Artist Interviews

Q&A: Steve Mason

By | Published on Tuesday 12 March 2013

Steve Mason

Former Beta Band frontman Steve Mason released his first solo album under the name King Biscuit Time in 2006, returning as Black Affair two years later. Then in 2010, he released his first album under his own name, the acclaimed ‘Boys Outside’ (later re-imagined as a dub record titled ‘Ghosts Outside’ by reggae producer Dennis Bovell).

On 18 Mar, Mason releases his new LP, ‘Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time’, a more politically-focussed record than any of his previous releases (though politics are by no means a new subject for him to address). He has also just announced three live shows at King Tut’s in Glasgow on 9 Apr, Gorilla in Manchester on 10 Apr and Village Underground in London on 11 Apr.

Ahead of all that, CMU’s Andy Malt caught up with Steve to find out more about the new album.

AM: Your last album was very personal, this one seems more outward looking. Was that the intention from the outset?
SM: Yes, ‘Monkey Minds’ is a concept album (there, I said it!) about the politics of being a human being in the society that now exists around us, which we neither asked for nor is it conducive to being a well rounded, intelligent, loving, caring human being. This was most certainly my intention from the outset.

AM: The album is broken up with short instrumental pieces. What was the thinking behind including these? And what effect does their inclusion have on the overall feel and sound of the album?
SM: To me the album is one long song. The song has many different moods, emotions and messages. Just like we all do. Sometimes it is easier to get over some of the messages without being tied to having to write a standard three-minute track about them. You can just make a piece of music that can be or contain anything.

A standard song can be a very restrictive way of making music. I guess, or hope, the effect of the bits in between the songs is to create the effect of an unending journey. But hopefully a journey of evolution rather than making the same mistakes every previous generation has made. Not falling into the same traps. So, take a moment, take a step back and have a good long look at the whole picture.

AM: When did you start writing songs for ‘Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time’?
SM: I think it was around January 2012. But I already had some bits so I didn’t start from scratch. It took me a while to get going because I felt a little intimidated by my previous album. Strange but true!

AM: What’s your process when it comes to writing your songs?
SM: If I feel introspective a song may start with acoustic guitar or piano. If I feel angry then I get busy with the MPC and kick the tempo up a notch. There is no method. Just a mood.

AM: You released a dub version of ‘Boys Outside’ produced by Dennis Bovell, do you envisage the new album having a life beyond its current form?
SM: I have not thought about ‘The Devil’s Dub’, if that’s what you mean! I am not sure it would work with this specific album. But if anyone can prove me wrong, it’s Dennis Bovell!

AM: What was it like working with Dennis on ‘Ghosts Outside’? How did that come about?
SM: Dennis is a master. And when you work with a master you have to be the apprentice. I am not used to that so I found it a greatly rewarding experience. His knowledge of music is enormous and his passion matches that. More importantly, he is very funny. It all came about after a conversation with Daddy G from Massive Attack. He put me on to Dennis and I hunted him down… or called him on the phone if you want to be unromantic!

AM: Now you’re on your second album under your own name, are you feeling more confident as a solo artist?
SM: Ha! Well ‘Monkey Minds’ will be my fourth or fifth solo album, so yeah, I know what I’m doing by now! But even in The Betas I would go off on my own and write the songs, so not much has changed.

AM: Speaking of The Beta Band, it’s nearly a decade since you split. Do you miss being in a band? Is it something you think you’d ever go back to?
SM: I only recently missed it. But I am now seriously thinking about putting a more permanent band together. It’s a big job to write and play all the parts for a whole album and sooner or later you get sick of yourself and want a new challenge, new ideas and inspiration. So yes, I really want to do that.

AM: What are your plans for touring this album? Will you have the same sort of live set up as you did for ‘Boys Outside’?
SM: Plans are to try and make it work financially! Which is HARD! It will be a similar set up to last time but with the addition of a keyboard/piano player. We start rehearsing in April. We will do a few choice festivals and I am off for an acoustic tour of the US to get things moving again out there. We want to go everywhere with this. The people need it!

AM: With the album release imminent, how does it feel to be so close to having people hear it?
SM: Exciting. And frightening. But I do feel pretty confidant people will love this record. It’s anti-pick n mix download. You need a bean bag and pair of big old 1970s headphones on. Give it an hour of your time and it will give you back your life.