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Love Is A Four Letter Word: Chatting with Jason Mraz and Kevin Kinney, Plus Alyssa Graham and Alphanaut Video Exclusives

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A Conversation with Jason Mraz

Mike Ragogna: How are you doing, Jason?

Jason Mraz: I'm good, Mike!

MR: Nice. Your new album is called Love Is a Four Letter Word, and it does seem that every song on this project has something to do with an angle that brings you back to the bigger point, which is about love.

JM: Absolutely, absolutely. You got it. Thank you for hearing that in the music. You know, I'm not trying to throw it in peoples' faces. I'm trying to just lay it out there for it to be easily received. And always, my overall mission is just to transform someone's moment, maybe someone's day, or at the very best, someone's life, and just shift the attention back to love because it's always there. We just have to choose to see it or not.

MR: Yeah. Jason, that's so wise. Let's talk about the single "I Won't Give Up." It's like, "Okay, we need to go through our crazy stuff or growing stuff or whatever it is, but I still love you," and I think sometimes, we really all forget about that because we're so wrapped up in our own thing.

JM: We are. And also we get so wrapped up in the other person that we want to possess them and own them, and we get nervous about what they might do without us, so it really is about unconditional love. No matter what happens, I'm not going to change my thoughts about you. It's a big lesson, and it took me a long time to learn it. That song was my learning of the lesson and being able to put it down on the page and be able to sing night after night. Yes, I understand this now, and I'm ready to apply it to all relationships, especially the one I have with myself.

MR: Beautiful. And while we're on that subject, "The Woman I Love," the song right before that on the album, you point out how there are things that annoy us about each other, but you're still the woman I love. I'm not going to bail on you.

JM: Right on, yeah. Yeah, you know what? Sometimes, obviously, anybody can annoy you, you know? Anybody can shift their attitude in one direction. And also, it's like sometimes our better halves can forget their own greatness. They can become annoyed by us, or they can become annoyed in life. So it's up to us to love them back into being the person we know them to be, you know what I mean? And we all usually do a pretty good job with this. You know, if somebody you love tries and fails at something, you don't stop loving them. You applaud them and you pick them back up. You hope that they'd do the same for you.

MR: Beautifully said. Let's go to "Living In The Moment." Here, we have a happy, whistling Mraz, and nope, you're not going to worry about things that won't happen. You're living your life, you're living easy, and dare I say, breezy too.

JM: That's it, man! A lot of the words in that song are really the mantra that keeps me up. I don't fart rainbows. I'm not in a constant state of happiness and bliss. But it is a practice, and I try to be careful with my thoughts and my words. It always brings me back around to the present. It's basically gratitude, saying thank you for all things--the good and the bad. Just live right here in the moment. Forget your past, forget the future. It's not written yet. And right now, talking about it feels like I'm going on and on too long, trying to figure it out. Really, there's no figuring to living in the moment. The whole point is to not figure it out and not think, and to just be.

MR: Very nice. There's a freedom to that as well.

JM: Absolutely, which is why the whole album kicks off with "The Freedom Song." I wanted to wipe the slate clean right at the very beginning of the album. It's whatever happens, happens. You don't have to make yourself wrong or anything, just enjoy being here while you can and celebrate yourself and your fellow man. Freedom is a state of mind.

MR: Hey, one of my favorite lyrics comes from the song "5/6," and I love how you play with the rhythm a little on that one. Is that in 5/6, by the way? I haven't tapped it out yet. (laughs)

JM: Yeah, it's 5/8-6/8-5/8-6/8. It alternates back and forth.

MR: As far as the timing and how the shifts happen, it's like jazzy reggae.

JM: Yeah, I love that. Thank you.

MR: And also it has my favorite line of the album on there. "Are you dancing with your partners or are you pushing them around?" I think we do forget sometimes the control thing, like you mentioned earlier.

JM: Yeah, man. Life is a dance, you know? Just sometimes we'll lead, sometimes your partner leads, and you just have to accept the ebb and flow. Just like standing at the seashore. You have to dance with the waves, otherwise the waves are going to gobble you up. So dance with your partner.

MR: You got it. Dance with your partner. Jason, what's got your eye recently in the news, or is there something interesting to you lately that you've just gotten into?

