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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mason Proper - My Exclusive Interview and Autographed CD giveaway

Maybe the hottest new indie rock band in America these days makes their home in Michigan. This is Mason Proper - and my interview with the Midwest indie rock band with a New York City record label. Their 2007 album release is "There is A Moth In Your Chest."


Mason Proper: All about the Music (and furniture stores?)

It's a cool spring night in Cambridge when I first crossed paths with Michigan's Mason Proper. I have been looking forward to seeing them play live - their new album is pretty incredible. And from what I have heard from friends in different cities, the Michigan boys are holding their own with tourmates Birdmonster, an energetic California act I really like. Neither band disappoints.

What follows is the culmination of weeks of give and take between the band and myself. They are great guys - especially Jonathan, who went the extra mile to see this Q&A get done. (He hunted down bandmates for some pretty unconventional questions - you'll see, read on.)

Five Guys, One talented Indie-Rock Band:

Jonathan Visgr (vocals/guitars/keys,) Matt Thomson (noise/vocals) and Brian Konicek (guitars) all grew up in Northern Michigan towns. They began playing in musical groups together as boys, eventually forming what became Mason Proper in their late teens and early twenties. After moving from their wooden hometowns to Ypsilanti, a suburb of Detroit and Ann Arbor, the group met Zac Fineberg (bass/vocals) who eventually left his own group to join the band. (By the way, if Ypsilanti sounds familiar to your indie ear, Sufjan Stevens put it in a song... I digress) After two years of writing and recording parts of what would become their debut LP There Is A Moth In Your Chest , the band split back to the woods, finding new drummer Jesse Parsons along the way. The group finished recording and pressed up the record, all by themselves, without the assistance of a label. They landed that indie label in a trip to NYC, drawing the attention of Dovecote Records. The band recently toured with Birdmonster (one of my favorites) and that pretty much brings us current.

Ryan - RSL: Hey Jonathan, thanks for doing this interview. Tell me about the recent tour and about what's its been like since you got signed by Dovecote.

Jonathan Visgr / Mason Proper: After we signed with Dovecote, we suddenly found our plans had changed from "let's all hold hands and skip off down the road to play these songs until the primes of our lives are dead and gone" to the much more sensible, "let's release the record properly and make sure people know about it and then skip off down the road to play these songs until the prime of our lives are dead and gone." (laughing.) Lately, we've been feeling like hardened road warriors, with the scars and sensibly-packed luggage to prove it.


The New Record is a 2007 Must-Have Indie Release

RSL: I bet. You have a great new album in "There Is A Moth In Your Chest." It's one of my favorite new albums of the year.

Jonathan Visgr: Thanks!

RSL: First of all, how did you approach making this album? Did you have songs in hand or are these songs on the album ones that came along late in the process?

Jonathan Visgr: We originally were just going to make an EP with "Chemical Dress Eliza" , "Life's Cornucopia" , and "Lights Off" ; but when we were almost finished we decided to do a "little" extra work and make a whole album instead. Some of the songs were mined from old demos and things, and reworked heavily by all of us, whereas others, such as "My My (Bad Fruit)" , "Miss Marylou Carreau" , and "Carousel! Carousel!" came near the end of the
process.

RSL: Well I am glad for that! Those last three songs are probably my favorite so far. History has shown that bands sometimes get it together when they are recording. I think there is evidence of that here. What was that time like?

Jonathan Visgr: All the songs were being written and reworked and recorded all at the same time. whenever any of us were available, we would get together and just work on whatever we felt like doing that day. Finally, after we had flailed at it for a while, our bassist Zac joined the group and immediately organized the process of completing the record and a few months later it was done.

Jonathan Visgr

RSL: But seriously, why "A Moth In Your Chest?" Is there an emotion you are trying to solicit with that title?

Jonathan Visgr: Well the true origins of this name are currently secret, but will be revealed within the next year or so when the time is right. However, as a more "surface" answer... to us it has a nice magical realism, Edward Gorey 'macabre' sort of effect.

RSL: Yes, you're right. It certainly does. While we are discussing impressions - Who is the artist responsible for the crazy album covers and the slipcard for the new record?

Jonathan Visgr: The artwork was done by Joey at Little Jacket (then Cleveland-based, now New York-based.) Joey is a fantastic artist we had the good fortune of meeting through Dovecote. Matt does most of the Mason Proper artwork you see, but wanted a little expert help putting the album together... and Joey's style was a perfect compliment to Matt's surreal collage style... I had always wanted to make a booklet with single lines from songs that lend a different context to an accompanying image, so they took that idea as a starting point and just ran with it.

RSL: Do you think this experience of being a band and making your way, is any different because you guys are from the mid-west versus LA, Portland, Boston, NY or Austin?
Jonathan Visgr: It's got it's advantages and it's disadvantages... being from not just the Midwest, but an isolated small town in the Midwest, has let us kind of incubate on our own without much outside influence at all, other than each other. It's let us develop in a more unique way and forced us to be more creative than we would have otherwise been, rather than having the benefit of being constantly exposed to what other people are already currently doing.

