DeadJournalist.com Exclusive Interviews:
Chuck Norton, DeadJournalist.com
MP3 - Mason Proper - Lock and Key
While Ypsilanti and Alpena, Michigan will never rival Seattle or New York City as a haven for musical talent, that doesn't mean those cities are a void of talent.
Case in point: Mason Proper.
The band Mason Proper, who now call Ypsilanti their home, recently released their second LP, Olly Oxen Free, in September 2008. The album, produced by Chris Coady (TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead) was released by Dovetail Records.
Band members Jonathan Visger, Brian Konicek, Zac Fineberg, Matt Thomson and Garrett Jones have been playing together as Mason Proper for four years, although their musical roots have been intertwined for the greater part the decade.
The band will be playing dates the Northeast and Great Lakes regions throughout Fall 2008. Included in their dates is a performance at the CMJ Showcase in NYC on October 21 at Rehab. They also have several dates scheduled with Cloud Cult that include a November 10 show at Black Cat in Washington D.C. and a November 11 show at Bowery Ballroom in NYC.
DeadJournalist.com proudly brings you this exclusive interview with Jon Visger of Mason Proper.
Starting at the beginning - because the beginning is a good place to start - how did Mason Proper form? How long have you been performing together?
JV: We all played in different bands in high school, and when everybody was graduating and all the bands were breaking up, those of us that still wanted to play music sort of joined together to keep going.
We moved into a tiny house in Ypsilanti from our childhood homes in Alpena, MI, met our bassist Zac, and started practicing and recording an album, which eventually became There is a Moth in Your Chest.
Brian and I have played together for almost 10 years, on average the rest of us for 4 or so.
For someone reading about the band for the first time, how would you describe your sound?
JV: Minor key pop music with a dark sense of humor, a taste for grainy sample-based production, and love of a good melody set to a strong beat. There are many, many other facets to it, but to someone that has never heard it, that should point them in the right direction.
You recently released, Olly Oxen Free, the band’s second full-length album. How did the writing and recording process for this album differ from your debut album?
JV: We made our first album over the course of over six months ... longer if you count the reworking we did before it was re-released on Dovecote Records. When an idea wasn't quite working, we'd keep adding more things until it did.
With our new album, we took the opposite approach. The material was largely written in only a few months, and we did the entire recording and arrangement process in about 30 days. When an idea or sound wasn't quite working, we'd immediately default to removing it entirely, until we were only left with things we were completely sure about.
The first single off your new album, “Fog”, is already in rotation on XM. What was the inspiration for the song? Was is the song the earmarked as the first single early in the recording process or was that decided in post-production?
JV: I didn't know it was the first single! People at radio stations play whatever they want. We presented "Lock and Key" as the single, but I'm happy that "Fog" has been adopted by many as the key track. I think it's one of the best songs on the album, I just thought it might be too slow burn to work on the radio.
I have no idea about these things. We didn't have any idea what a single might be when we were making the album, though. We just focused on making everything exactly what we liked.
The band has some East Coast tour date lined up through November. Are additional tour plans in the works?
JV: We always have more touring in the works, but everything that I can talk about with 100-percent confidence is already listed on our dates at this point. We've got some fun support slot options we're entertaining, and very well may embark on our first real headlining tour in the new year. Fun times are ahead.
To the band, what is the most important aspect of performing in front of a live audience?
JV: Early on we asked ourselves, why do people go to shows when they can listen to an album at home. Almost every time, the album sounds better, is better crafted, and doesn't blast your ears out, and you don't have to smell sweaty people or risk getting beer spilled on you.
We decided that people listen to albums to really hear music in it's best form, but people go to shows to see something, and to feel something. So the most important aspect of live performance is making sure people are seeing something and feeling something that they'll remember.
Sounding as good as possible is a given, of course, but we take great pride into going out there and not holding back, be that in letting the music move our bodies in strange ways, or letting emotions show fully, or not shying away from danger, and letting the imperfections come through, that are inherent in a live show.
All those things are performers being really giving to audiences I think, and that's what we appreciate when we go to shows.
What is the most bizarre event that has occurred to you while on tour?
JV: One of the many times we were broken down on the side of the road, we had a trailer with all our equipment in it. A tow truck came and took our van away, but left us there ... with the trailer.
So we sat there for several hours on the side of a major highway with a trailer with no vehicle attached to it. It was next to a cornfield and we killed the time wandering through it and eating the corn. Later we found out it was corn meant for cattle and was potentially unsafe for human consumption.
Another time we broke down, Zac was deathly ill, and as we trudged five miles to the nearest town, he actually said, not as a joke, "I can't go another step. Leave me here, go on without me, guys." And we had to.
We later returned to rescue him, just as he was getting kicked out of a diner for sitting there three hours only ordering his water refilled over and over and over, and looking like a hobo.
Which do you enjoy more, performing live or writing and recording?
JV: Both are amazing things, but nothing beats the creative joys of writing and recording. Hands down.
What artist or artists have influenced the band the most musically?
JV: We've been very influenced by Radiohead, Blonde Redhead, the Talking Heads, and Portishead. And DJ Shadow(head). Caribouhead [sic]. Various things that have come out of Damon Albarn's head.
You, like many bands, are proactive in marketing yourselves on-line. How has the paradigm shift to on-line marketing and networking impact your ability to find new audiences and generate revenue for the band?
JV: I have no idea, since for us it isn't a shift. The internet has been a factor as long as we've been a band. We didn't exist before mp3s were around.
That said, I have a feeling we wouldn't have nearly as many fans scattered around the globe without it! How else would we have gotten fans in countries we've never been to? Does this result in revenue? Beats me, I'm no businessman, for better or worse.
Whose idea was it to create a choose-your-own-adventure section on your Web site? Who came up with the plot?
JV: Whoa, you found that! It was my idea. Matt is going to be helping me write it, but so far it's just been my work. The plot has barely begun to show it's face. It's going to tie into some lesser-known Mason Proper output in interesting ways ...
What were you listening to in 1998?
JV: I remember that being the time period I was personally starting to transition out of listening to pretty simple punk rock into Fugazi, Weezer's Pinkerton, Radiohead's OK Computer, and the Cardigans Gran Turismo.
I basically raided my sister's music collection constantly at that point, and I was still doing a lot of mail ordering punk CDs from those paper order forms that came inside each one. Buying based only on a tiny description that wasn't even a complete sentence, half the time.
Is there an artist that you’ve encountered recently that you’ve been recommending to your friends?
JV: Like everyone else it seems, Bon Ivor. The Dirty Projectors struck my fancy fairly recently. And it's super old, but I just got RJD2's Deadringer and I've been showing that around.
Which do you prefer: MP3, CD, Tape or Vinyl?
JV: I hate CDs at this point. MP3s for convenience, and vinyl for social listening and the sound. A while back they replaced the TV at Zac's house with a turntable, and everybody started sitting around and listening to records a lot more, in a really natural way. A very nice phenomenon.
One Drink; One Movie; One Album:
JV: Coffee, The Tenant, Fugazi's The Argument.