JM: Well, I've gotten into trying to offset my car, and I became incredibly confronted by how much I travel and how much I contribute to global warming through my flying and what not. You know, one of the last things I read in the news was how in the last 17 years, The Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica has decreased in size by 85%. Antarctica holds 90% of the world's ice, and if that place melts rapidly, our sea levels rise, and that increases the amount of coastal floods and storm surges, and the possibility of drinking water for millions of people becoming contaminated with salt water. I think the biggest threat we face with global warming is how the planet is going to change and affect our food system, which is really what supports us here on the planet. I've been honestly doing everything I can at home to reduce my emissions and live carbon neutral and sustainably. Then also on our tours, we're looking into everything we can to get on bio fuels, and we're starting to plant trees all over the world. So everywhere we stop on tour, we're going to be planting trees, and that'll be something. We can watch these trees grow year after year and add more trees as we do that. I felt I needed to be doing something to take responsibility for how much carbon I emit just through my job.

MR: Right. But it's very hard, I think, for most people. Everybody wants to do something, but it seems that it's confusing as far as what the first step is. It's like how do you make that first step into it, you know?

JM: Yeah. You just have to start with your daily dues. How are you consuming your food and beverage? I think looking at our food and beverages is the most important because that's something we all do, no matter where you live and what you do for a living. And so it's important that you keep your own water bottle with you, your own coffee cup, so that way you're not accepting one-time use plastics and papers. You're really being considerate of how much you actually collect and throw away. If you go to foreign countries that have been around for hundreds of years, you'll find that they are already living this way. They don't have the space or the energy to build landfills the way we do in the United States. So you start with yourself. Ask yourself where your food comes from, what's it made of, and all that stuff does trickle down through the process. That old saying, "Vote with your dollar," really is true. Every time you go Starbucks, you can either have your own cup, or your own water bottle and get a refill from them, or you can collect another single use plastic water bottle and another paper cup and just contribute more to the problem. So I think the first step is really starting with your own self and your own responsibility.

MR: Beautiful. Oh, have to ask...your song "93 Million Miles" is, of course, the distance from Earth to the sun, right?

JM: That's it!

MR: Yeah. I love how in the song, your parents tell you that wherever you go, you can always come home. And also, you bring in the concept of, "Home is within you. No matter where you go you can always get back home."

JM: Absolutely, man. Home is a state of mind. I think our parents gave us a great version of it, and the homes that we build with our families create a safe place for us. But really, it's creating a feeling that makes you feel safe. No matter where you are on the planet, you can recreate that feeling. When you go camping, you can feel at home. If you're backpacking around the world, you can always feel at home because it really is how you feel inside and how you choose to feel at peace. It's right where you are, and again, it goes back to living in the moment.

MR: Nice. I always ask you this, but what do you think about advice for new artists? There's always a good answer from you.

JM: Oh man, be yourself. Be the artist that you were born to be. Don't be anybody else. Obviously, you can be easily influenced by other artists. I think in one conversation with another artist, you can easily adapt and become a part of them. But I think that we're all born into this world under our own unique circumstances. We all have our own stories to tell, and by being authentic, you let yourself be seen by others in a way that they can see themselves or that they can see someone else. It's harder for other people to see the real you, you know what I mean? I just say go for it.

MR: Any parting words of wisdom?

JM: Just keep your head up and keep it pointed towards the sun. I think you're doing a great thing there at Solar-Powered KRUU-FM.

MR: Thank you so much, Jason. Thanks for your time and good thoughts, and all the best with the new record, which is Love Is a Four Letter Word.

JM: Awesome. Thank you!

Tracks:
1. Freedom Song
2. Living In The Moment
3. The Woman I Love
4. I Won t Give Up
5. 5/6
6. Everything Is Sound (La La La)
7. 93 Million Miles
8. Frank D Fixer
9. Who s Thinking About You Now?
10. In Your Hands
11. Be Honest (feat. Inara George)
12. The World As I See It

Transcribed by Kyle Pongan

ALYSSA GRAHAM "ROUND & ROUND" VIDEO EXCLUSIVE

Here's the latest video and exclusive, "Round & Round," from artist Alyssa Graham with commentaries from both her and her director, Greg Gold.

