Singer Mason Jennings on His New Album

Singer-songwriter Mason Jennings drops by to discuss his new album, In the Ever.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

The most common comment on the iTunes' Mason Jennings page is, why isn't this guy more popular? Usually, that means a few things, great musicianship, strong melodies, discernible lyrics - those are underrated - and leaving the fans feeling good. No one asks, why aren't these guys more popular about those bummer bands? Well, Mason Jennings has all the good qualities. Even when he writes a sad song, it's pointed, and for some reason, it usually leaves you hopeful. "In the Ever" is his seventh album. This one's out on Brushfire Records, which is Jack Johnson's label. Hello, Mason.

Mr. MASON JENNINGS (Singer/Songwriter): Hey, how are you doing?

PESCA: I am well. Thanks so much for coming in. Did you want to just start off with a song?

Mr. JENNINGS: All right, sounds good.

PESCA: Do you want to intro it?

Mr. JENNINGS: This is a song called "Your New Man."

PESCA: All right. Go for it.

(Soundbite of song "You're a New Man")

Mr. JENNINGS (Singing): Goodness, me. Yes, I'd agree, I was the one who ended up our history. Well, it looks like you wrote the last page to me. Your friends say you've got a new man.

Girl, that's so not cool in so many ways. These were supposed to be my carefree single days. Instead, I'm punching walls and coming up with ways, Ways to win you back from your new man.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, Right now, he's a-probably moaning your name. The thought of it is driving me insane. Got to get religion just to ease the pain Of thinking about you loving your new man.

Well, did you get the literature I left in your bed? Told you, keep it frozen. It caught fire instead. Have you not heard a single word I've said? No, you were busy loving your new man.

Goodness Garage. His name is probably Rog. He probably drives a truck, and his hands are probably big. I bet he fixes things around your place when they break. If he says he likes your cooking, he's a fake.

Girl, please say he doesn't tuck his shirts in, please. Please say he doesn't wear a gold chain, please. Things were going great. I even went on a date. Then I found out about your new man.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, Right now he's a-probably moaning your name. The thought of it is driving me insane. Got to get religion just to ease the pain Of thinking about you loving your new man.

Well, did you get the literature I left in your bed? Told you, keep it frozen. It caught fire instead. Have you not heard a single word I've said? No, you were busy loving your new man.

Aw, come on!

Holly around the tree, that kiss was meant for me. Trust me, he'll get way too drunk at your Christmas party. Your friends will laugh at first, But as the night gets worse, Collectively, they'll run off your new man.

And who'll be standing there, looking like Fred Astaire? Me. And I'll be singing where, oh, where, Have you been all fall, while I was having a ball? Certainly, not with your new man.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, Right now he's a-probably crying your name. The thought of it is driving him insane. Got to find another just to ease the pain Of thinking about you loving your new man.

Well, did you get the messages he left on your phone? Told you that he's sorry and to please come home. Maybe you'd have answered, but were you alone? No, you were busy loving your new man.

Right, you were busy loving your new man, Me. You were busy loving your new man. That's right.

PESCA: I've got to say, first thought, why isn't this guy more famous?

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: That's a great song.

Mr. JENNINGS: Thanks, dude.

PESCA: You play that live on the album?

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah, it was fun, I just - I tried recording it live, and that one just felt a little more fun for the record, you know? There's something about it with the crowd. They hadn't heard it before, too, which is kind of fun, to hear a crowd hear something for the first time. And also, I'd never heard somebody just stick a live song right in the middle of a record before.

PESCA: Yeah, it's true.

Mr. JENNINGS: I was like, that's kind of fun. Let's see if I can pull that off.

PESCA: You know what's funny about that song? If you play it live for enough people, I mean, just statistically speaking, some guys in the crowd have to be the Rog character.

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah, oh, man.

PESCA: They have to be the new man, and they never identify.

Mr. JENNINGS: And it was hard, too, because I wrote it and I barely ever write, like, that kind of song, and I was like, oh, man, this is weird. By not editing it, then I have to leave songs about gold - like, there's a line about a gold chain, and I was about to go on stage, and some guy comes up to me and he says, like, I just want to tell you how much your music has meant to me. It's really got me through some hard times. He's got this gigantic gold chain on, you know, and his shirt's tucked in and I was like, oh, no.

PESCA: And he shook your hand and his hands were massive.

Mr. JENNINGS: And I walk on, I'm like, what do I do? And you know, my friends are like, people get it. It's like, that's your - that's what would make you feel bad if your girlfriend was dating that guy. It's not about, like, you don't like the guy or something. It's just like, that's your insecurity. And I was like, OK, cool. I had to leave it alone. I tried changing it, you know, please say he doesn't have a good paying job, or something like that. It's lame. Just get to the point, do it, don't edit it.

PESCA: I was reading an old interview and you said something I had never read a singer/songwriter write, which is that you're almost talking about, like, a standup comic does. There was a line about fatherhood that worked for you, but didn't work for the crowds that you were trying it out on. Do you remember what that specific line was?

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah. It was actually a song from "Which Way Your Heart Will Go," and no, actually, the crowds never heard it. It was a producer, Rick Rubin.

PESCA: OK.

Mr. JENNINGS: I was working with Rick Rubin, and he was - he had just always kept talking about just try to get it more open, more open, you know, like, I don't know, like, I go back and forth on that. Like, there' s a line, you know, I would never trade a thing for fatherhood and the joy you bring, and I changed it to, darling, there's no way to know which way your heart will go. So it's a kind of - it just got more broader, but to me, it's still, like, either one is good, but you know, the fatherhood one still is maybe a little more personal. But I realize there's a lot of people that aren't fathers that, you know, maybe would just be like, oh, let's skip that one, you know?

