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SGN Exclusive Interview: Mason Jennings writes music from inside out

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Imagine a guitar being used as an ice cream scoop, and then substitute your soul for the creamy, flavored goodness. This is what Mason Jennings does with each song he writes, digging down to the inner roots and bringing to surface those feelings, doubts, and occasional clarity that arise in all of us - whether it's a relationship or an everyday instance, Jennings interprets personal circumstances in both a sensible and universal way. On his newest album, the just-released Blood of Man, this Minneapolis-based artist continues his niche of pure, in-depth material, backed by a fluid Americana-rock sound. An eco-friendly father of two, Jennings is a folksier and less bubbly Jack Johnson, who incidentally signed him to his label, and he's drawn comparisons to early Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen on his latest record - personally, I'm still trying to shake "Fighter Girl" out of my system. Jennings returns to Seattle for a performance on September 25, downtown at The Showbox Market (www.showboxonline.com).

During last-minute rehearsals for his upcoming tour, I was able to snag 15 minutes of time with the man behind Blood of Man. So here's what the mellow, laid-back Mason Jennings opened up about in The Music Lounge.

Albert Rodriguez: Do you find yourself going to McDonald's a lot now that you have little kids?

Mason Jennings: No, actually they don't know who Ronald McDonald is. We passed a McDonald's the other day and my one son asked, "Is that Goofy?" [Laughing.]

Rodriguez: You're avoiding McNuggets?

Jennings: Yeah, we're kind of hippies in that way.

Rodriguez: How old are your sons? It must be tough going on tour and being away from them.

Jennings: Yeah, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. I try to fly back once a week or every week and a half for just a night.

Rodriguez: Are you the cool dad at your kids' school?

Jennings: Definitely. It's nice when I'm home, then I can go in and help out in the classroom.

Rodriguez: What's the concept behind Blood of Man? How do these songs tie into the album title?

Jennings: I'm not sure what it means - I kept hearing the title in my head as I was recording it. I think it symbolizes the instinctual stuff in all of us that's just there, the human instinct towards love but also towards violence and desire, all wrapped up together.

Rodriguez: When you write songs about relationships, can anyone inject themselves into them or are they mostly written from a man's perspective on a woman?

Jennings: I try to keep it open. For me, it's more important to have it be open. My relationship songs try to be honest, but also truly loving towards each other.

Rodriguez: Are you constantly writing music, like in the shower or on the tour bus?

Jennings: For me, it's more like a burst - three months worth of writing, and then a break. I try to expand my consciousness and grow as a person, so that every new burst sounds different from the last.

Rodriguez: From your previous tour stops, what do you remember about Seattle?

Jennings: The fish market. We always try to stay downtown or walk around down there; it's so beautiful. I feel at home there - it's a real similar feeling for me, like Minnesota. I always tell people that it's the prettiest city in the country when it's sunny.

Rodriguez: Are there any cities you must play on every tour, any personal favorites?

Jennings: Um, there are many of them. Seattle, for sure - that's a place I love. That was the first city outside of Minneapolis that people really came down to the shows, and the people in the press wrote about me for the first time there. That was the first city where my shows would sell out, so there's a special place in my heart for Seattle.

Rodriguez: Do you remember the first concert you ever went to?

Jennings: Bon Jovi, at an arena in Pittsburgh. I remember Bon Jovi was shooting the video that night for "Wanted Dead or Alive."

Rodriguez: Who's your favorite living music diva?

Jennings: It would probably be Madonna for me. I love Madonna still.

Rodriguez: What's the last item you downloaded onto your MP3 player or purchased?

Jennings: Animal Collective, I think. I might pick up the Grizzly Bear record today too because I've been hearing that on the radio and really like it.

Rodriguez: Have you ever had a wardrobe malfunction onstage?

Jennings: [Laughs.] Yeah, I split my pants one time. They were maroon pants and right as I was walking out, it was like "rip!" so I didn't move.

Rodriguez: Do you have any advice for musicians just starting out?

Jennings: It's important to try to work locally first. If you can sell out a show in your hometown, you'll attract the attention of the press and more people. You really need to be able to do that at a local level before you try to step out on tour and extend yourself.

Rodriguez: Since you spend a considerable amount of time on a tour bus, are there any TV shows you're addicted to and watch on the road?

Jennings: I love True Blood, surprisingly with the Blood record. I also like Bill Maher's show on HBO.

Rodriguez: Will you teach your sons about life and culture through your experiences, or will you let them learn on their own? As a Gay and Hispanic person, I look to you as a parent of the future generation to teach them that being different in this world is okay.

Jennings: That will just happen naturally, from being around me. It's important to let them love whatever they love, people or places or things, so whatever sparks that joy in them, I support that, because what I love in my life came naturally to me, and my family was supportive. I dropped out of high school and followed my path. I think if you're following what you love, everything works out. That might be idealistic, but I really think it's true.

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