ALYSSA GRAHAM: "We are so excited about the release of our new video 'Round & Round.' We hope it's as magical and spectacular of an experience for the viewer as it was for us shooting it. The video is filled with beauty and quirkiness, oddity and wonder and it's everything we envisioned thanks to the creative genius of Director Greg Gold. We were lucky enough to work with Greg and his talented and unique team, including producer Allan Wachs and DP Geoff Schaaf, on the making of 'Til My Heart Quakes' and as expected they once again captured the true essence of this playful dreamy folk song. Like ''Til My Heart Quakes,' we approached Greg with a very vague idea of how we wanted to bring the song to life. We had been down at Occupy Wall Street, where we were captivated by this stunning display of hula-hooping. It was surreal, this whimsical ballet in motion at a very serious national protest. The juxtaposition of these two movements in some way fit together so perfectly, the constant flow and cyclical nature of... everything. I called Greg and said two words, 'Hula Hoops.' The rest came out of his lavish imagination. Working on set with Greg's team and particularly with Roy Johns was truly an inspiring experience. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland and I loved every minute of it! I hope all the fans love the adventure too!"

GREG GOLD: "Working with Alyssa is all positive creative energy - the kind that says - hey if you say it's gonna be good - I trust you. You wanna change your mind - fine. The whole project can become the kind of discovery process that is only possible when dealing with a really creative and independent artist. Alyssa also happens to be beautiful and talented, so a lot of the work is already done! The song "Round & Round" is so playful. We wanted to do something that had the potential to capture people's imaginations. Doug and Alyssa had seen a hula-hooper in New York - and called me up and said: 'Round & Round - hula-hoop... anything you can do with it?' That led to contacting Roy Johns - who's an eccentrically brilliant performer - or is it a brilliantly eccentric performer? Just hearing the word 'round' he started a frenzied tour of his place - that was peppered with multi-colored hoops and different sized balls, beautifully painted objects and of all things, a transparent 8 ft. floating bubble... I'd been interested in using the GoPro - one of the new miniature sports cameras - in some unique way - and had seen some sensational work on YouTube that was very suggestive. So the DP, Geoff Schaaf and I shot a bunch of tests, combined a lot of elements and came up with the video. I hope the result complements Alyssa's great energy and nuanced performance. She was a really good sport, too - basically we kept asking her to do things that were impossible to do to meet the technical demands of the piece - like floating in that 8 ft. bubble, playing the guitar and singing the song twice speed - and she just enthusiastically dove into the task. It was pretty funny to watch. I hope the video does its job and turns people on to Alyssa's music. She's a deserving artist and a real example what truly independent music artists can accomplish."

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A Conversation with Kevin Kinney

Mike Ragogna: Kevin, where did the idea for an album collaboration with your old pal Anton Fier come from?

Kevin Kinney: Quite honestly, I worked with Anton on my second drivin' n' cryin' record, The Whisper Tames The Lion, and the experience was less than stellar.We were a young garage band in New York working with a serious musical producer. We were listening to a lot of Zeppelin at the time and thought this would be an amazing fit, but it was like going to graduate school without ever going to college, and we were so lost and confused. I liked the record, and a lot of drivin' n' cryin' fans love it as well, but critically, its only contribution to the history of rock 'n' roll was that it entered the charts at #199 and pushed Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon off the charts for a week, ending its record-breaking run.

When I went to see Anton four years ago, he was playing in a Lower East Side room called Marion's with Tony Scherr, and I handed him an album I had just done for a Dutch company, and when he called me back a couple weeks later, I was really excited about getting together and just working on some songs. We did that every Tuesday at his rehearsal space and it was a great experience...I was ready for that graduate school now. We co-wrote and arranged the songs for A Good Country Mile at this time and getting in the studio and assembling them was the next obvious step.

MR: What is the bigger picture regarding your new album A Good Country Mile?

KK: I still don't know!! When I imagined what the big picture scenario for myself could be in New York City, it became an overwhelming challenge for me. I thought to myself, "Why are you going to try and break into THE most difficult music scene in the world!" As a fifty-year-old "Don't you know who I think I used to be?" Southern legend-in-the-making, to try to break into a playground/workshop for the young and hungry is an insane challenge.

I played for eighty Mondays in a row at a bar on the Lower East Side, The National Underground, as part of an ever-changing group show called Shayni Rae's Truckstop, and although I was well aware that this wasn't going to necessarily garner an audience overnight, it was a humbling experience. But what I did get out of it is what New York City really has to offer: an opportunity to learn and play with some of the finest musicians in the world. Some nights, I would look back at the musicians I was sharing the stage with and be awestruck. Monday night is a great place to see the incredible in New York City. So I guess my overall big picture became, "Shut up and listen, I think you could learn a lot between this amazing drummer Anton Fier and these twenty-year-olds from Ohio, The Madison Square Gardeners."

