NASHVILLE, Tenn., June 26, 2013 – Newcomer Matt Mason is slowly (but decidedly) building his brand from his Indiana upbringing. His background on such reality TV singing competitions as Nashville Star and CMT’s Next Superstar (he took the title in 2011) is simply a small piece of the puzzle. He’s landed opening gigs on tours for Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan and Little Big Town, but he still remains the down-to-earth person he’s always been, something he notes is rather important in the overall scheme of things.
Examiner recently spoke with the singer-songwriter about his favorite tour, his upcoming EP and what he’d be doing if he didn’t have music (and much more).
Examiner: You’re working on new music with James Stroud, correct?
Matt Mason: Yes. We went into the studio two years ago and cut four songs with him. We’re back in the studio, and we’re re-cutting those same four songs to try to get Warner Bros. excited about them. If they aren’t excited about them, there are a couple other labels in town he’s talked to that are excited about them. Hopefully, our goal is by this time next year to have one song on the radio. It’s a tough process, but James is awesome to work with. He’s a super cool guy. He knows his stuff. It’s cool sitting with somebody who’s played on Hank Williams Jr. records and worked with Toby Keith when he first started and found Tim McGraw. He’s been in the business with some of the best guys from the ‘80s until now. It’s an honor to [work with him].
EX: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from him?
MM: When going into the studio, try to make it as much a live experience as you can. A lot of times, you go into the studio, and you lose that feeling of what you’re doing. You can’t reproduce what you play live.
EX: Those four songs you have, you wrote those?
MM: One of them I wrote; three of them I did not write. Typically, I write everything, but I’m not that guy that says it has to be my song. If there’s a song that’s better than mine, then I’m more than happy to do it.
EX: When you listen to a demo or are pitched a song, what is it that you connect with the most?
MM: A big problem for me is if the person didn’t hire a demo singer to sing the song to make it sound good, I almost can’t listen to it. Vocally, I can hear if someone is off. First of all, they have to have a decent production on it. Lyrics are the most important thing. You can rearrange the music and how it’s played. If the song says something and means something, that’s the most important thing to me.
EX: Growing up, what are some songs that you really connected to?
MM: I love Waylon Jennings and [Johnny] Cash and Haggard and all those guys. ‘Good Ole Boys’ from Waylon, I used to love that song because that’s what I thought we were. I didn’t know it was about moonshine running. At 16, I just thought it was a really cool song. We thought we lived that stuff. Charlie Daniels, man. I had subwoofers in my car, no joke. I had two 15-inch subwoofers in the back of an Explorer. Somebody’s like ‘you don’t even listen to rap, why do you have those for?’ I’m like ‘Oh, just wait.’ We’d go downtown and cruise Main Street, blaring ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia.’ You talk about some looks you get from people. [laughs]
EX: How early on were you exposed to music?
MM: I got my first guitar when I was 11. I went to a pentecostal church as a kid, and this guy named Carl Downey taught me how to play. I’d stay with him there after church on Sundays. He would [teach me how to play]. They never plugged me into the main speakers, and I didn’t know why. It was because I was terrible. My dad bought me my first guitar when we were going to pick up my mom from the airport. I was like ‘I want to learn how to play guitar.’ He said ‘well, let’s stop. There’s a music store up here. We’ll swing in there and see if we can find anything.’ I got an epiphone guitar that I wish I still had, but I gave it a kid one time that wanted to learn how to play.
EX: Has any other career path been an option for you?
MM: I’ve worked odd jobs a couple of times. I worked at EPS a couple times. I worked landscaping for three or four months, but I always said that if I didn’t make it in music, I would drive a truck. So, as many miles we’re putting out on the road now, I’d be damn good at staying awake [driving a truck]. I don’t think I could do anything else really.
EX: You did ‘Nashville Star’ a few years ago, correct?
