He’s right in the middle of a set, but Jason Mraz isn’t too busy to pause for meditation.
“Let’s all take a breath together,” he tells a packed house in Hong Kong, where he’s performing for two nights as part of his “Good Vibes” tour. “Inhale… inhale… inhale…” he says, as a bandmate strikes a set of bell chimes sending waves of vibrations through the air. “Now exhale.”
The 41-year-old American singer-songwriter got his start in the early 2000s, playing small-time gigs at cafes in San Diego where he started to build a following. After signing a record deal, he moved to Los Angeles, working on his debut album and opening for household names like Jewel, the Rolling Stones and Tracy Chapman. Mraz released two albums before achieving his first chart-topping single, “I’m Yours,” off his third album, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. in 2008. Spending 76 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, “I’m Yours” held the record for the most weeks spent on the chart at the time.
“Lucky,” a duet with American singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat, “Make it Mine, “I Won’t Give Up and “Love Someone” were among his other singles that also charted in the U.S. and abroad. To date, he’s performed sell-out shows at iconic venues including The Hollywood Bowl, Madison Square Garden, and London’s O2 Arena.
Mraz was joined in Hong Kong by members of Los Angeles-based indie-rock band Raining Jane, who got busy with elaborate sitar solos and clap-along djembe beats that complemented the songs’ acoustic vibe. He performed a mix of old-time favorites and a few of his more recent numbers — fans sang along to “Have it All,” the upbeat, happy-go-lucky single off his newest album, Know, and sat back as he serenaded the crowd with a stripped down guitar-only take of “Let’s See What the Night Can Do.”
Just before heading in for soundcheck, Mraz sat down with TIME to talk music, activism, politics and his avocado farm.
Why did you call this the Good Vibes tour?
The name puts a positive intention on it right from the start. We’re committed to not having a bad day, to spreading peace and love through our actions. Quite simply, a good vibe is a high five. It’s an exchange of energy from one being to another. We do that through music, through the vibration of sound, through our language, so hopefully that rolls off the stage and into the hearts of listeners.
You played a concert in Myanmar back in 2012. What was it like being there and how did that impact your music?
I went to Myanmar with a program called EXIT, which stands for End Exploitation and Trafficking. In between acts, we educated people in Myanmar on the dangers that one can run into while traveling, or seeking jobs, the dangers of predators wanting to enslave human beings. I met on that trip some really gracious individuals who, while they had nothing, they still wanted you to have everything — their time, their energy, their food, and with that was [the] common [Buddhist] greeting of tashi delek, meaning “may you have auspiciousness and causes of success” [which became the first line of “Have it All”].
Beyond music, you’re very vocal in raising environmental awareness and promoting a less wasteful lifestyle. What are some of the related projects you have going on?
We try not to make merchandise anymore unless it has alternate uses or is produced in a closed loop system, which means there will be no waste for that product. We’ve found a company called Rareform that can turn the big plastic backdrop we’re using on tour into products like wallets, tote bags and cable organizers. This way, we can offer our fans a piece of the tour and keep this huge set piece out of the landfills.
And thanks to a great company called Organic Sound, our old, discarded t-shirts — also known as obsolete inventory — get destroyed and turned back into thread so that we can make new products out of it.
You’ve also got a charity, the Jason Mraz Foundation, that champions inclusive arts education. Why is that important to you?
Arts education builds the muscles in the mind. It helps you solve puzzles, it gives you more resources to be a creator — and we’re all creators, no matter what job we’re in. We use arts education to reach out to underprivileged communities and give them a hand up in society because too many people are left out.
You’re rather vocal in talking about politics, sharing what candidates you support or don’t support. Many artists choose to stay silent on the topic — why are you much more open about it?
Because I feel like enough time has gone by without saying enough. It’s one thing to vote, but we need to vote louder. It’s great to be non-racist, but it’s better to be anti-racist. I don’t believe the U.S. is a democracy just yet, because the popular vote doesn’t get the president elected. The older I’ve gotten, the more you just become aware of these things, and if you know it, you have to do something about it.
Do you feel a responsibility to do more?
Being human is hard. Everyone suffers, but there are some groups that have suffered far longer than other groups, and those groups need everyone’s help, especially from people who are privileged. I have privilege; I grew up in a great area with great public schools, got a great education, and that kind of education gave me good opportunities in life. I’ve had lots of success, but what good is that success if I can’t cause good?
Can you tell me more about your avocado farm and how you became interested in farming?
I bought the plot in 2004 because I wanted to live out in nature. In 2008, I started getting into a healthier lifestyle. I wanted to eat in my own zip code. As I realized how huge my carbon footprint was and how devastating it can be to fly on airplanes all the time, I knew I needed to make a bigger effort at home. I got more involved in agriculture in my own backyard, building relationships with local grocers and finding customers so that we could sell our fruit. We’re still very much in debt, but I have a great other job, music, which allows me to take some risks.
Your career has spanned more than a decade. How does it feel to have so many fans in this part of the world come out and support you?
I hit that stage with enormous gratitude, [I’m] just thrilled that there are people on the other side of the planet that connect with these songs. I believe that music is a very potent medicine that can bring us back to our nature and provide some kind of healing and comfort. I get reassured when I show up at the show and I meet these kindred spirits who are hearing those messages and drinking that medicine with me.