Everything you need to know about Jason Mraz can be found in his guacamole. The hippie-pop busker owns an avocado farm outside San Diego — a fun fact that becomes less surprising the more you talk to him — so he's an expert on the tasty green goo. • "What makes good guacamole?" he asks in his slightly spacey way. "How about someone to share it with? If you have nothing but love for your avocados, and you take joy in turning them into guacamole, all you need is someone to share it with." • Although I was expecting an answer more along the lines of "Bermuda onion," Mraz's peacenik retort is the perfect encapsulation of one of popdom's more unlikely superstars. "If you have nothing but love for your avocados" works pretty darn well, too.
The 35-year-old is a far-out throwback, the utter antithesis to our Kardashian present. He's a 21st century anomaly who can get existential about Mexican chip dip and stuff an enormous concert venue with nothing but bonfire lullabies.
Mraz, whose hits include I'm Yours, The Remedy (I Won't Worry) and Lucky with Colbie Caillat, will play the 20,000-seat 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre on Tuesday. He is definitely not an arena act; new song I Won't Give Up, from 2012 LP Love Is a Four Letter Word, makes James Taylor sound like Nickelback.
Yet this native of Mechanicsville, Va. — think a gentler, goofier cousin to Hawaii's barefoot bard Jack Johnson — just might fill our Tampa shed.
How does someone like Mraz happen? Well, he has benefited greatly from the power of social media (the video for I Won't Give Up has 30 million views on YouTube), the intimate appeal of iTunes and, of course, a collection of killer fedoras. Women, who dictate the current pop marketplace, love him, and the boys who love those women come along for the ride. He's like the Grateful Dead for beginners, a party, a movement, a happening.
"I felt the same way you did when I was first approached to do larger venues," says Mraz, who started as a coffee shop singer and DIY'd his first live album. "I didn't know if I had the music for it or if I could pull off the larger concert experience. Then I realized if I can just continue to be myself, I'll be all right."
Mraz admits that massive crowds present a challenge, but they also produce their own sweet rewards. "I would say it's harder to connect to a crowd of that size, but it's all the same vibe — as in vibration. Emoting at a coffee shop, making eye contact, that's the same emotion I'm trying to share with 20,000 people."
And when he does connect with that churning sea of sweaty bodies: "In a coffeehouse, you don't get the harmonizing, the roar of 20,000 in one place."
Mraz is traveling with a nine-piece band, "going for a fuller sound," but fans of his crunchy, dandelion-crown cuts needn't worry about Mraz going Katy Perry on us. In fact, he might not even know who Katy Perry is.
"I don't follow any of what the pop world is doing," he says. "Sometimes I feel like that's a weakness actually, that I'm too in my own bubble. But I'm really just interested in the inner journey. And pop is all about the exterior world, the material."
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It should be noted that Mraz is not nearly as pretentious or tedious — or looney-toons space cadet — as his quotes suggest.
When I call him on a Saturday afternoon, the singer-songwriter is driving from San Diego to Los Angeles. "I'm riding with my beautiful girlfriend, if that's okay," he says. You can hear the subsequent squeeze of his traveling companion. "She doesn't mind when I talk about myself."
Mraz is a lesson in laid-back, yet his tone tightens (well, relatively) when talk turns to the state of the union. He says he prefers to exist on the "outer fringe of politics"; he fights for clean water, gay rights, you name it. He believes in everyone's right to an opinion; he also believes some opinions matter more.
"As an American citizen, one has to vote," he says. "If we don't vote, we're not doing our part. We'll become some sort of oligarchy. It's never been easier for citizens to vote, because our candidates are so opposed on the issues."
With a chuckle, I tell Mraz that I'm assuming he'll be voting for Barack Obama on Nov. 6. He pauses, then says: "I am. And you know, I'm not going to hold back on that either."
Will there be speechifying at his show? Not really. But he won't be rah-rahing Mitt Romney or celebrating the arrival of the Republican National Convention either. As for letting his political feelings be known: "(At my show) I'm going to do my best to be as eloquent as possible."
I've interviewed hundreds of rock stars over the years — from Pete Townshend to Slash, from Kelly Clarkson to Miranda Lambert — and few have been as comfortable, as chill, as Jason Mraz. Was there something in the Mechanicsville water? What's his Zen secret?
"Where I was born and raised effects my music now more than ever," he says about his upbringing in what he describes as Main Street U.S.A.
"Those white picket fences? I built them with my dad. What my career, my music offers the world is a reminder of that. A lot of those ideal towns are all starting to look the same, the specifics are starting to disappear. So we need to retain a love for life, a love for one's family, a love for where one's really from."
With that flower-powered sentiment, I bid Mraz goodbye and tell him to drive safely.
"Thanks for the interview," he says. "And thanks for wanting to put me in your paper."
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.