An individual talent ever since his days with The Beta Band, Steve Mason likes to do things his own way.
In London for a set at this weekend’s On Blackheath festival, the cult songwriter is bringing his ‘Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time’ cycle to an end. Eager for some rest, the Scottish artist recently uprooted from Fife to Brighton, with Clash catching up with Steve Mason fresh from a show-stopping weekend at Festival No.6.
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So how was Festival No. 6?
I played Festival No 6 last weekend and that was great, I had a brilliant time there. I’ve never been. I’ve always wanted to go, I used to watch The Prisoner a lot when I was a teenager so to actually go there was brilliant, I loved it.
It’s known as a receptive crowd.
I played twice, I played on the Friday with the band, and then on the Saturday, in the village hall with like a little string quartet, harp player and all that kind of stuff. I did a bit of a talk on the Friday as well.
It sounds very cultural.
Oh it was, yeah, that’s me. (laughs) I am Mr. Culture!
Did you collaborate with anyone on the acoustic set?
There’s a composer called Joe Duddell and every year he curates a thing in the village hall or the town hall with a string quartet, but then with a bit of extra stuff added on, I think there’s a xylophone player and a harp player. He chose six of my songs and then I went down and sang them with the string quartet in the hall, it was amazing actually.
Is that something you would want to revisit in the future?
Definitely. There’s something about hearing your songs played in that context with those instruments. I got kind of choked-up a bit at the rehearsals you know, it was sort of strangely emotional. It almost validates them as pieces of music in a way, rather than just songs. It was kind of strange but it was an experience that I really enjoyed a lot.
When you get into these periods when you’re right at the end of the cycle, is that when you’re just bursting to actually get back in and write music and focus on that side of things?
Well it’s when the real fear starts closing in (laughs) and suddenly everyone is looking at you to kind of come up with another record. To be honest, I’m writing at the moment and I’ve been writing for the past year but it’s mainly just bits I’ve got, I haven’t really decided exactly what I want to do yet. It’s really just a matter of getting this last gig knocked out and then really focusing on writing properly and finishing off all the ideas that I’ve got, then seeing where I am and what I want to do.
When you mentioned that you've written bits, can you write on the road?
I don’t really write on the road. I sort of need to be on my own and just in my own little world kind of thing. I’ve only been here three months, I’ve been living back in Scotland for the last ten years, but I’ve been here for three months and I really like it a lot. It’s great for a while, I wanted to be closer to London but I didn’t want to be in London. I wanted to be around people that I wanted to work with and in a town where you can walk to a pub or a record shop.
Were there people in Brighton then who you had in mind to collaborate with?
Not really. I know some people down here and there’s a couple of people I’d like to do stuff with, but most of those people are in London to be honest. It’s really just being around creative people and Brighton is full of creative people. You can go to the pub and meet a filmmaker, or an artist, or another musician. It’s just good to have these conversations and these dialogues and just hear what other people are up to.
Being involved in a creative community can be very important.
I think that’s the thing, it was like a solitude up there. I was just on my own almost all the day, all the time. The house, cause I’ve got a little house in Scotland, it was great cause the whole thing was a recording studio and you could make as much noise as you wanted but I think I came back off tour last year and thought, ‘What the f*ck are you doing here, there’s nothing really here’ so it’s great having a studio up there and being able to record, but you sort of run out of things to write about if you don’t have a lot of human interaction. I think I just needed to get a bit more involved with other human beings and try and get into society again.
Do you prefer a home studio?
No. I do all the demos at home and try and get them to a point where I feel happy with them and happy with the direction. I’ve sort of chosen a direction of how I want them to sound. Then I’ll usually go in to a studio with a co-producer. It just helps to work with a co-producer in a studio outside of my house because it takes all the pressure of actually recording things.
It’s a lot of pressure to go from absolutely nothing to a finished record on your own, to do all that on your own is a huge amount of fucking pressure, and it’s a pressure I’m getting more and more sick of. So it might be that I collaborate with someone on the actual writing of this record as well because I just want to free up a bit and work with some other people and try and get someone else involved with the writing on this record, just because you get a bit tired of yourself.
I don’t really want to start making records that all sound the f*cking same, I want to try to keep pushing forward and challenging myself. As an artist, that’s what you should be always trying to do. If you’re privileged enough to be able to call yourself an artist, you should never really be sitting back and you should always try to be putting yourself in tricky situations to see what happens and see if you come up with a whole new line of things that you didn’t even know was there.
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Steve Mason is taking part in On Blackheath this weekend (September 13th - 14th).