Communion, co-founded by Mumford & Sons bassist Ben Lovett, has been a rising force in the UK and have recently begun to move more aggressively into the American market. On Sept. 19, they hosted a party for attendees of the Americana Music Festival called Communion Presents. One of the most prominent rising musicians being featured at this showcase is Willy Mason. Mason is an American who has found a lot of success abroad but has had trouble catching on in his home country. That changed recently when Mason signed to Communion Records and got selected to serve as the opening act for several stops of Mumford & Sons Gentlemen of the Road tour. Now with the buzz from Gentlemen of the Road and a new album, “Carry On” just released, Mason seems poised to finally break through on native soil. We caught up with Willy backstage at the Downtown Presbyterian Church just before Communion Presents to discuss his new album and his work with Communion.
You're signed to Communion Records for your new album and I know they have a little bit different model than most labels. Can you tell me a little about that?
Well, we just put the record out together a couple of weeks ago, but I know coming from their background of putting on shows and treating musicians well and making sure everyone's taken care of, there's a lot of attention to detail and a lot of consideration of the stresses of touring.
You've been touring a lot lately, including a lot of work overseas. How do you compare audiences there to over here?
They're bigger over there for me. They're a lot bigger. You know how it goes when people get into a groove, they go crazy. I guess that's just how music has gone throughout history. I know a lot of blues guys went to Britain to tour. I think that, especially when you're looking a traditional genres of music like folk and bluegrass and gospel, people here grow up with it and they have an appreciation for it, but they're used to it being around. But when you put that music on a stage and have people pay for a ticket, it's sort of like putting it in a display case. So I guess it makes more sense to do that someplace where it's a spectacle than a region when it's just a daily thing.
You just released your new album “Carry On”, produced by Dan Carey. Can you tell me about working with him?
That was great. I got to know Dan through a mutual friend and found he had a very similar approach to recording, very haphazard and wild. We really didn't have any idea what we were going to do going in. We had a couple of set things and I had some songs worked out, but we just went in and chose the instruments and then just let the music carry us.
Once you finish up at the Americana Festival, what do you have next?
I've got about a week off. I'm flying home tomorrow. Then I'm back out with my first show in New York City and then I'll be on tour until the end of November. I've got a couple of my own shows then I'm going out with Laura Marling for about a month. I've toured with her a couple of times before.
One final question about tonight because the show is kind of an unusual venue, what are your first impressions of the Downtown Presbyterian Church?
The sound here is amazing. It's going to be a great show tonight just because of the reverberations of the room. It's a very unusual looking church. I love the decorations. I'd like to hear the story on that sometime.
In addition to Mason, also performing in the Communion Presents showcase were Black Prarie, Bear's Den, The Lone Bellow, and Justin Townes Earle. Click the slide show to see pictures from the event.