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Staring at Fame

Roots rock heartthrob Jason Mraz keeps a low profile off-stage, a key to his songwriting.

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That laid-back tone carries through to his stage performance, which still exudes the coffee-shop vibe of his early performing days. He exchanges banter with the audience and the band, fools around with lyrics and tunes, and seems to have a good time doing it.

Though his current "Mr. A-Z" album is more introspective, more melodic than his 2002 debut, "Waiting for My Rocket to Come," it's not because of any ebb in energy. His live performance leaves no doubt about that. "Mr A-Z" takes a step back to breathe, meaning it doesn't have the same velocity as the first album. But get Mraz onstage and he dances around, rips on his guitar and takes his voice to the absolute limit. His band members also deserve credit for the show's feel. From their energy-infused solos to their pitch-perfect ensemble work, they play like there's nothing they'd rather be doing.

Mraz is on a U.S. tour that stops in Richmond for the holidays then takes him to Asia and the United Kingdom in the new year. Style caught up with him before his recent performance at the 6,350-seat NOKIA Theater at Grand Prairie, Texas, outside of Dallas.



Style: Was creating this album different than creating the first?

Mraz: I had to give in a little [to the label] on the first album. But also, I wanted to. I had a grasp on the whole coffee-shop thing. The acoustic thing. The trio. But this [recording] opportunity came along, and I wanted to see how that would go. … The second album was a different story. That's one of my reasons for calling [it] "Mr. A-Z." One thing it has through and through — is me.



How do you feel about your "rock star" status?

I try not to believe it. Every night I walk out there I'm surprised. I really dig that they react that way to the songs. But I'm the least recognized guy in the music scene. Only the girl who works at my Starbucks recognizes me. But I dig that the most. I'm thankful that I can go out on the street and still be me. The only way I can write is by being an observer. So when I get off the road, I need things to be normal.



How do you write?

When I write, the first place I start is with me. I write in a way that would be therapeutic. I make a list of my friends and family, and I write them each a song. It's like keeping a diary, checking in with myself, checking my growth. I can't just fictionalize. I can't just sit down and write a little ditty about Jack and Diane.



What are your plans for the next album?

I'm writing the songs, and I'm going to produce it with friends in my studio that I'm building in my back yard. [I just want to] set up a mike or two and record a great performance. That's how Elvis used to do it. Now we have all this technology to make it perfect which takes the magic out of it. What I want to capture on the album is a great acoustic performance. I want to make a classy record, you know? It's going to be emotional. It's going to be good. S



Mraz will be performing locally several times in December. He makes a free in- store appearance at Circuit City, 9860 Brook Road, Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. That night he performs a $25-$100-a-ticket benefit concert for his alma mater, Lee Davis High School at 7:30. Then he plays at Q94's "A'Q'stic Christmas" Dec. 14 with Liz Phair at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Doors at 6 p.m., tickets are $20. All tickets available at www.jasonmraz.com.

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