Singer-songwriter Mason Jennings will kick off the fall tour of his new album, Minnesota, this Thursday at the Majestic Theatre. Jennings, whose album was released Sept. 13, started writing it with no vision at all, yet he knew it was headed somewhere great.
“At the outset I was just trying to experiment and see what came out, you know? So it’s just kind of writing all kinds of stuff, and it was only at the end that the songs felt the strongest to me,” the 36-year-old artist explained.
At the end of the writing process, Jennings had a heaping 35 songs that could be his album. It wasn’t until he and his co-producer, Dan Field, started to whittle away at the conglomerate that they could finally get down to the core of what was destined for his music.
The album has been referred to as a “collage of love.” Jennings drew inspiration from disparate loves throughout his life to create the album.
“[I get material from] just growing up and going through the different phases,” he said. “Down from being at home with my parents, to going through them getting divorced, my first girlfriend and then getting married and having my own kids. It’s just been this really cool journey for me, and there’s all kinds of different angles to look at the world from.”
From being a musician to being a husband to being a father, Jennings has not faltered in his beliefs as an artist.
“For me, the goal has always been to be able to play music and just do it in a way that I feel like I’m not compromising anything. For me, that means making music that I love and not worrying about it, and hopefully I’ll be able to do that my whole life.”
The album steps in a different direction instrumentally and tonally from Blood of Man, his most previous album. It feels brighter. Opening up with the slow-piano-roller “Bitter Heart,” Minnesota’s instrumental differentiation from the previous album becomes apparent. The piano is Jennings’ instrument of choice this time around, and it’s intimate, almost conversational.
“I think it really came about from my last record, Blood of Man; it had a lot more electric guitar, and I toured on that record for a while. And after touring on that record with the band, it was just kind of a really loud tour. … When I came home off the road, I would naturally gravitate toward the opposite of that. I would gravitate towards the quieter and sit down at the piano a lot and play more intimate sounding music. I didn’t consciously think about it,” he admitted.
The album, recorded in his Minnesota-woods studio, was virtually a one-man act: Jennings, a multi-instrument talent. There were two exceptions. “Well of Love,” which features a band of Jennings’ friends, and “Raindrops,” featuring actor buddy Jason Schwartzman on vocals and piano.
The live shows on the tour will feature Jennings and fellow multi-talented musician Jake Hansen in a duo staggering between instruments. The tour’s opening band, The Pines, will sit in toward the end of the set. The slimmed-down duo will cater to Minnesota’s personal tone and still be able to provide for “abbreviated” versions of songs from Jennings’ older albums. Jennings said he can’t wait to get on the road.
“That’s the hardest part … the anticipation,” he said. “It’s just a really cool feeling of completion to be able to get out there and share it with people. I love live music because you never know what’s going to happen, and every night is different. You know, even if you’ve done it for 10 years, there hasn’t been any two shows that are ever the same.”
And is he excited to get back to Madison?
“Yeah I am; I love it there. It’s been such an awesome place for me to play over the last 10 years,” he said. “Every time we go there I always look forward to coming because the crowds are always so cool and the people are so nice.”
Mason Jennings will make the first stop of his tour in Madison tonight, at 8:30 p.m. in the Majestic Theatre. Tickets are $20.