4 To Watch For: Willy Mason

Lo-Fi Charm

Music Features Willy Mason
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At the beginning of every autumn, the local music community in Martha’s Vineyard comes alive. That’s when the vacationers leave and the working-class folks who earn their keep catering to the Massachusetts island’s “summer people” can finally take a break. Willy Mason, a native of the area, got his start in this loose environment. “There are a lot of bands and no place to play,” Mason explains from Peterborough, England, on tour supporting his debut Where The Humans Eat. “We put on our own shows at beach parties and barbecues. I was in a bunch of bands—disco, punk, reggae and funk—before I started writing folk songs.”

Mason’s parents are both folk singers, so maybe it’s in the blood. “The lyrics are important,” he says. “That’s why I went acoustic and started playing solo.” Mason put out a self-titled five-song EP. “It was all totally handmade; my brother Sam drew a picture that we glued to the cover.” Mason sold about 1,000 copies of the disc, and played live everywhere he could. He built up a buzz and garnered interest from Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, who signed Mason to his Team Love logo.

Where The Humans Eat is a lo-fi, 12-track collection of Mason’s current interests and obsessions. His fragile vocals have an unpolished quality; like a country-blues singer, he always sounds like he’s about to yodel or sob. The backing of brother Sam on drums and a few overdubbed guitar parts lend the tracks a raggedy Creedence Clearwater Revival quality. “We did everything live,” Mason says. “Nothing was worked out before hand. Some of the songs Sam had never heard. We improvised as the tracks rolled and never did more than three takes.”

The result is a charming, boyish take on this wild, wicked and wonderful world we live in. One of the songs “Oxygen” has already become an indie anthem, which led to Virgin Records UK grabbing the album for its British release. Despite this windfall, Mason remains undisturbed. “I have no expectations for the album. I just want to go out and play live for as many people as I can.”