INTERVIEW: Steve Mason | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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When I speak to Steve Mason about his new record, About The Light, he is positively vibrating with excitement. The album, due out on 18th January, is a colourful, soulful record that is informed by the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, and has lots of rich brass parts that are reminiscent of Northern Soul.

“I think this is the best thing I have ever done, everything else I’ve ever done sounds like a demo! I’ve done more work on this record than any other record I’ve ever made.” He gushes. We touch on what conditions have allowed Steve to make the album: “This record is more of a state of mind, more than any musical influences; you never stop wanting to push yourself in life for art, it represents your life in a very raw state. I became a father, got married…last year I had all the high points and all the low points that you can possibly imagine. Inevitably, it all has to be autobiographical and it’s about having the confidence to make a record when you can transmit some of that soulfulness. I think even bad things that happen can give you a kind of confidence.”

In addition to being a profoundly personal record, Steve’s quietly politicised writing – which has been commonplace throughout his career – is more than prevalent on the new record. “The opening song America Is Your Boyfriend is about kowtowing to any American president; obviously this happens because they are a powerful country and they’ve got money. I was thinking recently why is there a certain section of people in America who just don’t get irony, and I think it’s because they can’t allow themselves to because they would have to acknowledge that they are the bad guys – a place built on genocide is never going to be a nice place to live. It’s so bizarre watching America terrified of an invading force, they can’t allow themselves the gift of irony.

you never stop wanting to push yourself in life for art, it represents your life in a very raw state

“Growing up, of course, we were drip-fed American culture; it was shown to be a wonderful place and capitalism was shown to be a wonderful thing. At some point you see behind the curtain in life with everything. Take Grenfell Tower happening, it’s a disgusting indictment of what capitalism is. I drove past that building the other day and it just stands there like a rotten tooth. You just long for a day when you don’t have to talk about this anymore, I want my views to be irrelevant! You always want things to improve, sadly that isn’t the case at the moment.”

Steve meditates thoughtfully on capitalism on the new record and speaks in a very incisive way about how things have changed while he has been active in the music industry. As the lead songwriter in wonderful late nineties weirdos The Beta Band, over the course of seven or so years they put out a series of original and idiosyncratic records that incorporated the vocabulary of indie rock, hip-hop and electronic music in a way that few have done before or since.

“We were the last ones to get that big cheque from a publishing company and put it all back in the band; to me that’s really punk. In a lot of respects, The Beta Band were a reaction to enormous egos. Even journalists were really cocky because they were used to interviewing coked up arseholes proclaiming themselves to be Jesus. We were projecting: ‘This is the last interesting band you will ever interview!’ It’s a rare thing to have people who are all totally artistically driven and money wasn’t really an issue at that time. That’s never gonna happen again! I never wanted to be rock star – I modeled myself on Richard Dreyfuss for goodness sake – but that age of interesting rock musicians is over, I think.”

Steve has plenty to say on the way he believes the nature of the industry at present is stacked against working class people. “It feels like these days if you are working class and you want to make music you’re pushed into this whole X-Factor machine, whereas the ‘authenticity’ of the rock and pop world is the plaything of the establishment. The beautiful thing about something like The Beta Band was the naivety of it, now you’ve just got these little businessmen and women going around incredibly well versed in how to massage the industry, and they have this obsession with ‘authenticity’, which feels so glib. It’s always the people with the most money who write history, of course! Perhaps that’s what we will be left with; Tarquin getting the train down to London to play to some industry types fresh from busking on the George IV Bridge.”

Steve does hold some hope for the future of music, and sees DIY venues as a very important aspect of maintaining this. “What is exciting to see are communities starting to take care of their own entertainment with co-operative venues and the like. But it’s no good if it’s just people my age, it’s vital for young people to be really engaged with it. The lifeblood of these places is going to come from young artists and performers.”

Steve Mason plays Riverside, Newcastle on Wednesday 30th January. About The Light is released on 18th January via Double Six records.

 

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