Jason Mraz's new album begins and ends with the same phrase: "Look for the good." Those four words are not just a lyric or the title of his seventh studio album, but also an all-encompassing world philosophy for the musician, who believes that in dark and challenging times we should search for something positive.
Look For The Good, written and recorded in Jason's home studio in Southern California, is a continuation of his career-long love for reggae music. It's a genre he's always returned to, inspired both by its rhythms and its revolutionary lyrics, and after making 2018's Know. the singer found himself ready to further explore how he could participate in the style. Jason connected with producer Michael Goldwasser (founder of indie reggae label Easy Star Records and producer for Matisyahu, Steel Pulse, Toots and the Maytals and his own band, Easy Star All-Stars), who had remixed Jason's single "Have It All," and the pair began sending ideas back and forth. Initially, Jason didn't realize their collaboration would yield an actual album.
"I honestly thought it was going to end up as a little experimental side project that sat on my merch table," he says. "But it really blossomed into something quite beautiful and universal, both in its lyrics as well as its world beat. Everyone can dance to reggae. It was a long maturation process from the love of reggae as a fan to meeting the right influencers on the way who steered me in this direction."
Goldwasser curated a nine-piece studio band, which included several of Jason's mainstay musicians, and the group decamped to Jason's home and studio, which is modeled off Bob Marley's house on Hope Road in Kingston. Jason also tapped his frequent collaborators Raining Jane to come in for backup vocals and to co-write several songs. The recording process lasted two weeks and resonated with good vibes.
"It was very cool," Jason recalls. "We made a bunch of demos and sent the arrangements to the musicians, and the first time we sat in a circle to play these songs it was magical. As soon as we started playing it worked. Everything worked. The lyrics flew right through. It was so magical to have that many people come together and agree upon a sound and a tone and a tempo and a structure and an end result. It started out as an experiment, but was beyond our expectations of what we thought this thing could sound like and become."
The album's 12 songs are thematically and stylistically split into two sides. Side A represents a timely look at the state of the world, reflecting on society and humanity, while Side B takes a more old school approach, with word play and vintage reggae at its core. The album opens with upbeat single "Look For the Good," a song that sets the intention for everything that comes after it. "There's a lot going on in the world, and it's crazy," Jason says. "But instead of worrying about it and adding more craziness to it, let's look for the good. How can we lift each other up in times we feel are the craziest we've ever lived in?"
Jason also reflects on his hope for less conflict on "Make Love," asking people to find their own inner peace and project that outward, and touches on topical issues like gun control, inequality and the environment. "My Kind" reminds us that we're all connected, while "Wise Woman" celebrates women using Mother Earth as its touchstone. "Time Out," which features iconic Jamaican reggae artist Sister Carol, encourages the listener to take a (420) break, and film and TV star/standup comedian Tiffany Haddish jumps on to rap on "You Do You." It's a reggae album, but it's also a Jason Mraz album.
"Going into this project it was not in me to change my lyrics or my dialect or my belief system," Jason says. "I just wanted reggae music to be a backbone to the new songs I was writing. I didn't change anything about my style -- I'm still singing about love and peace. But reggae, because it's historically known to also provide a musical backdrop to a revolution or to inequality or to injustice, gives me more room to step into that world. Reggae allows me to breathe life into things I really care about. It sounds more like the real me, which I'm proud of."
"Jason and I wanted to make a cohesive album that has a flow to it, not just a collection of great songs," Michael adds. "We wanted to go back to the days of putting on Side A of your LP and going on a musical and lyrical journey, and then flipping over to side B for another journey, where both journeys make sense as a bigger story and the listener really wants to listen to the whole album straight through. So many of the songs relate to each other in terms of themes and vibes."
While the songs on Look For The Good harken back to Jason's formative releases, including his 2002 debut Waiting For My Rocket to Come and 2005's Mr. A-Z, the album looks forward, hinting at a musician who isn't bound by genre or expectation. The songs reveal an artist who is inspired by his surroundings, especially by his organic home farm, Mraz Family Farms, where he grows coffee and avocados, among other things. For Jason, a good day spent involves working with the Earth, celebrating life and growing both plants and songs.
"Farming informs and forms my work in a big way," he says. "When I go into the studio I'm always experimenting with songs to find out what else wants to be created. I water ideas on a guitar or piano in the same way I water plants and that helps grow those ideas -- and helps me as an artist regenerate so I can convert these ideas into living, breathing songs. And those songs go on to feed a lot of people."
The musician also runs the Jason Mraz Foundation, which has donated over $1 million to organizations supporting inclusive arts education and equality. The foundation recently put on an event in San Diego, "SHINE," to celebrate all-inclusive arts education and become more fully immersed in the community using Jason's music as a backbone. In many ways, Jason, a two-time Grammy winner, Songwriters Hall of Fame Honoree and board member of the ASCAP Foundation, aims to use his position to empower others and inspire real-world change and positivity. Everything he does and every song he writes comes back to the idea of love. Look For The Good is not just an album -- it's a refreshing way of seeing and experiencing the world we live in.
"I feel my calling in life is people experiencing freedom and joy," Jason says. "I want that for my friends, for people who work for me and for my fans. I want that for the audience and the listener so when they get something from the music they feel completely free and they're left with these vibrations of joy and inspiration. With this album, I feel renewed and excited. I look at myself as a new artist. I'm constantly looking for new experiences and new ideas, and I hope I can bring that feeling to those around me."