Jason Mraz is set to hook up

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Jason Mraz headlines tonight at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival.
David Heisler |

To all the young women crowding forward tonight to get as close as possible to Jason Mraz, hoping to create the sense that the singer-songwriter is singing “I’m Yours” to them alone: Mraz is taken. He’s got a lady in his life. Or even worse, several ladies.

Mraz, the 36-year-old Virginia native who has been winning over young audiences in droves, has taken up in a serious way with Raining Jane. “It’s a girl band I’m working with. But I shouldn’t call it a girl band. It’s a band of accomplished musicians who happen to be women,” Mraz said from London’s Heathrow Airport.

The relationship with Raining Jane, a rock-folk quartet that formed at UCLA in 1999, is showing signs of changing Mraz’s life, or at least his musical life. Over the past several months, Mraz and the women of Raining Jane — Mai Bloomfield, Chaska Potter, Mona Tavakoli and Becky Gebhardt, all Californians — have been recording an album together, which Mraz reports is in the “capturing sounds” stage. And those sounds, and the songs they are attached to, represent a new direction for Mraz.

“It’s very different than previous efforts. Because it’s entirely co-written with Raining Jane,” Mraz said. “What makes it stand out is it’s performed with women. All the backing vocals, all the instruments. You can’t tell, obviously, that it’s a girl playing guitar, but you can hear it in their voices. They’re all beautiful singers.”

“I approached the girls, asked if they’d like to be my band.”
Jason Mraz

The overall effect of all this female energy around him has been huge. “For me. It opens up my heart,” Mraz said. And it has Mraz ready to take things to the next level. When the album is released, Mraz plans on touring with the women of Raining Jane as his backing band. For tonight’s show, however, in his local debut, Mraz will be backed by his usual coterie of dudes — “My current super-group,” as Mraz put it.

Career-wise, Mraz hardly seems in need of a new path. His most recent album, last year’s “Love Is a Four Letter Word,” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, his highest charting. The album’s first single, “I Won’t Give Up,” has been a mega-hit.

It is the latest rung in a steady rise for Mraz. After attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, he went to California and in 2001 released the acoustic album, “Live at Java Joe’s,” recorded at a coffee house in San Diego. The album earned him a shot at stardom — a major label contract, and a collaboration with John Alagia, producer who has worked with the Dave Matthews Band, for his first studio album. “Waiting for My Rocket to Come,” released in 2002, sold well, and the single “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” not only put Mraz on the popularity map but also established his musical identity — upbeat, melodic, grooving.

Two-thousand-five was a big year for Mraz. In the summer, he toured as the opening act for Alanis Morissette and released the album “Mr. A-Z,” which earned a pair of Grammy nominations on the production side. Mraz and his music found their way into commercials for the Gap and Hilton Hotels; late in the year, he opened a series of shows for the Rolling Stones.

Mraz stepped up yet another notch with the 2008 release of “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.” The single “I’m Yours” hit No. 1 and stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record-setting 76 weeks. The song earned Mraz a Grammy for best male pop vocal performance, and was also nominated for the song of the year Grammy.

Along the way, Mraz had his relationship with Raining Jane brewing. Mraz met the group in 2006, at an anniversary concert for the University of the Redlands, in southern California.

“They blew me away, the way they traded instruments and each took leads,” he said. “I approached the girls, asked if they’d like to be my band. We played some shows.”

Mraz was as impressed with the band’s commitment to music — and their availability — as he was by their talent. “They get touring,” he said. “They were all grads of UCLA and decided they would put all the love and attention into playing original music. To find a group of women in their 30s, all of them unmarried, who love being on the road and wanted to play original music — you don’t get that often.

The two camps began hooking up for writing sessions, sometimes once a year, sometimes three times a year, spending a weekend writing, then recording demo versions of the tunes. One of the songs they co-wrote, “A Beautiful Mess,” landed on “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.” and another, “Collapsible Plans,” found its way into a documentary film. Mona Tavakoli went on tour as a percussionist in Mraz’s band. Over time, Mraz began to see the songs he had written with Raining Jane begin to take on the shape of an album.

“We never said, ‘Hey, this could be a full album’ — till a few months ago,” he said. “But it’s really starting to show as a body of work. After years of digging, years of writing, this presented itself.” Mraz says that the process with Raining Jane has been marked by its ease. “It makes the album feel effortless. It was a little easier and a lot more fun than previous albums. But that’s only in hindsight.”

One thing that the relationship with Raining Jane hasn’t changed is the content of Mraz’s songs. “It’s all love songs,” he said of the upcoming album, which does not yet have a title or release date. “That’s all I’ve written. Romantic songs, songs about dealing with one’s own heart.”

But getting together with the women has added a dimension to Mraz, and he is looking forward to more time in their company.

“I can be one of the girls, and they can be one of the guys,” he said.