In the words of the great Willie Nelson, “I woke up still not dead again today.” I’d say I’m doing well!
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Calm Me Down”?
If I let myself, I can think of endless things to be frightened about – from trivial things to a loved one’s health or the state of the world. Of course, that’s no way to live. It’s better to go through life without worrying, controlling the limited things you can, and being grateful for what you have. This is naturally challenging, but I think the best chance of staying calm in an unpredictable world is to take comfort in each other’s company. If you have someone you can lean on in scary times, then that can keep your heart rate and your mental state much more manageable.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
There wasn’t one particular event. Life has definitely happened, and sometimes life can be stressful and overwhelming. The song is more of a testament to a belief that when things become stressful and overwhelming, having someone there can make all the difference in the world.
The single comes off your new album Capture The Heart – what’s the story behind the title?
This album explores the journey of trying to capture the heart when its natural tendency is to get away from us. A theme in this album is slowing down in a fast-paced, chaotic world. I believe we have too many sensory inputs. Advancements in technology have been great in so many ways, but they have also had the negative consequence of overstimulation. We struggle to find the balance. We’re on the go too much and we’re distracted. Tension and anxiety run deep. We can’t always escape the stressors of modern life, but we can try to live in a way that reduces the stress.
In the title track, a local musician uses his songs to try to capture the hearts of people walking down Bourbon Street. Most people just walk by without noticing him. There is so much to look at and experience. People are on their phones, looking at maps of the city, and shopping at stores on every corner. How could anyone focus on one thing when their attention constantly shifts from one thing to the next? With so much going on in the world and in our lives, it’s hard to be present. It’s hard to slow down and focus on one thing, but it benefits us when we do. When we finally slow down, we can find comfort and peace with the ones we love and do our best to live life to the fullest.
How was the recording and writing process?
For this album, I came to the studio with maybe 30 songs at different stages of completion. I shared all the ideas with my producer and we sifted through them until we picked about 15 that we would be excited to record. I could only feasibly record 11 songs so we whittled it down a bit more. Some of the songs needed a bit of work before we felt like they were complete, so I did some re-writing and bounced ideas off my producer until we were both jazzed about the tunes and felt like the selections would make a balanced/smooth flowing record. At that point, we started laying down tracks and getting some awesome guest musicians in to bring the songs to life.
How Jason Mraz and John Mayer has influence your writing?
Beyond sharing the same genre, enjoying their music, and having the same initials JM, I’m not sure how much they influenced my writing. I think they are both great artists. Jason Mraz shares a lot of the same Virginia roots. He went to the same college, Longwood, albeit briefly. He grew up in Mechanicsville, VA close to where I grew up and where I lived in Richmond after college. We both share a major influence in loving the Richmond-based band, Agents of Good Roots. That band played on his first album, Waiting for my Rocket to Come, and also played on my first solo album, Balance & Pull. The keyboard player I use in the studio, Daniel Clarke, grew up with Jason Mraz and plays with him on occasion. There is probably some crossover in style there given where we grew up and who we listened to. As for John Mayer, he has infectious songs that probably seep into my subconscious involuntarily by simply hearing them on my car stereo or when I’m out shopping for groceries.
What role does DC play in your music?
We have a super supportive, diverse, active, and growing music community in DC. Being around other like-minded musicians who give it their all everyday is inspiring and makes me want to be better at what I do.
What made you want to take on a much intimate and direct approach to music?
I became a solo artist almost by necessity. At the time of the financial crisis in 2008, my bandmates were hunkering down with day jobs and the band was having a tough time staying together. I started playing lots of shows on my own, which ended up changing the style I was playing and writing. I had some different types of material in 2010 and decided to give it a shot in the studio with my buddy, Clay Wray. As it turns out, I really enjoyed the more folksy, songwriter approach and I haven’t looked back. I think this new album gets back to some of my rocker roots and you can hear that in songs like “Calm Me Down,” “Trouble,” and “Addicted.”
What were some of the “hustles” did you get to explore on this record?
A lot of the hustle for this record was financial in the sense that I had to go out and play shows everyday for a couple years to raise funds for studio time/guest musicians/production costs. It’s been rewarding to raise my own capital to make this happen without a kickstarter or a label, but it took a lot of hustle.
There were also times in the songwriting process where I would feel like I came to an impasse. Sometimes the hardest part of making a good song is getting that last line that you’re not sure about, adding that bridge that lifts the song, or changing an inflection here and there to get the song to where it needs to be. I had a lot of moments with these songs where I rattled my brain trying to get them to a place my producer and I would be happy with. I’m definitely proud of how they came out!
Any plans to hit the road?
Working on it! I’m lining up shows for 2019. Stay tuned!
What else is happening next in Jason Masi’s world?
Well, I’m happy to say the big toe I broke a couple of months ago loading into a gig has finally healed and I can move around in ways I couldn’t for a little while. I was hobbling there for a bit. Make sure the heavy stuff is secured before you close your hatch!
On the show front, I’m lucky that a lot of residencies I’ve kept in the past will be repeated in 2019, but I’m getting lots of new venues on my books as well as potential new collaborations. I continue to write and perform, and once the dust settles from this new release, if history is any indication, I’ll get antsy and jump into the next recording project soon. Stay tuned!