Down-home Brother 

Jason Mraz fled Richmond to make it as a musician in sunny California, and it worked.

Today, just three years after Mraz moved to California, he's well on his way to becoming the next John Mayer. In 1999, the melancholy acoustic pop of David Gray opened the door and the airwaves for singer/songwriters, and the labels have been hunting them out ever since. Elektra quickly signed Mraz, and in just five weeks released his debut, "Waiting for my Rocket to Come." He recently finished opening for Jewel, another San Diego coffeehouse success, and is now on his solo tour that will come to Alley Katz on Nov. 27.

Style put together some important facts Richmonders should know about their lost son.

HIGH SCHOOL: Lee Davis, 1995 WHAT HE SOUNDS LIKE: Mraz takes pride in his diversity: "Every time I sat down to write, I would try to write something totally different." The tender, acoustic pop of "You and I Both" is what caught the ears of the labels. But the disk is also sprinkled with reggae beats, a dreamy Jeff Buckleylike lullaby, even a scatted rap song with a banjo called "Curbside Prophet" on which he brags about his freestyle skills ("I'm a down-home brother, redneck undercover") and the "backstage Betties."

WHAT HIS LIVE SHOW IS LIKE: Mraz plays acoustic guitar and tours with a stand-up bass player and percussionist, both friends he met at open-mic nights in California. He also likes to make the audience laugh. "I try to tear down the fourth wall between audience and artist, and I try to use comedy between songs to kind of wipe the slate clean before the next song."

WHERE HE PLAYED IN RICHMOND: Cary Street Café and Swingers. "I can remember clearly playing Swingers a couple of times to my roommates, basically.

WHO PLAYS ON HIS ALBUM: Former Agents of Good Roots drummer Brian Jones and bass player Stewart Myers, both Richmonders. "My heroes." Michael Andrews, founding member of legendary acid-jazz group Greyboy Allstars, plays electric guitars, acoustic slide guitar, banjo, ukulele. John Alagia, who produced the album (as well as Dave Matthews' and John Mayer's) played some guitar, organ and percussive instruments.

WHY HE MOVED TO CALIFORNIA: "I didn't know anybody there, and I felt like I could take as many risks as I want. I could fail and not be embarrassed about it."

WHAT IT WAS LIKE GETTING STARTED: "I couldn't even stand up and play guitar at the same time … I was scared to death."

DAVE MATTHEWS' INFLUENCE: "He was definitely the guy who made me want to play guitar. My dad played a lot of singer/songwriters when I was growing up, but it wasn't until I heard Dave Matthews that I thought singer/songwriter music could be exciting."

FAVORITE RICHMOND BAND: Agents of Good Roots. "When I left Richmond for California it was so I could become an agent of good root."

WHY HE WANTS YOU TO LAUGH: "I used to sing songs at [open-mic nights in L.A.], but what inspired me more were these guys who would get up on stage with no instrument and try to entertain just by talking, and I find that's a huge part of any performance … I think the best way to know if my audience is still with me or not is to try and get them to laugh."

WHY HE WROTE NEW SONGS FOR THE ALBUM: "I was a little too precious with my old music," which would have been changed to accommodate a full band. "I was like 'Ahh, I can't change my old stuff, I'll write some new stuff.' In that process I called on friends to help me see through it, plus to give my friends their credit in the creation of me and in the songwriting business."

HIS TIMING: "I think we made it not in a good time [for singer-songwriters], but just in time."

THE POP ON HIS ALBUM: "A lot of [the album] is more pop than I expected but I'm also aware of the business that I'm in, you know, and this is what I wanted to do and it's not going to change how I perform live, it just changes how my CD is going to work for me on the road. It's actually been working great because radio is more likely to play it than, say, more of an acoustic-based album. So there are a few compromises you make."

— Carrie Nieman


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