Mason’s ‘Frisky Biscuits’ album has been a near constant in the Toolroom office speakers since the day it was finished.
From the lush orchestral opening, through to joyous disco and more dancefloor-focused House, this is an album that takes you on a journey.
One of the things we love about Mason is that he doesn’t fit the typical mould of a modern-day House music artist. A quick glimpse of his record collection, or a brief look at his varied discography, will show an artist who stays elusive, current and never predictable. We caught up with Mason via Skype, to find out more about his background and the story behind this sublime album.
Q: So, Mason, even a faint listen to your last few releases highlights that you are, to put it gently, no ordinary House artist. Anyone listening to your catalog will be undoubtedly be bombarded with influences ranging from Disco, to Funk, to Indie, to Electro, to Tech.
With most artists being afraid to step “outside the box” for even just a moment, you seem to be someone who enjoys knocking down boundaries. Can you tell us, sir, how on earth did you become this way?
Ha! I have no idea, I just find it boring and predictable to make the same stuff others are making, or to repeat my own previous releases over and over. Instead of focusing on what’s trendy and doing that, I kinda do the opposite 0 trying to avoid clichés. It’s not really a conscious career decision or anything, more a natural urge what music gets me motivated to make.
Q: So, word on the street is that you were a violin player for a particularly familiar face at one point back in the day, Tiesto. We’re dying to know, how does one go from an orchestral pit to the DJ booth?
Yeah so I always played violin since I was little. First classical, later also jazz and improv. But apart from that I was also a house DJ from 1995 onwards. At some point I brought an electric violin to some DJ sets to combine it for fun and did quite some touring with that around the millennium. Tiësto saw me do that in Peru and asked me to play during his concert world tour in 2004. He had problems finding classical players that understood house music as well, and I was a bit of both. I could also play warm up DJ sets and some pretty epic after parties, which was a plus for me. I did become a bit tired of violin so the last 15 years I haven’t played much and focusing on learning different musical instruments.
Q: And, not to bring up too many ghosts from the past, but there’s also whispers at Toolroom HQ that you were a former child singer as well. Can you tell us a little bit about your role as a young performer for our fans who have never watched Dutch TV?
Holland only had 2 TV channels in the 80’s, so whatever was on there, everyone was watching. There was this kids show where kids were singing songs and it was massive. I was a fan at age 5 and at age 6 got accepted to join in. I don’t think I could even read yet (just found a photo where I was holding lyrics upside down). However, I got to hang out in all these recording studios with big mixing consoles and tape reels and all that. I straight away knew that was what I wanted to do when growing up. Turning faders and knobs up and down, have full ashtrays on my mixing desk and wear a pony tail and smell like old sweat. The first part actually succeeded.
Q: You’ve said in a few interviews previously that you’re a big fan of using hardware as opposed to making sounds and arranging drums “in the box.” Can you tell us what your existing hardware setup looks like, and how it interfaces with your digital side?
I work quite hybrid really. And to be clear: you really don’t need all this fancy gear to make good music. It’s nice and all, but not necessary. For my own workflow I do a lot in logic, but it all gets mixed on a Neve summing mixer, with lots of analogue compressors and EQs attached to it, before it goes back into the box. I also use quite a few analogue synths here and there. I work more than fulltime on this and want to be able to flick back and forth from project to project without having to waste too much time setting everything up again. So for me this is the perfect way to work at this moment.
Q: Your sound is a melting pot of influences, to put it quaintly. A question we often ask many of our artists is what genres of music truly interest them, particularly those outside of House? If you had to pick three records that you would say were seminal in your creative process, what would they be?
As a teenager I was really into west-coast hip hop, such as Dr Dre. I still am am. That stuff really influenced me, as well as the P-funk that influenced those guys. I listen to a lot of old music… Funk, Soul, Disco, a lot of afro stuff. I think people can be very preoccupied with the trendy things of today, while there’s so much amazing music behind us. I still discover different acts of the 70s or 80s every week. Musically ‘Darkdancer’ by Les Rhythmes Digitales was really influential for me too.
Q: On that same note, do you also produce other genres?
When producing I don’t really think in genres, I just make whatever comes up. It’s all sorts of Electronic music. I also like to write Pop stuff, occasionally also for other artists. However the majority of what I make (95%?) I don’t release cause it’s just too far off what Mason is about.
