Independence suits Mason Jennings. In his transplanted home of Minnesota, he crafted “Minnesota,” the album, out in his own wilderness, for the first time for his own label Stats & Brackets. Over the past year, he’s divided his time between raising his two kids with his wife of nine years, and then retreating to his private studio, recording most of mostly pop-rock album’s instruments himself.
"I make sure I have a space out in the woods, it's where I disappear and become very experimental. That’s been key for the last couple of records," Jennings said in our recent interview. "It's been really important to have trees, I love being around that sort of solitude."
But his independence doesn’t mean Jennings refuses help from his friends. Notably, on “Raindrops On…”, Jason Schwartzman
makes a cameo on backing vocals and piano.
“I really like his music,” Jennings said of the actor, who also performs music under the name Coconut Records. “He sort of comes from a similar spot, in that he records most of his records himself… He has a great aesthetic. He gave [‘Raindrops On…’] a real magical feel.”
Adam Topol, who is best known as the drummer for Jack Johnson, also helped helm some rhythmic ideas on the album with his band the Living Room. He was the one to suggest that Jennings try a cumbia – a Latin dance style – on “Well of Love,” which is an odd but tantalizing shift for Jennings, whose smooth voice normally lays down on top of lilting piano melodies and acoustic guitar.
Jennings also rocks out harder than normal on tracks like electric “Witches Dream.” He stretches out on keys more often than on his previous “Blood of Man,” from 2009. Between a steady diet of classical music (“I never really listened to Chopin before now…”) and an expanded rhythm section, Jennings was able to open up.
“I had a new setup with the drums so I was just going off the rhythm and sound of that,” he said. “I’m just trying new stuff.”
Not all new “stuff” goes down well with his most captive audience. Jennings says his eight- and five-year-olds love his music, especially the new album. But he’s not without criticism. He recently tried on a new baseball cap in front of his son, who told him, “’Dad, you look like old-time rocker. It’s totally not you, trust me.’”
“Minnesota” is out today (Sept. 13).