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Mason Jennings talks quarantine activities, including a new musical project with Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam

Mason Jennings prepares the set list for his Saturday night livestream. (via Mason Jennings on Facebook)
Mason Jennings prepares the set list for his Saturday night livestream. (via Mason Jennings on Facebook)

by Sylvia Jennings

April 17, 2020

Morning Show host Jill Riley has been spending her mornings chatting with various musicians about what they have been up to while the music industry has been essentially put on pause to slow the spread of COVID-19. She connected with Minnesota singer-songwriter Mason Jennings to discuss what he's been doing to keep busy during this quarantine period, including painting, yoga, and a new musical project with Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam.

Jill Riley: Mason, how are you doing?

Mason Jennings: I'm doing good. Thanks for having me on.

What have you been doing during this very strange time in the music industry and very strange time in life in general?

Just trying to get a feel for this new way of life. I've been cooking a lot and painting a lot. I had an Etsy painting store that I started last year, and this is a great time to be painting a lot more. Also, I've been working on a new record. I'm actually in a new band with Stone Gossard, from Pearl Jam, and drummer Matt Cameron. It's called Painted Shield. We're finishing up our first record, and have been finishing up virtually, which has been pretty fun.

I didn't know that you were working on a new project, a new band. 

Yeah, it's cool. Stone and I started doing some stuff together like five years ago, but then last April I was like, "Let's try to make a record," and he was like, "Let's make it a band." It's all co-written; he writes the music, I write the melodies and lyrics. It's way more rock. Producer John Congleton, who's worked with Angel Olsen and St. Vincent, has done a lot of the production on it. It's definitely more rock, and more progressive and electronic, too. I'm pretty excited about it.

Did you have a lot of the music written or recorded before the pandemic kind of took over the world? I imagine that process would be pretty difficult now. 

It's pretty much done. It was getting mastered during that time. At the end, because everyone was in their own homes, Stone was like, "Since everyone's just hanging out, let's make a final song." We ended up doing one song virtually, and it turned out pretty cool, and ended up being the first song on the record. There was a positive to it, to have everyone kind of just be hanging out. Projects that they were working on got put on hold, so we got to finish the record that way.

With the music industry being on hold, does that affect when you guys are able to release the record?

I think the release day won't be affected. I think it'll probably come out in the next couple of months. I think as far as touring, any kind of shows are indefinitely on hold.

I see you're doing one of these virtual gigs on Saturday night. Have you done anything like that before?

No, I've never tried it. I've been doing a lot of online yoga, and a lot of my friends that are teachers were doing online yoga. There's something about having it be an actual live interaction that's been really cool for me to watch. I thought I should try it, so I'm kind of just doing it as an experiment. I got a special microphone that works with the phone, so I'm just going to do an experiment. It's going to be free for all, but if people want to donate, that's cool too. It's basically just trying it out to see how it feels.

Is it kind of weird to sort of let people into your house?

Yeah. It's definitely something I've never done before, but you know, I'll be in my living room. That's the time we're living in. It seems like people need each other, and for me, music is a big support for me, so hopefully it will be helpful for other people.

So Mason, you mentioned you've been doing virtual yoga, and I wondered if you had any advice in how yoga has helped you get through the anxiety of this pandemic. 

Yoga is huge for me. It's something I've been doing for 11 years. I never really had done an online yoga class before, because I used to go to the studios. It's actually been really cool, especially the ones that are on live on Zoom. At first, Zoom was weird for me because I didn't really want to be seen. Then I was like, "You know what? I like when people are on Zoom and I can see other people." Even seeing other people doing yoga together has been really uplifting and moving to be like, "Wow, we're all in this together."

I've been asking musicians if there is a particular song in their catalog that has floated to the surface, whether it's a connection with fans, or just songs that you've been thinking about as related to the time that we're living in. 

A song of mine that I've been playing a little bit more is a song called "Sacred Place." It's kind of an obscure song. It's on an EP that you can only get on iTunes. "Sacred Place" is about meditation, which I think might be helpful if people are looking for a song that is calming. For other artists, I heard that song by U2 called "One," and for some reason, that's been in my head a lot lately.

Connecting with the music world during the coronavirus crisis

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.