“There’s a lot of subject matter on ‘Carry On’ that I wouldn’t have been able to articulate on previous records…” – Willy Mason.
With the nu-folk movement conquering the mainstream in recent years with acts like Mumford and Sons or Laura Marling on top, it’s easy to forget the artists that formed the genre’s identity in the first place. Willy Mason first saw prominence back in 2004 with his seminal debut album “Where The Humans Eat”, exciting the masses with a signature complex sound formed from simple instruments, an ethos that carried through his critically acclaimed 2007 follow up.
Mason’s ability to apply emotional undertones in an approachable manner has given him a relatable façade that still resonates in an alternative context, with his recent more developed sounding tracks sitting comfortably alongside the advert-perfect tones of breakthrough single “Oxygen”. After a five-year hiatus Mason has returned and is still as relevant as ever, with his third studio album “Carry On” due out December 3rd through Fiction Records. Currently on tour with Ben Howard, we caught up with him on the phone somewhere between Dublin and Belfast.
“I’m just trying to remind people who I am right now…”
So you’re touring with Ben Howard at the moment, have you found your work has resonated with his fans?
Yeah for the most part, the last couple of shows have been really good actually. It took me a couple of days to connect to with them, but that was probably because I just flew back from Australia so was jetlagged and getting used to the time difference
Folk is huge at the moment, and artists like Mumford and Sons and Ben Howard are arguably bringing it to a much wider audience. Has this increased interest in the genre had any effect on you?
I don’t know really, I hope so and if people are taking more of an interest in my music that’s great. I’ve been off the road for so long that I’m just trying to remind people who I am right now.
In terms of songwriting I took the same approach, and the recording process was similar to the first album in the way it was spontaneous and without much forethought. The main difference with this album is the fact I’m five years older when I’m recording it, so there’s a lot of subject matter that I wouldn’t have been able to articulate on previous records.
So essentially your mindset has changed then?
I don’t think there’s a single song that I don’t agree with anymore, it’s just that I’ve gone into new directions with the thought process. A lot of my lyrics are driven by philosophy, and this one is driven by a personal philosophy of getting to the point in your life where you have already taken a couple of turns.
“I was just on my own with no management or label…”
We haven’t really heard much from the album yet, but the tracks that have come out present a multitude of ideas. Would you say the album is that varied?
I’d say after those tracks there’s still a couple of surprises. “I Got Gold”, “Restless Fugitive” and “Carry On” represent three tent posts, and there’s a fourth which you’ll hear when it comes out.
You’ve recently moved to Fiction Records, how has that transition been thus far?
It’s been great so far; to be honest it’s nice to have a team behind me. I started touring again two years ago, but I was just on my own with no management or label. Having a team allows me to focus on the art a bit more rather than the business, and I’ve got high hopes for the next couple of albums I’ll be doing with them.
You recently worked with Lianne La Havas on “No Room For Doubt” which appeared on her Mercury nominated album. How did that collaboration come about?
I met Lianne whilst I was recording the album in Streatham, and she happened to get on the same train as us. She came to talk as she knew my producer, and then she came out at one of my shows. When she came to New York to write some songs I went to help her, and No Room For Doubt is what came from that really.
“That’s what this tour is about really, the anxiety that has been brewing with everything back home, and I’ve been putting it into the shows…”
I understand New York is a very important place for you, as “Where The Humans Eat” was recorded there and it was where you started out. With huge events like Hurricane Sandy and the election over the last week, have you felt somewhat distanced?
It’s been a hard time to be away that’s for sure, but I’ve kept in close contact with my family and friends back home, and at least I get to go on stage and sing about things that are relevant every night. That’s what this tour is about really, the anxiety that has been brewing with everything back home, and I’ve been putting it into the shows. Luckily my family and friends are safe, and that’s all you can hope for.
Did you get a chance to vote, and were you pleased with the result?
I tried but it just didn’t happen, my ballot got posted but I was touring so I left before it arrived. I got it forwarded on a few times to where we were headed, but it would always get there a day late, and then election day came so I missed it. I was pleased with the result for the most part yes; a lot of good things came of the election I hope. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, and I believe it’s on us really. I think we’ve got some allies in government now, and it’s given me a burst of optimism.
Over the years you’ve become a staple on the festival circuit, with the album out in December I assume we can expect to see you at a lot of the UK festivals next summer?
Yeah there are so many good festivals in the UK. Last year I did a festival tour on a train on my own with a pushcart, which was great, literally just me on a train around the country with my guitar and stuff on a pushcart. I’m sure I’ll play some festivals next year, and I look forward to it.
Carry On is out on December 3rd.