Matt Mason: Anti-folk . Anti hero.
Matt Mason: Me, Me, Me: Looking up "Major Matt Mason" on the web I was quite
disturbed to find a hundred and one pages dedicated to the other Major Matt Mason:
the unpredictably popular and retro Mattel action figure from the 1950's. However,
after listening to the debut album by the toys namesake, Major Matt Mason USA,
this appears to be the kind of tangential mental leap that Mason would love his
audience to make.
Make no mistake about it, Mason is already a prominent
figure in New York's contrary Anti-Folk scene. The scene
belies all that traditional folk held dear. Thus, folk
music's traditionally earnest lyrical themes are espoused
for quirkier, everyday ones. If Joan Baez sung about
the plight of the oppressed American Indians, new folk
anarchists, Moldy Peaches sing about Lucky
Charms (the "magically delicious" breakfast cereal
that contain enough additives to make all small children
who eat it turn into Damien from The Omen. Allegedly).
The first generation of Anti-Folksters came and went,
and counted Beck amongst their number. As the unofficial
posterboy of the scene Beck's post-modern flirtation
with all musical genres, and unabashedly intelligent
(albeit humorous) take on love, life and the world is
endemic of the scene. If the media savvy Brits seem
wary about the reality of an actual "scene" Mason insists
it's a very real thing:
" It makes me laugh to hear you say that someone might
think it's a media creation because I can't imagine
why the media would want to have anything to do with
the scene here." Mason assures us, " I didn't know anything
about Anti-folk before I moved here. I sort of found
it and it found me It's full of creative, talented,
spontaneous, real human beings and I find that sort
of rare these days in the media. Well, as far as the
"Anti-Folk/Urban -Folk Scene" in the East Village goes....it's
not always perfect and it's not always pretty but it's
definitely real. And I feel lucky to be a part of it."
The star of Mason's debut are his lyrics. Unsurprisingly
from an album called "ME ME ME" listening to the CD
is like hearing a particularly amusing diary being read
out loud. Mason was obviously a few notes when he was
studying creative writing at University. The Freudian
nightmare of "Budapest"("You are my mum and I am your
father") and the esoteric lyrical tricks of "Black Hole"
stand out, as does the obligatory song about ice-cream
("Mr. Softie"). Not unlike his anti-folk peers Lach
and Michelle Shocked his lyrics have the kind
of depth, scope and quality of novel-esque proportions,
begging the question, do literary influences rate figure
in his musical cornucopia?
a big fan of Raymond Carver" Mason says". I really
get off on the idea of saying the most by actually saying
as little as possible. The first time I read Carver
I didn't get it. But then I keep reading his stories
over and over and they just kept getting deeper and
deeper I've conclude that I'm a pretty big fan of "minimalism"
in art and literature, though Carver hated that term.
There was a Rothko retrospective at the Whitney here
a few years ago and it's just blew me away. I'm very
much into artists that have the strength to be economical
and be focused in their choices (regardless of how crazy
they seem), to be able to find those simple triggers
that explode in people's brains, maybe not even on the
first listen or viewing. To me that takes true guts
and discipline. I like things that you can read or listen
to over and over and it changes and I guess since I'm
pretty into process, I guess. I hope I don't sound to
artys fartsy. Did answer the question? "He asks .Yes,but
could Mason describe his writing in less than ten words,
"I like to write about relationships. " He says, rather
satisfyingly, rather succulently. If the abstract minimalism
of Rothko and the subtleties of Carver influenced his
lyrical style, it was his turbulent move to New York
from Kansas ("we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto") that
was the shake up he needed to focus his own artistic
" I was a minority in my own neighbourhood for the first
time in my life" he says." This is changing but just
8 years ago, when I moved here the Lower East Side was
mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican. There was a real
community here though I wasn't really a part of it.
I was also closer to poverty than I had ever been in
my life when I moved here, personally and around me.
I also just broke up with a girlfriend. I was pretty
scared and desperate feeling."
Of his metamorphosis into acoustic guitar player , Mason
" I had always just played electric guitar in punk bands
in college and high school. I was living on a 5th floor
walk up so it was a pain in the ass to haul my amp up
and down the stairs. I couldn't afford a place to practice
and I was so stressed out and working all the time that
I had a hard time getting together with people to jam
so I just started writing my own little songs in my
apartment on acoustic guitar. I started playing in the
park and stuff. This is going to sound kind of cheesy
but there is an incredible sense of freedom and inspiration
that coincides with real poverty and disorientation.
Looking back I'm glad that I experienced it and I'm
glad that it's over. "
Mason lists The Velvet Underground, New York's
coolest band as, his biggest influence. along with Black
Flag and Hank Williams. However "Me Me Me"'s most obvious
touch point is Daniel Johnson:
"An old Girlfriend sent me a Daniel Johnston tape right
before I moved here" he explains "he's been a really
big influence on me ever since, musically, production
wise, and even from a sort of DIY marketing standpoint.
I actually got to open up for him for a show just a
few months ago and that was like a dream come true."
"Me Me Me" shares much in common with Johnsons' work
.Musically Mason does not take many risks, sticking
almost stubbornly to the basic acoustic guitar and vocal
that conjures up visions of cardigans and coffee houses.
To extend the diary theme of the lyrics, musically "Me
Me Me" feels more like an intimate gig with Mason rather
than his full length debut (there were a few EP's before
hand). It's an obvious comparison to make but the great
thing about The Moldy Peaches album was that musically
they successfully utilised instruments and sounds other
than their guitar and vocals While the humour and the
homespun true-isms of his lyrics are spot on,it can
only carry the music so far. While both bands are labelled,
amongst other things, "Lo-Fi", The Peaches seem able
to envision their musical development out growing lo-fi
(they are quotes as saying "we want to win a Grammy
some day!") Mason doesn't seem so sure:
"I think it's really cool how like analogue tape hiss
has become associated with being an integral part of
a good recording for some people, I feel like the lo-fi
aspects of making music will always be a part of me.
There is a beautiful lesson behind it all having to
do with happy accidents and spontaneity and being real.
This isn't to say that I wouldn't be above writing a
techno song or a heavy metal song but yes they would
all probably have some lofi aspect to them and come
to think of , if you look at it a certain way, I think
all good music does. It's become an important aspect
of the process for me. "
When listening to "Me Me Me".one is reminded of the
pioneers of lo-fi, Sebadoh The early albums made
by Lou Barlow and friends were disappointing, consisting
as they did of montage like acoustic songs. By all accounts
only reached their full glory when playing as a full
band and their songs were "fleshed out". It seems to
be a similar story with Mason.You feel the tunes are
missing the dynamics of being played in a group situation
or at lease having a producer on hand to bounce ideas
off on. Indeed, It's only on the loopy but brilliant
extra tracks "Diner" and "Thankful" that we get respite
from the singer/songwriter mode and a glimpse into the
array of other musical possibilities. These two tracks,
recorded with Schweron provided much needed extra colour
to "Me Me Me"'s palette. Mason explains:
"Schweron is a collaboration with my girlfriend Nan.
It's just the two of us. It sort of started out as couples
therapy experiment. It's very collaborative which is
cool and it gives me a chance to rock out a little."
While lyrically ahead of the pack,as a whole one can't
but help get the feeling "Me Me Me" is only the first
stage of Mason's metamorphosis. The first step on a
the musical journey of a very exciting new talent.