Music : Willy Mason is back on Martha's Vineyard, for a Saturday show
File photo by Susan Safford
Singer/songwriter Willy Mason has touched down briefly on the Vineyard — his childhood home — on a short break from an extensive touring schedule.
"I'm enjoying touring more than I ever have before," said the accomplished musician in a recent interview. "I've been doing it enough now that I've learned to really survive it."
That might sound like a bold statement coming from a 28-year-old, but Mr. Mason has been playing venues all over the U.S., England, and elsewhere for more than 10 years now. His first two CDs achieved critical acclaim and earned him a loyal following, especially in the U.K. His first album, Where the Humans Eat, 2004, and two of its singles made the British charts. He has opened shows for Beth Orton, Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Kweller, and Norah Jones, among others.
Mr. Mason most recently completed a two-month tour supporting Grammy nominated and British folk rock band Mumford and Sons. The tour took him all over Australia and Great Britain. In Australia, he said, "The biggest show was 12,000 people. I was by myself with a guitar. I didn't have high hopes that anyone would be listening." However, he was pleasantly surprised, "They really paid attention. They seem to be very curious about music. Classic blues and Americana style music seems to be really big over there."
Once the Mumford and Songs tour wrapped up, Mr. Mason remained in England and completed a short headlining tour in support of his latest CD, Carry On, which was released in the U.K. earlier this month on Fiction Records. The new LP received four out of five stars from premiere British music magazines Mojo and Uncut.
Mr. Mason will be on the Vineyard very briefly before hitting the road again. Throughout January and early February he will appear across the U.S. In March, he is headed back to England for a month-long tour. Although he notes that he may spend a short break in February on the Vineyard, the popular musician has been notably absent from the Island recently. "I've been getting busier and busier," he said. "Over the last year I've only been around for a couple of months or so."
Prior to his recent busy touring schedule, Mr. Mason enjoyed an extended homecoming of sorts. He reestablished himself on the Vineyard for a few years. "I wanted to stop touring for a while. I started when I was about 17. I wanted to spend some time in one place."
While working on new material, Mr. Mason stayed involved in the local music scene. "I was just kind of busy with projects on the Island," he said. "Working on other people's albums, getting studios set up, getting shows on the Island." He adds that he lent a hand to local radio station WVVY, the Aquinnah Music Festival in 2008, and the popular series of Potluck Jams at the Chilmark Community Center.
Mr. Mason also helped his friend and sometimes bandmate Nina Violet get the music venue, The Pit Stop, off the ground. Displaying the same modesty that he exhibits when discussing his accomplishments, Mr. Mason said, "I was just pitching in and doing what I could. I booked a couple of shows, did posters, ran the door, did the sound. I was just part of the team." He has also played a handful of shows at the all-ages venue since it opened about a year ago.
This weekend, The Pit Stop will host a party in celebration of Mr. Mason's latest CD, which is not scheduled to be released in the U.S. until the end of next summer. Mr. Mason, however, will have copies of the U.K release on hand at the show for those who want to be among the first to purchase the CD in this country.
Carry On includes music that Mr. Mason has written since he released If The Ocean Gets Rough in 2007. It was recorded last March in England with producer Dan Carey.
"It's the first album that I've collaborated on with somebody other than my brother [Sam]," said Mr. Mason of his work with Mr. Carey, who has produced a number of popular British acts, including MIA.
According to Mr. Mason, with the new material, he has returned to his roots somewhat.
"Stylistically, I think this album is closer to my first album than my second. It's got a certain simplicity to it that the first album had. But it's also a bit more grown up than the first album. My singing is stronger. The sounds we had to work with were a bit sonically rounder. He [Carey] has some of the finest equipment I've ever been around.
"My songwriting has gotten more traditional," continued Mr. Mason, the son of folk singers Jemima James and Michael Mason. "It's simpler melodically — and lyrically, too, in some ways. It's more inspired by early gospel and early folk than some of my other songs, which had wider influences."
The direction that Mr. Mason's music has headed is perhaps due in part to his taking a break from the bright lights. "I decided to leave the business for a while. Mostly so that I could be on the Island," he said.
Of his most recent songwriting, Mr. Mason said, "It definitely has a lot to do with being on the Island and just the process of coming back as an adult and trying to face some of the realities that come with adulthood." He added, "Most of my favorite songwriters and musicians today are on the Island."
Mr. Mason credits the Vineyard environment with fostering the unique talents of the latest crop of young musicians, himself included. "Being detached from the mainland makes it sort of an incubation chamber where things can progress," he said. "Ideas develop in the womb much longer than they would off Island. Ideas keep growing when they're not exposed to daylight as soon as they would be elsewhere."
Although he's enthusiastic about heading back out on the road, Mr. Mason said, "What I still love doing more than anything is being in one place and developing new music and recording new songs. I'm happy to tour to be able to do that."
Willy Mason CD Party, 8 pm, Saturday, Dec. 22, The Pit Stop, Oak Bluffs. With special guests, including an opening with Adam Howell. $10; $5 for members and students. For more information, search Pit Stop Workshop Co. on Facebook.