Ben Mastwyk has just released his excellent solo LP Mornin Evenin and was kind enough to take the time to undergo our Six Strings Q&A. We discover the canine influence in his songwriting process, who he’d love to jam with and his favourite recent Americana album.
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of Americana music?
I actually sat in on the recording of a country record when I was about 14. My stepdad’s band transitioned from a kinda pop / rock band into what we would now call Americana. I saw them put some great country arrangements together and that really made an impression. I also grew up with Lucinda Williams’ self titled album on high rotation which was a big influence. Such incredible songs.
Describe your latest release in 100 words…
The songs came to me quickly, most of them while walking my dog around the Merri Creek. Each day I would set out and return home with another song. Most began with a fairly abstract image that I explored lyrically, typically with no idea what I was writing about until the second verse. I’d then try to write the song out with just the right amount of resolution to keep the meaning somewhat subjective. They all turned out to be about relationships. The recording process was kept loose. No rehearsals, just brilliant musicians and me directing the feel. I was shooting for warm, dusty, spacious and keeping it country.
What’s been the most memorable gig you’ve played and why?
The recent show at the Yarra felt alive. Like a space opened up and and we all went for a ride. Having all the Shotgun Wedding women (who sing on the record) and Ben Franz on steel just made it so lush. I believe that pedal steel plays all day in heaven.
How did you learn to play your instrument?
I’ve never had any lessons. A little picking through books and the odd You Tube video. I’m a pretty basic player; a feel guy. My trick is to surround myself with smoking guns and leave plenty of space.
What do you consider the finest song you’ve written and why?
I think at this stage I’d call it ‘Sing Her Back Home’. We’re referring to it as “codeine country”. It’s thick and dark and downbeat. And desperately sad with a few good hooks.
If you could sit-in with one other musician (living or dead) who would it be?
I’d love to burn one down with Willie.
Do you feel there is a strong folk/country music community in Australia and what does it need to grow?
The scene is incredible, particularly in Melbourne, which I put down to Triple R & PBS. If there were national broadcasters with this kind of support for local artists that could really support the market for touring and record sales.
What’s your favourite Americana release so far this year?
If I was forced to pick one it would probably be Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson. But I’d slip in Lucinda Williams’ Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. They’re both technically from last year but they’re still my albums of the year.
What are your musical plans over the next 12 months?
I’m always writing so I’ve already got a pile of new songs. This album was quite hi-fi in production so I’d like to flip it around and do something really low-fi. Low production. Raw. I’ve got a few ideas but I’m keeping them close to my chest.