that experience.”
Mraz and Raining Jane spent two weeks in Omaha recording the bulk of the album, and finished work on it in Mraz’s home studio in San Diego, sending tracks back and forth to Mogis for mixing. “Mike was a great listener,” Mraz says. “He grounded us. He was able to take an acoustic song and make it sound large and layered so it could stand up as a sonically superior record.” Tracked live, YES! glows with Raining Jane’s radiant, lush harmonies backing Mraz’s pure, crystal-cut tenor voice on songs like “Hello, You Beautiful Thing,” “Long Drive,” “3 Things,” and “Love Someone,” which Mraz feels fits in the same family as his signature hits “I’m Yours” and “I Won’t Give Up.”
Lyrically, Mraz found himself returning to territory that he’s covered on his previous albums, which in addition to those mentioned above, include his 2002 debut Waiting For My Rocket To Come and 2005’s Mr. A–Z. “The songs are about healing,” he says. “They’re about love. They’re about faith. They're about our role in the environment. They're about acceptance, compassion, and letting go. They’re new tellings on things I’ve written about for a long time.”
In creating the song sequence on YES!, Mraz wanted to present an album with a clear start and finish. “There was a lot of thought put into the way the story and the songs unfold,” he says. The intro song “Rise” leads into “Love Someone” and takes the listener on a journey that builds toward an emotional upset with “Out of My Hands,” a song Mraz says was inspired by the breakdown of a friendship. That song is followed by a cover of the Boyz II Men classic “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday.” “The album wraps up with a song called ‘Shine,’ which has this explosive energy that ends as sweet as the album began,” he says. “It’s about how the healing continues and how we get back to shining our light on others. To me, the beauty of this album is that it's intended to be taken as a whole. All the songs matter and I’m delighted with it.”
Mraz is also looking forward to touring behind YES! this year, having made a conscious decision to play smaller, more intimate venues this time around rather than his customary amphitheatres and arenas. “A theater is where good music is best experienced,” he explains. “This is where the real conversations can happen unscripted. When we can talk with the audience and share more than just what's in the song. I'm also committed to playing in venues where the sound is impeccable, where everyone has a good seat, and where everyone has the chance to interact in the show, whether it's singing along, shouting out requests, or just being seen. It feels like a sacred space. I know that's important to a lot of people who go to my shows.”
And, of course, Mraz will be on the road with Raining Jane. “These women are my friends,” he says. “I've known them for so long and now we're getting the opportunity to take the album on the road and share our passion-fueled hobby with others.” The cover art for YES! captures the communal spirit in which the album was recorded, featuring five birds flying in a V formation. It’s an image that Mraz says is highly symbolic, in part because the Roman numeral V, or five, represents his fifth album, as well because “we’re really taking off now in a way that we never imagined we would as a five-piece,” he says. “Even though I'm in the front of this group, we're all doing it together. I'm there to help them fly just as much as they're there to help me fly.”