"Most of what they do is pretty peaceful and mellow," the Hawaiian-born singer-songwriter tells Billboard.com, "and this record is a little more rock -- certainly more so than [2008's] 'In the Ever.' So I didn't know what they were going to think of it or if they'd want to put it out. But they called and said it's their favorite [album] of mine. It's awesome they're willing to stretch out what the parameters of the label are for this."
The irony, of course, is that Jennings made his loudest and most rocking album yet in the quietest locale he could find -- the woods of Minnesota, where he repaired with his wife and two young children to relax from the long "In the Ever" tour and start working on new songs.
"I made music for myself, really, recording all the instruments and everything," Jennings recalls. "Out there you can make noise and nobody is going to hear it. You can make a lot of mistakes and have the freedom to work on that stuff. At the end of the winter I listened back and said, 'Y'know, I think this might be a record...' I was pretty stoked about what happened. I didn't know if people who liked my music would like this stuff, but I did so I decided to put it out."
Jennings wound up with 23 songs, paring the list down to the 11 he's released (including the iTunes bonus track "Waves"). And so far he's found concert audiences somewhat "polarized" by the tenor of the new material. "We're on the road so early after it came out [in September] that I can definitely see a split down the middle of the crowd," Jennings reports. "A lot of people are going, like, 'Whoa, what are all these new songs?' and the other half are really excited. But the ones who like it are responding right away, even if they don't know the stuff. They can latch on to it right away, which hasn't always been the case in the past with new material for me. I like when you have interesting reactions like that."
Jennings is recording all of his shows on a ProTools rig but has no plans for a live album at the moment. He expects the touring cycle to be "a long one...a year or a little longer," but Jennings also plans to take a chunk of the winter off, heading home at Thanksgiving and then hitting the road again in mid-February. "I may record or just relax and get inspired again," he says. "It's definitely good for me to take these three-month chunks and be home with my family, re-ground and get inspired again."