RSL: Well you are different. And I, for one, was very pleased to have learned of your music. The fact that I'm here in Boston writing about you says something about the talent of your band. I imagine there hasn't always been a level of exposure.
Jonathan Visgr: The main disadvantage, which continues to this day, is that you're forever an outsider to the main body of people involved in the music world... we could certainly move to New York and probably meet people that could somehow "make things happen," but we would risk wateringdown the very thing that makes us what we are... isolation.
RSL: Like you are on your island. A species that Darwin would have studied!

Jonathan Visgr: Yeah. We just had to kind of imagine what was possibly going on in the world and move ahead. We have since discovered we were totally wrong about that, but now we're set in our oblong, bizarro ways. (laughs)


Brian, Zac and Jonathan

RSL: Let's talk about the music. There is a "stuttered pace" to a few of your songs. This "stop and go" style demonstrates just how tight you guys are and makes for a different sound. Was this conscious when you released the record?

Jonathan Visgr: (thinking.) Not only was it not conscious, but I didn't even realize it until now! It's just something we do naturally, I'm not sure where it comes from. our minds may just operate at a stuttered pace. One thing I do know is that we always talk about not wanting to be boring, not wanting to waste people's time making something vanilla. maybe that's where it comes from? We'd rather be schizophrenic and unpredictable than bland or safe.

RSL: No chance there! I can see my write-up now, "SEE THIS BAND PLAY LIVE." Do I need to even say that? You guys definitely do not disappoint. I mentioned to you before that I wanted you to let us in on the making of a Mason Proper song. Can you select one of your songs and tell us how it came about? Let us in on what the creative process was like.

Jonathan Visgr: Let's do "Miss Marylou Carreau." I made a quick demo that was just a few verses of guitars/drums/vocals... it was vaguely about being replaced in a relationship by a well-engineered love robot. Brian expanded the guitar parts a lot with his tricks and devices, and I added on the instrumental section following the second chorus. At this point Matt pointed out that the lyrics were horrible, and rewrote them to be about a secret transvestite. Zac reworked and fixed the bassline, especially in the instrumental section, to simplify it and make it more powerful... Matt created noises using his phototheremin and sampler to make the transitions more dramatic. Then I realized there were parts of the lyrics Matt had changed that didn't feel especially good to sing, so I reworked about half of them. The song was now - finally, about an author with brain parasites named Miss Marylou Carreau. I recorded vocals, went to work, and when i got home Matt had created an entire backup vocal concept and percussion embellishments arrangement and the song was complete...ly... weird.)

RSL: (laughing) First off, thank you. That is the most candid and probably realistic telling of a song's creation I have received in an interview. Secondly, I told you earlier how much I liked that song - so I am glad you picked this one. I feel Miss Marylou Carreau is very "Mason Proper-ish." It is definitely your own. I don't know any other songs like it.


RSL: Are there any contemporary bands influencing you these days? Please share who they are and tell us why you guys like them so much.

Jonathan Visgr: I'll rattle off a little list... Zac looks to Spoon as the best possible example of what a recording should be, and for some inspiration on bassline minimalism as well... Brian has a great respect for Nels Cline and Graham Coxon's work with Blur for being extremely creative guitarists but in a way that always serves the songs. Matt never seems to stop listening to Boards of Canada and Manitoba for inspiration on the electronics side of things. I have been pretty enthralled with weird Japanese artists like Takako Minekawa and Cornelius lately for the bizarre quality, but it's probably a bit too recent to have shown an effect on songs that are actually available right now, so Enon would be a more apt choice for now, for the blend of noise and pop in songwriting.


On stage in NYC - Jonathan, Jesse and Matt

RSL: What's a day like on tour with band before a show? Are there any special preparations?

Jonathan Visgr: Rock shows are easy. We basically just sleep in as late as we can. We lock Zac in the trailer so he can't make a mess in the van. We listen to something wonderful, eat something horrible, play some music, flutter our eyelashes at random people until somebody lets us sleep on their floor, don't shower, don't rinse, repeat.

RSL: A sense of humor, that's the other side of the band that maybe people might otherwise miss out on. I don't think anyone will forget you now! What is something that people should know about Mason Proper?

Jonathan Visgr: Every time you ask us about Freemasonry, we are 38% less likely to tell you anything! (laughing, both)


THE INTERVIEW WITH THE ENTIRE BAND
CONTINUES TOMORROW

including such questions as:

If each of you could be one musician in history - who would you choose to be? What would the band sound like and Would you get along with the rest of the band?

NOW FOR A ONE OF A KIND GIVEAWAY!

The members of Mason Proper have all signed their names to a copy of their "There is a Moth in Your Chest" CD. There is only one in the entire world and it will be given away on this page.

How to win the signed CD?

Write, draw or create something witty, funny, cool or unique about Mason Proper and email it to me. The best entries received over this week will be shared with the band with the single best entry receiving this one of a kind prize! Entries here. Enter as many times as you like - just be creative and have fun!

Entries to this Email: therslweblog@gmail.com

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