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Mason was just 19 when his first album was released, a record that showed us a young man with a tremendous, broad-oaked voice, a great songwriting talent, and a peculiar wisdom beyond his years. Three years later, in 2007, he returned with If the Ocean Gets Rough, an album that only underlined his ability to capture the spirit of a time and a place and a generation.
Some extensive touring later, Mason returned home to Martha’s Vineyard with the intention of re-rooting himself in his community. “I felt like I wanted, needed to get stuck in somewhere,” he explains, “to keep up with what was going on with the people my age. That was around the time that most of the kids I grew up with were coming home from college, so I thought it was my journalistic responsibility to stay abreast of that situation. I didn’t want to get too far from that, because I felt like it was important for my writing.”
In the two years that followed, Mason kept himself busy: writing songs of course, but also playing in friends’ bands, promoting shows and teaching music classes, as well as a little shell-fishing, and hosting a radio talk show called The Fish & Farm Report. “I got to learn a lot,” he says. “The diversity and the range of experiences gave me a chance to learn a lot more about music – I got to further my musicianship, and I also felt I got to help out a lot with stuff going outside of my own career. I came to see playing shows and entertainment as a fundamental part of society, and I’m just playing my role.”
All the while of course, Mason was accumulating a clutch of new songs that would come make his third album. He wrote what he thought to be the final track and headed out on the road touring alone at first, and then with the Felice Brothers. “I just started picking up more and more gigs,” he recalls, “and finally found my way to London, and to Dan Carey.”
Dan Carey, a producer renowned for his work with artists as diverse as Kylie Minogue, MIA and Hot Chip, was introduced to Mason through a mutual friend. Mason was intrigued by Carey’s use of rhythm and bass, and Carey, in turn, was excited by the idea of using drumboxes on Mason’s songs. “It didn’t make sense to me,” Mason admits, “it scared me, but I was open to trying it.”
And so Mason decamped to Streatham, south London, and settled down to making his album. “Dan was a musical collaborator, and so he had a big influence on the sound,” he explains. “Most of the songs would start with him building up a rhythm, and he would build that rhythm through a series of contraptions — vintage drum machines going through guitar amplifiers spaced all over the room with different delays on them, so it would create sounds coming from all different directions. And then me and my brother would play along, and see where it went from there. It was surprisingly natural — he was able to make the beats sound so human, and so it felt like the tracks were laid and I could kind of let go a bit more.”
“If it’s the end, then it’s not the only end,” runs the song’s refrain, and it’s a sentiment that seems to fire this record.“I think the album itself is about growing up and trying to find one’s place,” Mason says, “about making peace with the past, accepting it as part of one’s identity and moving forward. And thinking back I’ve had that same heavy feeling many times through my life, so I figured keep pushing, and see what happens this go round.
“I think of this record as the third and final chapter to a particular narrative that started with Where the Humans Eat,” says Willy Mason. “It’s a narrative that’s loosely based on me, on my character through performance, and I think that by completing this album, I’m sort of closing the door on that and opening up a whole new world of possibilities.”