Steve Mason's Meet the Humans: Track-by-Track
Never one to shirk the big issues, Steve Mason meditates on love, death, UFO sightings and organising hen do's on his exceptional new LP, Meet the Humans
The lyrics from this were partly inspired by a friend of mine's eight-year-old son who told me how he and his friend had been sleeping out in the garden one night in a tent. His friend had got up in the night and saw a flying saucer in the sky. He called out to my friend's son but by the time he got out of the tent it had gone. I just imagined the aftermath of that for a kid. The trust you have at that age in things like police and government, then you grow up and you're sitting in front of a computer that knows when you have a toilet break and it tells your boss you have been away from your desk for longer than three minutes. From the wonder of the heavens to being a lab rat in ten years.
This was the first time in years I used my melodica in a song. I used to put it on everything – especially during King Biscuit Time – but then it sat like a lightsaber at the back of Obi-Wan’s sock drawer, waiting. This started out with a very soothing sweet vocal and very run-of-the-mill lyrics. I hated them but was a bit stumped on how to sort them out. If I don’t nail the lyrics as the song is being written, I find it very difficult to go back and write them on a different day. After trying a more aggressive vocal style out, the new words came pretty easy in the control room with Craig [Potter, of Elbow] hovering over the record button. I hate pressure but sometimes it's exactly what you need.
This started out as a weird country-and-western ballad about four years ago. I hated it, but I thought there was something in there somewhere. I had been hanging out with the drummer in a shoegaze band for a while and thought I could maybe invent a new genre. Classical Shoegaze. So I gave it a go, but the shoegaze bit is maybe too watered down. That will be cranked up for the gigs, I reckon. It's about boys and girls having relationships that don’t last. Are we really supposed to be together forever?! Such a strange concept. Quite a big production on this, especially when Joe Duddell brings his orchestra in against the distorted guitars. Classical Shoegaze. It’ll be over by June I reckon. The NME will ruin it.
"Crying on the dancefloor, that's what I like"
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For the first time on any album I've made I got the boys in my live band together in a rehearsal room and we played through some of the songs that were going to go on there, to see how they felt and sounded in real life rather than just listening to a demo. I’m sure most bands do this but it's not so easy for a solo artist. Because it was something I had not done for many, many years it was a bit of a revelation and a lot of fun. I’m not used to having fun so I had a double good time. There's a bit more Joe Duddell on this one, four horn players, all recorded live and double-tracked at Blueprint in Manchester. You don’t want to go overboard with that whole horn thing, though.
Very simple; I just tried to let this song do its thing and not throw a wall of sound at it. Sometimes you have to step back and let the thing run around the paddock on its own. Like a baby giraffe. Wobbly legs an’ all. It's a kind of hate song, I suppose. Wishing ill on someone who cracked your heart and hopes. It's not always a good idea to write these kind of things but I feel confident in my twisted misery. Some quite cutting things in here, but that's OK, as long as you cloak them a little. Better to open your heart and mind right up and let the bad poison out. As Cliff Richard might say.
To a Door
The death song! Grab your partner by the hand and get on the dancefloor. I just wonder what it's going to be like to die and be dead. It might be amazing. Nobody knows. I think maybe we have been sold a load of bullshit about death. Back in the olden days, people were not as frightened or squeamish about death as we all are now. I think eternal consciousness is entirely possible. But it's also just as likely that there is nothing; the computer programme just runs its course and fizzles out. Seems unlikely though, no? Considering humans have no idea what consciousness is or the nature of it, we seem very sure that there is nothing after the body dies. That's humans for you, though, no fucking idea what they are on about. I love this song, and the melodies. I'm very happy with it. The end section was written with a friend called Iain Archer and the backing vocal is Kristina Train.
Hardly Go Through
When Craig Potter – who produced the album – heard this he didn’t like the feel and drums I had used on the demo, so we tried a few things out with the band. I really like how it's ended up; just relentless pulsing, which is broken up by the strings in the chorus. And it just builds and builds. It was a Cameron to mix; to get the dynamics really hitting hard by the last chorus we had to start off very quiet. But not too quiet. Plus there is a hell of a lot going on: strings, guitars, bass, piano, vocals, delays, horns and many other things I can never ever, ever tell you about.
Through My Window
This is my home demo with no change made whatsoever. We did think about it but the atmosphere is perfect. My voice was real croaky like an old bullfrog and I liked that as well. You have to know when to leave things alone. It's a good break on the album swell from all the big songs and production. This was actually the first thing I recorded in my house after moving to Brighton. Maybe I was saying goodbye to Fife and the solitude I had left up there. Now I’m the party guy in Brighton. All the hen do’s come to me to organise their fun.
This one was also co-written with my pal Iain Archer. Writing songs with someone else is not something I have done for around 20 years really. I missed it very much but you have to do it with the right person. I had such a productive time with Iain; it was great, writing up in the bell tower of a church in North London. Like Quasimodo meets Veronica Lake via Jim Davidson on a good day. Iain is a vicar at the church so he always wants to put bits about some God or other in the songs. That's the only thing we fall out about. That and where kebab meat comes from. I'm very happy with the production on this; we nailed the harmonies in the chorus and the melody has just the right amount of 'Universal Wonderment' in it.
After we had recorded this with the band, it sounded like a pub rock song that no one wanted to hear. Very strange and very disappointing. I thought about scrapping it but we listened back to my demo (I demo every song fully at home) and realised I had used a loop of myself playing the drums. Just a four-bar loop, no actual live drums, so there was no dynamics from the kit at all. Everything else was rising and falling around the drums. That was the key. We made a new loop with my playing and praise Jesus in heaven and all his kebab-eating angels, it sorted it right oot. Nae bother. I suppose it's about the reality of writing songs about your own life, not just making shit up like Chris de Burgh does. If you live it, it's a tough thing. A bit like driving a ten-wheeler lorry in a blizzard on the A9. Southbound, obviously. Plenty of percussion on this: a cutlery drainer full of spoons, knives, forks and stolen plastic chopsticks, shaken by me.
Words in My Head
I think this started out as another moaning acoustic type of song, but I'd had enough of them so I put it through the B-Boy Trance Machine (don’t Google that) and when it came back out it had the required energy without losing the emotion. Again, praise Jesus. The vocals are from my demo. We tried to re-record them but the results were basically pish. I love using stuff from demos, though. Makes it very personal. I think at the gigs we are going to try and build this into an eight-headed Hydra machine of danceability. Crying on the dancefloor, that's what I like. Ain’t nothing but a heartache every day.