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Music |

Interview: The Mastersons

Friday 30 November 2012
Words Spindle

Playing with a legend most certainly has its perks for session musicians. For some, the chance at a full time gig amounts to job security that is hard to come by for some musicians. For others, exposure with a recognized artist means opening the door to more high-paying gigs recording and touring.

For the husband-and-wife duo of Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore known as The Mastersons, playing with Steve Earle has other benefits. For starters, although Masterson and Whitmore have played with a number of artists (with Masterson formerly working with Son Volt and Whitmore having toured with Regina Spektor and Diana Ross, just to name a few), backing Earle in the Dukes & Duchesses means that the two don’t have to spend so much time apart.

“I think the Steve gig is really hard to compare to anything else because Eleanor and I get to do it together,” Masterson says reflectively. “For the better part of our relationship, we spend it apart out on different people’s buses. It hasn’t been until this gig that we’ve been able to do that.”

“There’s a lot of freedom in Steve’s gig to add what we add and then to be featured as well. I’d have to rank that pretty high, because no other boss of mine has given us a platform together,” adds Whitmore.

Although it might seem inevitable that a married couple that performs together would record together, Masterson explains that the real reason the two released Birds Fly South is because their batch of songs seemed to fit together naturally. “It could be inevitable in that we were both were playing and recording on each others’ records,” says Masterson. “But what really set the ball rolling was having a pile of songs that sounded like they belonged in the same place more so than an idea of ‘Hey! It’d be real cute if we set up a boy-girl harmony band.’ It was really a pile of songs and we said, ‘This doesn’t sound like two separate records.’ It sounded like one entity.”

Even if the two aren’t household names as they record and tour with internationally known artists, their debut record, Birds Fly South (available now on New West Records), is sure to enjoy many repeat listens for those who stumble onto their lush sound. With its complex instrumentation, Birds Fly South is absolute gold for listeners who might enjoy pop songs with a focus on vocal harmonies.

Listen closely to the lyrics on the album and you might get the feeling that the domestic life of the couple is tumultuous. While many of the album’s songs like “One Word More” are darker and Whitmore sets the record straight when she insists that most of the songs on Birds Fly South are about fictional characters. “You just imagine a character suffering through an experience and that provides a storyline for you to write about,” Whitmore notes of their songwriting approach.

Having moved from Austin, Texas to New York, the couple has conflicting views on how their new living environment will influence the style of music they create. Although Whitmore finds New York a bit removed from the styles of music that they write and record, Chris notes that “what you hear from The Mastersons is a result of being a bit nomadic,” suggesting that geography doesn’t play as much of a factor as one might think. In any case, while the two might be far removed from the landscapes that may have inspired their sound, they seem bent on working hard to deliver high-quality songs to anyone who will listen. In short, the songs matter and everything else is simply up to interpretation.

When asked what’s next for the duo, Masterson and Whitmore note that another tour with Earle is in the works. Before hitting the road, though, the couple will be spending the winter perfecting songs at home before recording their second album. They’ll also be backing Eleanor’s sister, Bonnie, on her upcoming album as well. “Same cast, different stars,” says Eleanor of her and Masterson recording with her sister. For a couple that never seems to stop working, the grain of their voices (both on the record and in conversation) seem to indicate that they couldn’t be happier as they are when they’re working with one another. “Things are going quite well for us, and we say yes to everything,” Masterson is happy to note.

You can find out more about The Mastersons on their website or follow them on Twitter.

Words: Dan Mistich

Photo: Paul Robert Wright