MR: Why wouldn't New Yorkers know of you, especially after your time with drivin' n' cryin'?

KK: Southern bands had a longer, harder road back then. We were huge in the South, but major magazines would hardly recognize us. It was hard answering Skynyrd, Allman Brother questions all the time and I would just reply, "Right now, R.E.M. is the biggest Southern rock band in the world, so I don't know what you mean by 'Southern Rock,' not to mention the B-52's, dB's, Flat Duo Jets..." There was definitely a recognized Southern Jangle art scene, but when it came to us, we were persona non grata, and New York is a very press-driven machine. I think for as open-minded as they are, they need to introduce you, and I still have not been officially introduced.

MR: Which songs are the most personal to you and why?

KK: I think off the new record, "Challenge" is the most personal. "Everything's a challenge lately,I'm just trying to get to bed,two steps forward one step backwards,it's a wonder I get anywhereand if you want to know my story,it's probably a lot like yours,America in times a turninhold me to the god damn floor."But at the end of the song, there is salvation and renewal and a vision of better tomorrow. Yay!

MR: What was the writing process like for the material?

KK: To me, songs always start with a good first line. After that, I just try and not disappoint it.

MR: What was the recording process like?

KK: This record began on two-inch analog tape machines for the drums and bass, and some guitars. But even when it moved to a studio with pro tools, Anton is very old-fashioned when it comes to recording--he likes a good take. Nowadays, there is an almost endless amount of performances you can add to the recording. As you know, The Beatles started with four tracks. So Anton likes to it all clean and tidy and not have a lot of post-production deciphering to do; everything had to make sense, and I think he did a fantastic job.

MR: Who are some of the guests appearing on A Good Country Mile?

KK: A lot of the people we met during our "Truckstop" residency: Aaron Lee Tasjan from The Gardeners; Eleanor Whitmore and Chris Masterson; the Duke and Duchess from Steve Earle's Dukes; Andy Hess I met from Go's Mule; and Tony Scherr is really amazing on this record -- still does a residency with Antonnow at The Living Room on Monday nights

MR: When you look at what's happening on the music scene these days, what are your thoughts?

KK: I love this era of iTunes. One of an artist's biggest fears in the last eighty years was having your art discontinued. I know it's a fun game for collectors, but as an artist, it really sucks. I still can't find Mitch Ryder's Detroit /Memphis Experiment, but once it finally gets on iTunes--BAM!--there it is, and I can buy it after having friends over, and we are turning each other on to new things. As far as the live scene, there is a CBGBs or a Haight Ashbury in just about every big town in America, thousands and thousands of bands on any given night as good as anybody. The hardest part about it is it can be exhausting trying to keep up. I think this a great era for music: hard times = good music.

MR: What advice might you have for new artists?

KK: Write what you know and tell me about yourself. If you grew up in the suburbs write about it. I won't judge you, I just want to know YOUR story.

MR: What's your touring like and do you think with this album, New York will finally know you?

KK: I don't play Tuesdays in Salt Lake or Boise anymore. Other than that...CALL ME!!!

Tracks:
1. Never Gonna Change
2. Gotta Move On (Again)
3. Challenge
4. Hurricane
5. Wild Dog Moon Pt. 2
6. A Good Country Mile
7. Set In Stone
8. Bird
9. In The Land (Of Things That Used To Be)
10. Southwestern State

Transcribed by Howard Wuelfing

"BACK TO THE STARS," A TRIBUTE TO DINGO BY ALPHANAUT

Alphanaut is the art-rock/euro-pop musical collective formed in Los Angeles by singer-songwriter/performer Mark Alan. Little Sun, his latest LP due out July 2012, is a concept driven work about the full life cycle of Alan's beloved dog Dingo who tragically passed away from Canine Lymphoma in October 2009. Each song on the album is a chapter in the story of Dingo's life, from birth to the ultimate passage back into the realm of the spirit. Of the thirteen songs on Little Sun, eight are stories told from Dingo's perspective, including "Back to the Stars." The animated video, directed by Tonda Ros of the award-winning LA-based production company Dogubomb, features Dingo as he leaves Earth to explore space, visits friends from the past, and ultimately transcends into another universe and time.

Back to the Stars from Alphanaut on Vimeo.