Willy Mason on the night he met his abel boss conor oberst
Willy Mason on the night he met his abel boss Conor Oberst

Willy Mason is the folk troubadour whose counter culture anthem ‘Oxygen‘ is already stealing the souls of everyone from Roseanne Cash to Zane Lowe. Born and bred on the small island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, Willy Mason dropped out of school to become an Elliott Smith for the OC generation.

Stepped into the UK for the first time for a whirlwind tour with his younger brother, Sam on drums. How did a smalltown kid get so hip?

Be Raised By Good Folk

Willy’s parent were folk songwriters and his mother still puts out records on North Carolina blues label Labor Records. “They used to have big music parties when I was growing up, I guess you could call it bohemian – they definitely had their own scene going! My mom would take me onstage with her to play guitar.”

He Fought The Law…

Willy Mason used his music to calm the braying inmates of a New York prison cell where he was spending the night after some over-eager cops mistook his guitar for a machine gun.

“I was hanging out in Times Square and all of a sudden five cops surround me, grab hold of my guitar and scream, ‘Give me that fucking machine gun!’ They tackle me to the floor, cuff me and drag me off. Unfortunately, they found a little bit of an illegal substance on me so they put me in a holding cell with 20 other guys. Everyone was rapping and freestyling and word got out I was a traveling musician so they were like, ‘Hey, sing us a song!’ I didn’t know what do to, but I sang ‘Oxygen’ and they were all kinda nice to me after that!”

Make Famous Friends

Everyone who sees Willy Mason play is instantly mesmerised, be it Roseanne Cash of Bright EyesConor Oberst who is putting Willy’s forthcoming debut album, ‘Where The Humans Eat‘, out on his new indie label, Team Love.

“I meet them (Conor Oberst and his band) after a show they did in North Hampton in New Hampshire. I went backstage and played them one of my songs. Although I was still in high school they managed to smuggle me into the bar and the rest of the night was a bit of a blur. The next thing I know I’m waking up in a tourbus two states away when I’m supposed to be in math class!”

Then at this year’s South By South West in Texas, Willy Mason found himself playing one of the most important gigs of his life.

“I had the worst slot and the worst venue and I was all bummed out because there were only three people in the audience. Then I get offstage and those three people come up to me and they were all talking in British accents. They said they were Radio 1 DJs and they’d like me to come in the next day and do a show (Zane Lowe‘s),” he pauses. “And here I am!”

© krissi Murison @NME July 2004

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