Mason Jennings on 'Blood of Man'

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November 9, 2009 // UPDATED 4:33 pm - November 12, 2009
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Mason Jennings
w/ Nathaniel Rateliff & The Wheel
Nov. 22. (doors open at 6 p.m.)
First Avenue, 701 1st Ave. N.

The seed for Mason Jennings' latest record “Blood of Man” was planted last Christmas.

His 6-year-old son stumbled across an electric guitar-shaped ornament and asked, “What’s this Dad?”

Shocked his son didn’t know about electric guitars, he ran and found his wife’s old electric guitar and started rocking out to “My Generation.”

“Well, my one son actually climbed me in point 2 seconds and leaped off my shoulders while the other one looked like I had plugged the lights on the tree into him,” he wrote of the experience. “They flew around the room dancing for two straight wonderful hours. I got the point. I grew up playing electric and it was like remembering how to be free. For many reasons, it was so needed. So I got free.”

Not long after the jam session, Jennings headed out to his place in the woods in western Minnesota to record music. Unintentionally, he ended up with a new record.

He recently spoke with the Downtown Journal about his experience making “Blood of Man.”

DTJ: How’s your tour going?

Jennings: It’s going great. We’re on the final stretch now. We have only two more weeks to go and then I get to be home for the winter.

Can you talk about your experience working on “Blood of Man”?

It was really fun. Last winter I took three months off the road. I have a little place in the woods. I just went out there and recorded all the instruments myself. I spent three months making music that was just for myself. I didn’t think anyone else would ever hear it. At the end of it, I felt like I had a record. I actually felt like it was something I wanted to put out. It was kind of a nice way to do it — without any pressure.

How did you come up with the name for the record?

I just kept hearing that phrase (Blood of Man). I thought it might be a little too heavy handed, but every time I would finish a song I would make a CD of it to listen too. I would always put that Blood of Man on it. After a while I thought that sort of sums it up. There’s pretty much that kind of topic in every song.

You’ve been in the news for your new love of yoga. How long have you been practicing?

I just started it last year. It’s only been one year. I’ve been doing meditation for over five years. … I was like man, I don’t feel very good.

I’ve been in a van a lot in my life. My body was just feeling really wrecked. I felt like I needed something physical. I tried a bunch of different things — running, going to the gym. Stuff just didn't feel right to me. A friend of mine offered me to come to her studio. I started doing a lot of different yoga. It really made a huge difference in my life. I really fell in love with it.

What type of yoga are you into?

On the road I go to Bikrim studios. I like hot yoga the best of the different classes around the city. I haven’t gotten sick all year. I can’t believe that.

When I’m home, I try to go six days a week. On the road, it’s really hard. I do a daily practice in my hotel, but I try to go three times a week.

How does it compare to meditation?

It’s really connected to me to the same kind of idea where you’re getting still. You learn a different skill when you’re in stress situations.

For me it’s about coming to the center and finding that quiet place in the middle of all the outside phenomena that’s happening around you. With yoga you use your breath when you feel like you want to lash back out or get tense. Instead of those two options, you have the option of breathing … of really getting silent. You kind of have a detachment in a way that you’re not as connected to the drama.

I think it’s given me more confidence in trusting my own voice — trusting that at the end of the day I have to be on the mat with myself. I have to look at myself in the mirror. For 40 minutes a day, I’m meditating and I'm quieting. You have to deal with yourself — you and your higher power. I think that’s been a huge thing for me to realize. At the end of the day, that’s all that’s important. I’m allowing myself to take more risks and be myself more because I’m not as concerned about as what other people are going to say as I am about how it feels.

Can you talk about your approach to songwriting?

I always have a feeling in my heart. I just have a feeling sometimes where I feel like writing songs — it’s very natural. I just play an instrument — pick something up and the songs come very naturally. I think a bigger part of the songwriting is the times I don’t do it. I spend lots of my life not writing songs. I haven’t written anything in about six months. I think that’s almost as important as writing it. I’ll take a lot time off and then I can just sort of tell when it’s going to be flowing again. When I can feel that feeling, I make sure that I give it total respect — make sure that I get to a place where I can get quiet and write songs. I don’t know, I don’t understand it too much. It’s all a mystery to me.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I like being in nature a lot. I like Minnesota a lot. I’ve traveled a lot, but being here really inspires me. I like the weather. I just love the feeling of this place. I really love the way the land looks, the way it feels. How clean it is. The community is amazing, too, because it’s really rustic, really based in nature, but it’s also really intellectual. There’s such good radio, such good theaters and a music community. It’s such a special place. I’ve never been anywhere else like it.