Steve Mason

Steve Mason

Steve Mason, one-time Beta Band head honcho, now acclaimed, eclectic solo artist, lays bare the mechanics of his songwriting process...

Paul Nichols headshot
  • By Paul Nichols
  • 30 Dec 2015
  • min read
Rachel and Rachael (working together as Wolf + Diva) presented the photograph and interview at their recent exhibition, A Portrait of British Songwriting, in conjunction with Sonos and Domino Publishing.

I’ve always made music at home, I’ve never really had a studio outside. I like having an idea wherever I am in the house and being able to get to a piece of recording equipment quickly. I mainly write about me and my life, so it feels right that it all happens at home.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that this is what I do for a living. I like to think of myself as an artist rather than somebody who’s a career musician. I don’t really know at what point it happened - I just focus on the writing because I want to hone in on that skill.

I find, with lyrics, a lot of the time it’s all in the delivery. Aretha Franklin could make the most mundane lyric sound like the most meaningful thing that’s ever been committed to record. I don’t really have that skill, so my lyrics have to be as real as possible. I try to have absolutely no barrier between my heart and head, the emotion that’s in there and the piece of paper.

Usually if I’m writing music on the guitar, words come at the same time. Sometimes I’ll have an opening line with the melody in my head, so I run over and grab a dictaphone to record them. From there I’ll work out what the chords might be and write the song from that. But other times I can start with a drum beat or anything; songs can come from absolutely anywhere really.

I can’t just get myself into the zone. The one thing I’ve learned as I get older is that when you’re not in the right frame of mind, there’s nothing you can do to change that. It’s more frustrating to sit down and write a load of crap or not write anything at all. You just end up wondering why nothing is coming out. It’s better to think, ‘okay, well, today’s a bit of a write-off’, and just go off and do something else.

I spend large amounts of time sitting on the sofa watching films, but not really watching them. Sometimes I just stare into space, my mind ticking away. I believe there wouldn’t be any creativity if it wasn’t for those times. That’s when my mind is doing all its work, figuring things out. Then suddenly, something will pop in there and I’ll run to my computer and do three or four hours of work.

Steve Mason’s mercurial songwriting talent has consistently coloured every project he’s been involved in over the last 15 years. From the brilliant beginnings of The Beta Band through to King Biscuit Time, Black Affair and now his self-titled solo work, he has always cut to the heart of the matter, distilling raw emotion into unparalleled lyrical honesty. His next album is due early 2016.