Smile Politely

Vintage Politeness: Mason Jennings interview

Mason Jennings is rolling into the Highdive tonight for a 7:30 p.m. show with Anni Rossi opening. In fact, Gillian reports that she just ran into him at Barnes & Noble. It’s been just over a year since Jennings played C-U, so here’s a reprint of my preview from last October:

Mason Jennings Breezes into C-U

Mason Jennings is what he is, and he seems completely at peace with that. And he should, considering how well being himself has treated him lately. After singing two well-received songs (“The Times They Are A Changin’” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”) on the soundtrack to last year’s Dylan “biopic” I’m Not There, Jennings has a new, unadorned album, In the Ever, out on his buddy Jack Johnson’s Brushfire label. The new record is relentlessly, effortlessly catchy, often hilarious and not infrequently poignant, which is an extremely difficult combination to pull off.

Tomorrow night, the Minneapolis-based Jennings will play at the Canopy Club, and I think you’d have a hard time finding something better to do on a Wednesday. The show starts at 9 p.m., tickets are $15 in advance and Zach Gill opens.

Jennings took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to us last Friday, so if that kind of thing interests you, click the handy “Continue Reading” button below.

Jennings doesn’t worry about who he’s compared to. “Everybody has their own comparison, just their way to try to make sense of the music, and I don’t take it in a heavy way,” he says.

As for the I’m Not There soundtrack, Jennings didn’t have a lot of say about which songs he sang. “They asked me to sing Christian Bale’s part, so it was already scripted,” he explained. “A lot of other people got to pick their songs, but mine were already in the movie. I pretended like it was something that I’d written. I just did it as fast as I could.”

After being born in Hawaii, Jennings grew up in Pittsburgh, but that wasn’t his final destination. He said, “I dropped out of high school in Pittsburgh and traveled around. I ended up in Minneapolis and I just felt at home there, you know like some places just feel like home.”

His first big break came when the Jayhawks became a touring act and gave up their regular gig at a local club. “It was the 400 Bar. I didn’t have much interaction with them [the Jayhawks]” Jennings noted. “I know Gary Louris, he’s sat in with my band before and he’s a great guy, and Mark Perlman. But I didn’t really cross over with them at all.”

On his new album, Jennings has a song called “I Love You and Buddha Too,” addressed to Jesus. When asked if that brought a strong reaction from fundamentalists, he said, “I’ve had people coming at me at shows, saying that they know I’m searching but that there’s only one true way, but not in unexpected ways.”

While it’s kind of tough to see their influence in his current work, when Jennings grew up “I listened to Led Zeppelin, and I got into a lot of hard rock stuff by playing guitar. At some point, I got more into acoustic stuff and banjo stuff, and people like Leadbelly.”

His touring ensemble is pretty spare, not unsurprising since most of his new album is just him and a guitar. “Right now I have a quartet,” Jennings said. “We’re trying to keep it stripped-down, so right now we have a bass, piano, and drums, and I play guitar.”

Jennings was gracious on the phone, but it was clear he didn’t have much interest in making outrageous statements.

Here’s a video of him playing “Your New Man,” a super-clever song from In The Ever. On his website, there’s a video of him playing it on Conan O’Brien, but I couldn’t embed that, so click here if you’re interested.

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