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Room to Grow
by Joseph V. Amodio November 10, 2017
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Not that you’d know it from his gotta-still-be-in-his-20s boyish grin, but Grammy Award winner Jason Mraz recently turned 40. While that might send some folks into a midlife crisis, Mraz is chill. And no wonder, given all that’s going right in his life right now. First, there’s his stint as a singing OB-GYN — making his Broadway debut playing the romantic, lovelorn Dr Pomatter in Waitress, the hit musical composed by his pal Sara Bareilles. His 10-week run began Nov.3 at New York’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

This month also marks the 15th anniversary of his first studio album, Waiting for My Rocket to Come. To celebrate, he’s releasing it for the first time ever on vinyl. Finally, his farm: Besides being a composer, guitarist, singer and social activist, he and his wife run a farm outside of San Diego, which was just fully certified organic this month. Somewhere in there, he found time to chat with Joseph V. Amodio.

I saw on Twitter a picture you posted of yourself at your first Waitress rehearsal. How’d it go?
I was excited. And had butterflies, you know? Self-doubts. Rehearsals are about flushing the doubts out. But I couldn’t have been better welcomed than by the musical’s composer, Sara Bareilles, who was there for my arrival.

She was the Welcome Wagon?
Exactly. First thing we did was sing through all the songs together, just feeling it. It was fantastic.

You mention butterflies. How apprehensive are you about performing eight shows a week?
That’s different from a concert tour. Very different. It’s different muscles. But that’s part of the thrill. I love performing. On tour, sometimes, a day off kills the momentum the band’s having. This is the opposite.

You recorded the duets for this show with Bareilles two years ago, for an album, when she was testing the material. Did you have any inkling then that ... this might happen?
None whatsoever. I was totally surprised by her invitation to sing on her album. I even commented, “I don’t know if I’m professional enough to play a doctor.” But she had faith in me. Two years later ... she asked if I’d consider being Dr Pomatter for a few weeks. I had the same apprehension — I don’t know ... She could’ve picked anybody. Really — anybody. But she picked me. I would’ve beaten myself up for the rest of my life if I didn’t take her up on this. So ... I decided to stay out of my own way and go for it.

It’s been a while since you starred in a musical: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
True. That was my biggest leading role; it was community theatre when I was 15. It was the job that put the idea of performing in my head. Being onstage felt exciting, and I knew it was a service I could provide. I started on the path to musical theatre ... but it was so darn competitive, it scared me away. At that same time, I started playing guitar and I thought, hey, I just want to sing. With a guitar I can sing in the park, on the sidewalk, anywhere — don’t have to wait for an audition. So that’s when I decided, okay, I’m not going to play a character. I’m going to sing my own feelings ... just ... do the musical of me.

So how does farming fit in? It’s unusual — a singer/farmer.
Yeah. I moved to the country because I’d had enough of apartments and trying to write songs with a neighbour next door. I needed to be someplace where I could be loud, or weird, or play drums at 2 am. So I moved to an agricultural area, where you can hear the birds, owls, frogs, crickets ... It’s so rewarding. And nothing teaches you patience like planting a tree. Watching it grow. We grow coffee, avocados, passion fruit. Just this summer, I got two mangoes that were the size of my hand. I planted those trees in 2011. Finally ... the mangoes are coming.

It feels so good. I’ve never had kids, but this must be like when they go to kindergarten, like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re 5 years old. And that’s gone into my other work. When writing a song, and the page is blank, I think, “Have some patience, put a little love into it, water the page and before you know it, words will form and it’ll grow into something beautiful.” Farming taught me patience. Taught me how to try. I used to be a really big stoner who never liked to try very hard.

Living on the land changed that?
It helped. It helped grow me up.

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