Willy Mason has a kind of stoic wisdom paired with a rich welcoming voice that few folk singers can match. Called ‘equal parts hobo and Holden Caulfield’ by Rolling Stone, Mason is known for his profound, introspective lyrics and progressive sound.
Fresh off the heels of touring and collaborating with a new wave of folk-influenced artists such as Mumford & Sons, Mason will be on Rockwood’s Stage 2 at 7 p.m. This performance coincides with the release of his new album, Carry On, which was five years in the making.
No stranger to Rockwood, Mason almost always stops by the Lower East Side venue when he visits New York. “Rockwood has been good to me over the last few years. They always give me a set when I pass through town,” he says. Other than Rockwood, he also loves to stop by the East Village haunt, St. Dymphna’s, citing the Irish bar’s cozy vibe and free-flowing Guinness.
Mason’s first full-length album for the UK-based Communion Records, Carry On was produced by Dan Carey (MIA, Hot Chip, Franz Ferdinand) and Mason credits him with helping develop the sound of the album.
“I don’t usually put much thought into what my records are going to sound like until the day I get into the studio,” says Mason. “I just try to make the most of what is there, which makes the studio and the people I work with very influential on the recording.”
Having toured and collaborated with influential artists like Ben Howard and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Willy Mason is refreshingly candid about the process. He seizes the chance to collaborate and learn from fellow musicians, but is well aware of the challenges involved. “Collaborating is like being in a school play when you play a part that brings out traits in yourself that weren’t getting used before,” he says. “Or it’s like peeling off your fingernails and then baiting lobster traps bare handed… but those sessions rarely see the light of day.”
“Talk Me Down,” one of the catchier tracks on the album, features Mason’s gravel-deep voice crooning about the passing of time over a kicking, rhythmic beat. The writing process of Carry On was slow and deliberate, which is evident in the vocals of this and other tracks.
Over the course of a year, Mason lived and wrote in a shack with no walls and no electricity. “I gradually worked myself into a trance where my days were hung on long strings of thought that each stretched for a month or more,” says Mason. He even had an encounter with, “some kind of forest spirit that made a hell of a racket.”
Reluctant to give up his favorite song on the album, Mason let’s his inner Holden Caulfield show: “That would be inside information that does not come cheap,” he says.
“Plus, you know I’d probably choose the runt of the litter, cause that’s just how I was raised.”