“It’s a miracle that we’re here at all/
This mystical, magical, rhythmical, radical, ride.”
Jason Mraz is living full spiral. It’s not full circle, exactly, because he’s changed and his experiences have changed, but on his eighth album, Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride, the musician has found himself returning to a familiar junction in space. The new songs, which are unabashedly pop, see Mraz reuniting with numerous collaborators, including Los Angeles band Raining Jane and producer Martin Terefe, who helmed 2008’s We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. In fact, as Mraz looked at the number eight, he instead saw an infinity sign.
“We’re back together, but we’re not where we were,” the musician explains. “We have new perspective and new height, so we can collaborate in a new way. I feel like I’ve completed a ring of the spiral, and now I’m starting that ride again. There’s a sense of constant unwinding and ever-moving forward that is both predicable and always uncertain.”
The songs on Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride harken back to 2014, when Mraz worked with Raining Jane on his fifth album, YES!. Although the four-piece group has continued to record and tour with Mraz, the musicians have always wanted to recreate that experience of making an entire album in tandem. Mraz and Raining Jane wrote together throughout the pandemic, going on writing retreats whenever they could. Although Mraz had explored the reggae genre on his 2020 album Look For the Good, this time the musicians decided to go full pop — an idea that emerged at the request of Mraz’s mom June.
“I played her some acoustic demos and she was like, ‘Yeah, these are great, but y’all need to make a pop album,'” Mraz recalls. “She said, ‘Because you’re not getting any younger, and you better do it before it’s too late.’ So anytime we found ourselves needing to pick up the tempo, we’d say, ‘Do it for Mama June.’ It became bigger than five musicians who usually sit around a campfire playing acoustic songs. This album reflects a concerted effort to push ourselves and push the process with our hearts fully open.”
Last summer, after completing a U.S. tour, Mraz and Raining Jane recorded the songs in Terefe’s studio in New York City, fittingly arriving on August 8th and departing on August 18th. Although Mraz hadn’t worked with Terefe in years, the pair found an immediate sense of ease and fluidity in their process. Additional recording took place at Mraz’s home studio in Oceanside and in Nashville, where Mraz reunited with more of his long-time collaborators, Carlos Sosa and the Grooveline Horns and string arranger David Davidson.
While making the album was creatively fruitful, it also marked a difficult time for Mraz, who lost his stepfather on the final day of recording. His mom, to whom the album is dedicated, fell sick shortly after. The events underscored much of what Mraz and Raining Jane had explored lyrically on the album. The songs grapple with the emotions and experiences that come with being in your mid-40s, a time that is often ignored by pop songwriters. But even from a place of darkness, Mraz found that gleam of positivity, which threads through Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride.
“To me, music is magic because first there’s emptiness or silence and then I’m playing an instrument or singing, and, just like that, I’m a creator,” Mraz reflects. “I am alive to make this sound. So music is a medium through which this alchemy can occur, and I find that my lyrics reflect that. A song can stem from a place of shadow or darkness, but optimism will always be in my music. I always want to bring the listener back to the light.”
Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride opens and closes with the same singing bowl and synth sound, suggesting that it is an ever-continuing sensation. It is never finite or complete, but instead the songs spiral into each other, encouraging the listener to enjoy the album again and again. The opening track, “Getting Started,” underscores the idea that there is no end point to the human experience. For Mraz, being a musician in his mid-40s is only the beginning. The potential for self-expression is limitless, a truth that’s at the core of “Little Time.”
“That song looks at each decade in my life,” Mraz explains. “What I cared about and what I pursued may have changed, but there’s one thing that’s always been consistent, and that’s my dream of being a musician. I’m still living this dream I had as a kid. It takes a certain energy and commitment and belief to still live your dream throughout your life. That’s a recurring theme on this album. It’s about my quest to continue to be fully self-expressed and to continue to live this dream.”
That sense of authentic self-expression resonates throughout the album’s rousing, upbeat single “I Feel Like Dancing.” For Mraz, that song felt like the medicine he needed at the time he wrote it. It’s a reminder to dance your own dance without fear, no matter what it looks like. “Songs appear out of a real necessity, and this song appeared as I struggled with identity and self worth in my mid-40s,” he notes. “And I have to truly dance like no one’s watching.”
Elsewhere on the album, “Lovesick Romeo” is the album’s oldest track and imparts a modern-day idea: no means no. “Feel Good Too,” about enjoying the success of those around you, has a disco flair inspired by Mraz’s newfound love of roller skating. “Irony of Loneliness,” one of the album’s more pensive tracks, draws its title and central lyric from a poem by Rupi Kaur, who became yet another collaborator on the album. Throughout the album, there are hints of Mraz’s formative releases, including his 2002 debut Waiting For My Rocket to Come and 2005’s Mr. A-Z, but it ultimately finds a kinship with We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. It is, in fact, full spiral, reflecting the past but becoming something new.
For Mraz, Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride is another step forward on the unpredictable journey of life. Its optimistic, inspiring sensibility reflects the musician’s overall approach to being in the world. He continues to run his organic home farm, Mraz Family Farms, which grows coffee and avocados, and his nonprofit the Jason Mraz Foundation, which has a mission of shining for inclusive arts education, food security and the advancement of equality. He donated all of the profits from Look For The Good to various charities, and actively advocates for equality, climate preservation and arts education. Mraz, a two-time Grammy winner, Songwriters Hall of Fame Honoree and spokesman for the Good Tidings Foundation, always aims to use his position to empower others and inspire real-world change and positivity. It’s something he will carry with him as he moves into the next spiral, and one after that, and into infinity.