IN CONVERSATION WITH MASON
Interview by Marie-Pauline Cesari
We had the honor of chatting with Mason, whose latest album, 'Chroma Panorama,' released in November, is already causing a stir. In his fourth studio album, spanning more than two decades of a diverse career, Mason once again showcases his versatility, expertise, and a refreshing disregard for musical trends. Despite his roots in dancefloor-oriented grooves, the Dutch artist proves he is far from being a one-trick pony, steering clear of anything that might be forgotten on the dancefloor.
Hello Mason! When did you realize that music was more than just a passion for you, but a career you wanted to pursue professionally?
I started out rather young, maybe random, as a 6-year-old singing songs for kids on TV. Through this, I got to hang out in these big 80s recording studios with massive SSL mixing consoles and tape reels that really mesmerized me as a youngster. Probably because of all the blinking lights. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to work in a recording studio, which is, in fact, where I have spent most of my days for the last 2 decades. As a teenager, I started to DJ and got addicted to the house music bug, which defined my career path a little more.
You grew up in a very artistic family. How did this creative atmosphere at home nurture your own creativity, and what is your earliest memory related to music?
My father is a painter, and both my mother and sister are actresses. Growing up, our home radiated a sense that pursuing one’s dreams is not just encouraged but expected, contingent upon dedicating unwavering effort. This philosophy still resonates with met. Talent is rather overrated: most successful artists I know just work crazy amounts of hours and are really focused on what they do. The competition is just too fierce to ‘only be really good,’ and that’s not enough. It’s not the 60s anymore, where a career and a heroin addiction could be combined somehow…
You started your career as a DJ in a club in Amsterdam. Can you tell us about those early sets and how it influenced your musical style and approach to music?
I started to DJ in the mid-90s as a teenager. I was really way too young to legally enter nightclubs, but I did get a residency at age 15 in some dodgy place filled with prostitutes, dealers and whatnot. I also had to wipe the floor after my DJ sets. For the first 10 years of my DJ career, I didn’t have any releases and just worked a thousand hours as a DJ in all sorts of places. A bit later, it became Tiesto’s support act on his world tour. I’m super grateful that once my career took off by releasing my own music, I already had that experience under my belt. I see so many guys being launched from their bedrooms into the live arena, and that’s not easy to adapt to. Musically, I started off as a hip-hop DJ, but quite soon moved to house music. However, 90s West Coast hip hop like Dr Dre and such still find their way into my music, as I’m quite funk and sampling influenced.
Your first single in 2007, ‘Exceeder’ marked the beginning of a prolific career. What memories do you have from that period, and how have you evolved since then?
It went rather fast: a B-side I made on my kitchen table took off, and my life flipped about 180 degrees. From that point on, I had a stretch of years spent abroad and touring the world. Musically, I didn’t feel the urge to release ‘Exceeder’ soundalikes and milk it some more. I rather took the opportunity of finally having an audience to present them with all my other music. Maybe not the best of ideas business-wise, but creatively, it felt like the right thing to do. I’m still rather stubborn when it comes to what music I release.
You founded your own label, Animal Language. What motivated you to launch your own label, and how has it influenced your approach to music production?
I started Animal Language in 2008 to have a platform where I could release whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. As people expected a more commercial side of me, especially back then, I needed an outlet to also be able to release more odd stuff once in a while. It’s also been a place where I can give talent a spotlight, as well as the flag under which we organize all sorts of guerilla’esque parties in The Netherlands.
How do you choose the artists and sounds that find their place on this label?
There’s no formula; I just need to dig it. It needs to be fresh, different, and out of the ordinary. I don’t care if the artist has a social following or makes whatever sound is trendy today.
Can you share some of the most memorable moments or gigs that have left a lasting impact on you?
Ooph that’s a tough one, as I’ve had a few parties (laughs)… I did 4 shows in 24 hours In Australia around New Year’s Eve once, that was pretty epic. Last year I played for the elderly with Parkinson, and that sticks as a memory. And the first time Sensation White, or Tomorrowland Mainstage made an impact, it was just so impressive to play there and see the view. Although I have to say that I have just as much fun playing for 50 people, bigger is definitely not better.
Can you tell us about your new album “Chroma Panorama”? What are the influences that shaped this album?
I guess disco and funk found their way into it. I’ve also been a bit more on a pop streak the last few years, as I’m a sucker for good indie pop music. But also, as I’m in the privileged position to work with so many talented artists on the album, such as Dragonette, Jack Garratt, House Gospel Choir, Girl Ray, Sweetie Irie (Gorillaz) and others, that really inspires me to work hard. It makes a producer humble.
This album explores different musical genres, from cerebral urban pop to indie tinged house with funk and soulful downtempo vibrations. How would you describe your musical style on this new album compared to your previous ones?
I suppose music is subjective, but I feel that on a pure crafty level of writing and producing, I’ve grown a bit. It’s been quite an extensive album, where 15 vocalists, 10+ instrumentalists, and many others have contributed in one way or another. My previous album on Toolroom was a bit more club-focused than this. Surely I’ll be doing some dance floor stuff soon again…
What feelings and emotions do you aim to convey to your listeners through this musical journey?
Hopefully, a feeling of optimism, something organic and fresh-sounding and unlike other artists. Whether or not I achieved that remains uncertain, but I poured my heart into it.
Your extensive career is exemplary. What advice would you give to young artists looking to pursue a music career as diverse as yours?
Avoid whatever the other guys are doing. Ignore the trends. Find your own musical identity and only release if you feel like you have something to contribute to what’s already out there.