PESCA: I don't know. I mean, I'm a dad, so I hear you. And in fact, the name of this album comes from your son?

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah. He was four when he was saying - he was in the backseat of the car and he goes, Dad, remember before I was born when I was in the ever? And I was like, no way did you just say that. Like, that's amazing, and how is that not something everybody says, you know? So - and then through the record process, there's lots of spiritual themes, but it's more, you know, universal quality to it that I thought that that sort of summed it up, like "In the Ever."

PESCA: Well, this brings us - I guess this segues to - you want to play - you want to play another one?

Mr. JENNINGS: Sure. Yeah.

PESCA: "Jesus, Are You Real?"

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah. I'll do that. Yeah.

PESCA: OK.

(Soundbite of song "Jesus, Are You Real?")

Mr. JENNINGS: (Singing) Jesus, are you real or did we make you up? Is salvation what you want or is faith enough? Do you know where I'm bound? Do you know who I am? Are you just a word I use when I don't understand?

Standing like a statue in the sea, in a little truck stop in Tennessee, Bombs are crashing down in waves on a giant TV screen. And I am struck, I cannot move, to make it stop, what can I do? People are dying in their beds, while this flag flies over our heads.

Jesus, are you stronger than a loaded gun? I'm beginning to believe you're not the only one. Strong enough to show your love, strong enough to give. Strong enough to go through hell, strong enough to live.

All night long I sat with you in a darkened hospital room. Nurses checked in by the hour. I was made aware of a higher power, And how this fragile life we live is not ours to keep, but ours to give. What in the world am I going to if anything should happen to you?

And all I do is doubt you, God. All I do is love you, God. All I do is question you. What else can I do? This world was never solid ground. The past is coming back around. All I do is search for you. What else can I do?

And when I say I search for you, I mean I search for peace, I search for hope, I search for love, and one day for release.

Jesus, my life does not feel the same. New things happen every day, things I can't explain. I'm not a man of faith. I'm a man of truth. But is this feeling in my heart, is this feeling proof?

And when you do not know, you know. And when you know, you do not know. And when you think you do, you die. And when you do not think, you grow.

Are we left here in the dark or are we left here in the light? It seems to me that both are true and it's up to know what's right.

And all I do is doubt you, God. All I do is love you, God. All I do is question you. What else can I do? This world was never solid ground. Religion cannot help me. All I do is search for you. What else can I do?

And when I say I search for you, I mean I search for peace. I search for hope, I search for love, and one day for release.

God, give me strength to accept the things that I just cannot know, And even when I lose control, I will not let you go.

PESCA: One other song that jumped out at me was "Memphis, Tennessee."

Mr. JENNINGS: Oh. Right on.

PESCA: Earlier this year, the Smithsonian Rock and Soul Museum posted on its website the fact - they listed, I think, it was 899 songs that mention Memphis, Tennessee.

Mr. JENNINGS: Wow.

PESCA: They say it's the number one city mentioned in pop songs.

Mr. JENNINGS: No way! Cool. That's all right.

PESCA: And you're from Hawaii and then you move to Pittsburgh, and then you moved to Minnesota. Did you ever spent a lot of time in Memphis? Why do you write about Memphis?

Mr. JENNINGS: No. Actually, it's funny because I was - we were touring, and we were in Texas, and we were in Lubbock, Texas, and there was a train derailment and we saw a train, like, ripped, like, off the side of the tracks, just laying there. And there's so much space in Texas that you're like, wow, like, this is crazy. You can see the whole train ripped apart just laying there.

Nobody was really around. It was just there. So we kind of stayed at a motel out, you know, with the door open, right by this train derailment. And my friend, Chris, who plays bass for me, and I wrote that song, and it was called "Lubbock." And it was "Lubbock, Texas," was the title of it and I'm, like, that is the ugliest word of all time, so we just changed it to Memphis.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: But did you make up to Lubbock by covering a lot of Buddy Holly live?

Mr. JENNINGS: Is he from there?

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. JENNINGS: Man, poor dude.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Well, why do you think he got out?

Mr. JENNINGS: Exactly. Oh, man. Yeah, that was amazing. That was funny that you say that because I was tempted. I'm like, Lubbock? Nope, I can't do it.

PESCA: Mason Jennings, his latest is "In the Ever," which is a quote from his son.

Mr. JENNINGS: There you go.

PESCA: Thanks a lot, Mason.

Mr. JENNINGS: Thanks for having me on.

(Soundbite of song "Memphis, Tennessee")

Mr. JENNINGS: (Singing) I was born in a gold mine. You were born by the sea. Without nothing, we got something, Memphis, Tennessee. Girl, Memphis, Tennessee.

PESCA: We talked to Mason about the fact that he dropped out of high school, and he, you know, talked about all his life's ambitions since then. He's a voracious reader. He has a bag full of books, and Jacob and Ian, two of the BPP's producers, who are really well-read, started talking to him about books and he was quizzing them. What's the next thing I should read? Have you ever read this author? Just really a wonderful, open, delightful guy, the kind of guy who - the persona he puts forth seemed to really match the kind of guy he really is, so that was nice. Next on the show, sports with Bill Wolff. The Lakers and Tiger Woods are on the docket. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

(Soundbite of "Memphis, Tennessee")

Mr. JENNINGS: (Singing) You were born to resist. I would give everything I've got to live inside your kiss, Girl, live inside your kiss.

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