Music blogger Mark Perkins meets Steve Mason
Steve Mason was the singer and songwriter in the highly regarded Beta Band, but the road to success after their demise has not been an easy one. He’s playing here in November, so we asked Mark Perkins and David Harpham to have a chat with him ahead of his Leadmill show.
Exposed: The Beta Band were the face of Brit-pop that managed to achieve success but still maintain their artistic integrity. John Peel, Radiohead and Oasis were all big fans, but it didn’t last. After the Beta Band imploded in 2004, Steve Mason released a solo album in 2006 and a tour was announced but all was not well. He posted an internet message ‘I’ve had enough, over and out’ and disappeared. He’s made no secret of his depression and how he even considered suicide, and I told him how much I admired his openness since then.
Steve: I still get people coming up to me asking me about how I’ve coped with depression, perhaps because they don’t feel able to go to the people closest to them, and find it easier to talk to me. It’s nice to think I’ve helped in some way. I know what it’s like and I know how difficult it can be and I know how alone people can feel. I feel that talking about what I went through is a small thing but I’m pleased if I can help other people cope.
The latest solo album from Steve Mason sees him in a new guise, certainly from the point of view of what his songs are ‘all about’. The album in an unashamed throw-back to the seventies idea of a concept album, with songs linked by narrative or sound-bites, and is Steve’s stab at letting us know something about his views on life, politics and on the global issues that affect us all. I asked him if he felt there should be more artists taking a stand and singing what we used to call ‘protest songs’?
No not at all. Everyone’s responsible for their own actions. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do; quite the opposite in fact. Everything I stand for is about freedom. No, if people are happy with everything that’s happening in the world then that’s entirely up to them. This album, ‘Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time’, is a political concept album from beginning to end. I feel there’s an all pervading force of darkness wrapping its icy fingers round the planet and I think it’s important to be aware of that. I’ve been talking about this for some years though, but now I’ve written some songs about it. The album does sound different from the previous one, but I like to think that’s true about every album I make.
In the way of all good concept albums, some of the songs are linked with narrative or sound bites How did these come about?
Because there’s a message behind the music there needs to be a kind of narrative. You can’t always write a song about every little thing you want to say, so to include short statements about, for example, the major sporting events which have been ruined by capitalism, was really good fun to do. It helps get over the message that people are becoming more aware of it and are sick of putting up with it. The thing I’m trying to point out is for people to join the dots up and to be aware that what happens to your game of football is not an isolated thing; there’s a huge pattern here in all of our lives. At some point, you should start to consider what you want to do about it.
How do you go about writing songs now that you’re solo and not in a band anymore?
I’ve always written on my own, but I do miss a little bit having someone else to bounce off. With the Beta Band I’d show the songs to the rest of the band and they’d take them away and work on them so I do miss that. For the next album I’m thinking about I’m taking some time where I get a few people up to the house in Scotland and mess around and see what comes out. I took two years to put ‘Monkey Minds’ together. Once I get going I’m a quick worker, but I like to work things out so they are exactly how I want them to be.
Finally, what can we expect from the live show?
There will be a couple things from King Biscuit Time but mainly it will be songs from the last two albums. You can expect a full-on revolutionary rock show, with heart and soul and 100% truth from beginning to end. If you don’t wanna see that, don’t come!
Interview by Mark Perkins