Mason Jennings:
The TVD Interview

Mason Jennings is my generation’s answer to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Leonard Cohen all rolled into one. His voice is distinctively one of a kind, his lyrics are intimate yet witty, and his songwriting is absolutely brilliant. From the crowd pleasing “Your New Man” to the hauntingly gorgeous “The Field,” Mason continues to create remarkable music that is celebrated by critics and fans alike.

His latest release, the aptly titled Minnesota is no exception. It’s his most personal record to date, and yet another stunning masterpiece of modern folk music that reminds the listener there are still great songwriters AND storytellers in the world today.

Mason took time during his recent tour to chat with The Vinyl District about touring, Minnesota, hearing his music in a mall, and having Prince watch his set at the legendary First Ave.

Do you have a most memorable touring moment past or present?

Oh man, no I don’t really. Anytime I get to play music is memorable for me.

Where’s the most unusual place you have heard your music?

Anytime I hear my music in a mall, that’s kind of weird. It’s like, wow, my music is on in a store. It’s always fun when I’m in a new city and someone drives up next to me and I hear my music.

If there were a Mason Jennings tribute record, who would you like to see contribute to it?

Joanna Newsom, maybe Conor Oberst and Willie Nelson. I’ve never been asked, that’s a cool question.

Years ago you signed to Glacial Pace records and released Boneclouds. Was that your first major label experience and what did you take away from that?

It was my first and it was a really enjoyable experience for me to work with a company of that size. It was interesting to see the kind of power they have behind them for all kinds of promotion stuff. I had a good time with the people I worked with, but the hard part about it was that a lot of the people there kept losing their jobs because the business was collapsing. It was hard to one day show up and a bunch of people would be missing from the department you were just working with. Overall it was pretty cool, it was neat to be a part of that and check it out. It’s cool to be on the inside of it and see how it works on the inside for a record.

Isaac from Modest Mouse is the one who brought you over?

Yes. We were on tour together, and he brought us to Epic as part of Glacial Pace.

Do you still keep in contact with Isaac?

Yeah, I just saw him a couple of days ago in Portland.

You release records pretty consistently, I think back to the early ’70s when bands like Rush and Zeppelin would release two records a year. With recording becoming easier and more cost efficient why do you think artists are waiting a year or two to release a follow up record instead of releasing music more consistently, like yourself?

I’m not really sure, maybe they are just used to how it worked in the ’90s. For me I just try to put something out every year at least. I have a lot of songs and if they weren’t there I wouldn’t force anything.

Are there any “staples” in the set list every night?

There really aren’t many staples because I have so many records out so it’s sort of like picking from over 100 songs to get down to 20 each night. I try to cycle them in and out. Usually the set list is based on what I am feeling that day or what works best with this particular configuration of musicians I have at the time, and then I just try to make sure it stays fresh for me.

Do you read reviews of your records?

I try not to read too much of it. I definitely read the Rolling Stone review of the last record which was nice, they gave it four stars. It was like a full circle for me to come from doing my own thing. For me, I feel that a lot of time a good review can be just as stressful as a bad review because it’s just one person’s opinion and if you start thinking about that too much it can really start to mess with your creative process, so for me I just try to follow my own inner critic and go from there.

Are you a fan of Punk Rock?

Yeah, for sure. I grew up metal with more Metallica and stuff. I definitely like the energy.

In the war between the Sex Pistols and The Clash, which side do you fall on?

Definitely The Clash. 100 percent.

Does your metal upbringing play a role in your songwriting today?

I think the biggest part that comes through is the emotional content of the choruses of my songs and the way they are constructed. They (Metallica) have a real tight dichotomy inside the song. My songs are very part-based the same way that Metallica’s are. A lot of folk music is just strumming a couple of chords—my songs are based on more parts and that comes across from my metal days.

Do you still listen to Metallica or what’s on your playlist these days?

Metallica not so much. These days I’m listening to more Louis Armstrong, I like Joanna Newsom a lot, and Regina Spektor. I like good songs, songs that really resonate with me.

You were born in Hawaii, grew up in Pittsburgh, and moved to Minneapolis when you were 19. Have you ever seen Prince in concert or walking around town?

No, but I did do a benefit for a radio station last year and as I came off stage and everyone was like “Prince just came to watch your set. He just came and sat down, watched your set playing air guitar to you and then as soon as you were done he got up and left.” I said “No fucking way!” Funny enough it was at First Avenue

What’s the most outlandish thing a fan has done to show you their love for your music?

I’ve gotten some really cool gifts. I got a stained glass window of one of my record covers once, but lately it’s been a lot of tattoos. I’ll sign something or draw a picture on someone’s arm after a show and I never know if they are serious or not. Sure enough a lot of them come back with tattoos. Sometimes it’s lyrics, and lately, over the last year or so, people just give me a pen and they ask me to draw or sign something and they tattoo it.

Can you tell me the story behind the Mason Jennings coloring books?

I always draw on my set list and I draw whenever I am writing notes to people. One day my manager said, “You should just do a bunch of drawings and we’ll make a coloring book. We can give them to people who buy the CD early or sell them at shows.” So I made 40 or so pictures and that was how it came about. It was just a fun way to get the drawings out there.

Your latest record is simply titled Minnesota. What’s behind the title and is this more of a personal record for you?

The record was recorded entirely in Minnesota. When we listened back to the recordings the one theme that came through the most was home and heart. I started thinking about my home and how much music I have made there; I just thought Minnesota would be a good title. Although there’s nothing specific about Minnesota on the record, it was a bit more eclectic. That’s how Minnesota feels to me, like a cross between the great north woods and this amazing arts and theater scene.

Do you ever play weddings?

I have played a couple, but now I hardly play any. Lately I don’t do them because I get asked so often that I just have to say no.

Mason’s solo Winter tour starts in January. Minnesota is available now on CD and LP. He also just finished a Daytrotter session that is now available to download.

This entry was posted in TVD San Francisco. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

  • Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text