MM: Yup. I was on the year Chris Young won. Me and him have stayed pretty good friends ever since. That was a cool experience. It taught me a lot, and I learned a lot of lessons the hard way after the show. A couple of years ago I got the opportunity to do CMT’s ‘Next Superstar.’ I kind of was playing for it from ‘Nashville Star’ from doing the live TV thing to know what to do on stage when there’s a camera rolling. The second time around was a lot better than the first one. I had my head on straight and was a little older to not jump into a lot of pitfalls that a 19-year-old kid can dive head first into.
EX: When you did those shows, did producers try to push you into going a certain direction with your music?
MM: They did a little bit, but I’m just kind of who I am. That’s the only [way] I know how to be. They might want you to wear this or wear that or do this or do that. Clothes don’t make the man. I’ve never been able to conform. I have a personality that if you say I have to do something then I have to do something different, which is good, and it’s bad all wrapped up into one.
EX: You have two previous EPs ‘Chasing Stardust’ and ‘America’s Favorite Pastime.’ Talk about those.
MM: ‘Chasing Stardust’ [was] released last year, in June. I had done a demo CD five years ago. So, we did this one, and I hadn’t had music out in a long time. We give fans something. It doesn’t have a ton of music on it; it only has six songs. It’s better than nothing. We threw that together with some of the best songs that I could find that I had written because as long as I wrote them, I could put them out without a problem. Then, we did another EP called ‘America’s Favorite Pastime,’ and we released that towards the end of October last year. That had some brand new stuff on it, and we’re getting ready to go in and cut another one to release here in a couple of months. It’s just to try to get music out to people where they always have something new to listen to.
EX: When putting together an EP or an album, how do you decide what songs to cut and what stories you want to tell?
MM: The easiest way is to go out and play them live. You play them to different crowds and groups, and you learn what clicks with people or not. If a song’s not working with people, then it’s not a good song, and that’s the end of it. There’s songs that I have had to pull from the set that I loved playing but people don’t like them. I had to take them out, and the ones that people actually connect and come up [to me after] and say ‘where can I get that song at?’ You get enough responses like that, and you go ‘OK, we’ve gotta put this song on.’ That’s what people want to hear. A lot of artists forget that their fans are who they’re playing to. It’s not just what they want to do, which is hard to break down that wall.
EX: As a songwriter, what are you inspired by?
MM: It can be [anything]. I just wrote a song a while back that we put on the last EP that was from a newspaper headline that I read on parenting and what you should or shouldn’t do. I thought the title of the headline was really cool. But, [inspiration] can come from anything. It can come from a conversation I have with somebody. A friend of mine, Wynn Varble, I’ve noticed that when he’s in a groups of people, he does more listening than he does talking. I never got why because he’s really funny. I asked him. He said ‘’cause I’m listening to what people are saying to pull a story from that.’ He’s obviously a great songwriter in Nashville and has written a lot of big songs. I try to use that advice and make myself shut up sometimes. [laughs]
EX: How you keep yourself in check from subconsciously stealing a melody or lyric from another song?
MM: I actually wrote a song awhile back that I was extremely excited about. I played it for somebody and they’re like ‘this has the same melody to this song.’ It was a Jason Aldean song. I didn’t realize that. I must have heard it. You can hear something on the radio and play it on the guitar and don’t think you’re doing the same thing. That was a sucky moment. I had to pitch the song in the trashcan.
EX: I read that you’ve opened some shows for Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan.
MM: Yea, we toured with Luke for three months. We’ve [also] done shows with Aaron Lewis, Charlie Daniels, Little Big Town. The Luke thing was awesome. It was Luke, Lee Brice, Josh Thompson and myself. I learned a ton from [him]. You know, he’s one of the biggest things in Country music right now, one of the most down-to-earth guys I’ve ever met. That was a good thing for a young artist like myself. You can be a big star and still be a nice person. I don’t consider myself to be a big-headed person, but a lot of artists you meet are full of themselves. It was good to see that he’s not. Lee’s not; Josh’s not. They’re all super nice guys and were great to me.
[Adding:] We were with [Luke] longer than anybody else. Blake is really cool [too]. He’s a big prankster. That was fun, but he’s a lot harder to get to know than someone like Luke.
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