Q: You have an artist career that spans 25 years. That’s impressive, to say the least, particularly in an era where many artists will rise and fall in five years. For the many producers who are undoubtedly reading this, what advice would you give to them for staying motivated and creative, even when times get tough?
Try not to focus too much on the outside world and the competition. Just focus on what makes you tick and whatever music gets you inspired and motivated: make it! At the end of the day you’ll have more longevity in your career and people will appreciate the music that’s honest and artists who have their own signature sound.
Q: Moving back to House, let’s talk about your third artist album, Frisky Biscuits. First off, how did you come up with that name? Secondly, whose idea was the album art?
The title was there within minutes. Suppose it’s playful, like my music. I also started out in the 90s under the impossible DJ name ‘Jason The Mason He Ain’t No Cookie’, so to have a cookie theme is quite full circle. People: I’m not using that DJ name anymore so you can claim the URL. I straight away knew I wanted to put a biscuit on the cover and started working on that with my regular designers 310k on that idea.
Q: Very clever. In an era where most artists don’t release full albums anymore, can you tell us how this came to be?
I think doing an album quite suits me, as I like to produce a variety of different styles. For my singles I always think about whether it works on a dancefloor, but with albums I think there’s more creative freedom to go down different musical avenues, also the weirder and slower stuff.
Q:The album features a star-studded lineup of vocalists, including: Jem Cooke, The Melody Men and Chenai. How do you find collaborating with others on a record? Do you find yourself inspired by the ideas of others, or prefer to ride solo more often than not?
I always like the area between pop and dance, as it gets done cheesy very often and it’s a fine line to do it with a certain class. No idea if I succeeded in that but I try. It’s also really inspiring to work with vocalists, who have a very different talent than I have. For this album vocals were recorded in Paris, Amsterdam, London and New York. I always prefer being in the same room with an artist, opposed to working on remote over the internet. Luckily for this album most vocals I had already recorded before corona hit off…
Q: You’ve really gone far off into left field a few times in this album, and it’s refreshing. One example would be at 0:28 seconds of orchestral goodness at the beginning of the album’s second track, “Alive?” Another might be your mid-tempo, Hip-Hop influenced slammer “Game Time.” Do you find deviating from the norm to be something you gravitate towards naturally as an artist?
Totally naturally, and I find it a bit boring to make 123 bpm 4/4 house tunes with DJ friendly intro’s and outro’s all day. I do this fulltime for a few decades now, and it would bore me shitless if it would only be making music in the exact same frame. You don’t wanna eat spaghetti every day either.
Q: While your name has been on our radar for quite some time, it was with the release of “Rhythm In My Brain” in 2019 that saw you formally link up with Toolroom. How did you get introduced to the Toolroom Family, and what has it been like working with the label for the past year now?
I also mixed a Toolroom Poolside Miami about 5 years ago, but yes ‘Rhythm In My Brain’ felt like the first date I had with Toolroom. Which led to now going more steady, meeting the parents and all that….
Q: Though Amsterdam may not currently be in its most vibrant period as far as clubbing goes (much like the rest of the world at the moment), how would you say the city has impacted you as an artist? Have you lived there your entire life?
It’s an amazing city. Small enough that you still bump into people on the street and that it’s somewhat comprehensive what’s happening. But big enough to offer everything a world city has to offer culturally. We’ve thrown a lot of parties and raves in town. My favorite is this pub crawl called the ‘Animal Language Kafe Rave’ we organize a few times a year. Every edition we go to 4 of these alcoholic dodgy hole in the wall bars, each time in a different area of town, and bring along 300 ravers and a DJ booth on wheels. Stage diving, massive guerilla party, and then we leave the place empty after an hour and go to the next bar. It’s quite perfect.
Q: Did you, by any chance, end up producing Frisky Biscuits entirely during the quarantine period? There’s a lesson to be learned here about making the best of a bad situation.
A lot of material I had already made in demo form, and a lot of vocals were recorded, but when corona started I started working on this as an album and produce it properly. It did feel good to turn this period into something productive.
Q: Can you tell us how being locked down impacted your creative process?
It’s quite a positive, warm and fun(k) album. I think the world can use some of that these days, as it’s serious enough already as it is.
Q:With the year rapidly winding down and 2021 right around the corner, can you tell us what’s coming up in the world of Mason?
My manager would probably advice to keep this mysterious – but the honest answer is I have no idea. No idea how long it will be until I can tour again. Currently starting again in studio working on new music and new collaborations, without any particular plan. But that’s often the best way.