Fireworks Magazine Online 79 - Interview with Mason Hill

The New Noise On The Hill: An interview with MASON HILL

Interview by Wolf Gant

Here at Fireworks / Rocktopia we pride ourselves on always being on the lookout for "The New Noise", but just occasionally, one band or two just takes you by the throat and demands your attention. One such band in the last year has been Glaswegian's Mason Hill, who have been winning competitions left, right and centre and picking up some very good responses along the way. So now, just a few days after their fabulous support to Inglorious at London's prestigious Islington Assembly Hall, London and their subsequent signing to Frontiers' Records, Wolf Gant sat down with guitarist James Bird and vocalist Scott Taylor to celebrate signing to Frontiers and that wonderful support.

Mason Hill Interview

Nice to speak to you guys. We're talking now as you've just recently signed to Frontiers Records and recently made your London debut supporting Inglorious...But, first, a little history.....You formed back in 2013, but the seeds of Mason Hill were planted as far back as 2008. What inspired you? Was it the new bands that were then making waves – your home town of Glasgow is certainly a hotbed of musical variety - or were you inspired more by the classic artists?

JAMES: "Well, Scott and I have been playing music together from pretty early on. We were basically put in the same music class when I moved to Glasgow from Derbyshire, and it just went from there. I think we were into more or less the same kinds of music that inspired us both; bands like Black Stone Cherry, right through to Alter Bridge; but we were also, at that point in time, into bands like Lamb Of God, so it was a very wide spectrum of different bands and styles. There was actually a band called Logan who were from Glasgow too. They were really making waves at that time."

Considering where the band has progressed to now, and the way you've achieved that (which we'll come to in a minute), where do we see you now in the overall picture of the band?

JAMES: "I think we're still improving. Right from when Scott and I created the band, and through time with Craig (McFetridge – Drums), Matt (Ward – Bass) and Marc (Montgomery – Guitar), it's always helped to progress the band overall. We're constantly improving our live performance as a unit, and from here on we just keep working towards getting better and better in order to take very opportunity coming our way."

SCOTT: "Totally agree. As the main songwriters, James and I just keep working on material, as the bigger picture needs to be the songs and how they work."

You started pretty much 'in house'; the two-pronged attack of an EP in 2015, and live shows; but which of these was to you the stronger priority?

JAMES: "Difficult to say. On one hand, we were a very new band lacking experience on the live performance side of things; but in order to get gigs, we needed the songs recorded to showcase ourselves. It's really hard to say which had the stronger priority but I think I'd need to say that the EP perhaps held the strongest priority."

SCOTT: "Great question Wolf! I agree with James that it's a very difficult choice, as both are just as important as each other, but I think I have to agree with James. Although the live performance is key, without the EP and the songs on that, we'd have never got this far."

The self-titled EP was just four tracks, so what was the criteria behind picking those, and which do you both feel sums you up the best?

JAMES: "I think it would be fair to say that we both feel "Survive" and "Where I Belong" sum us up the best. "Survive" has the hard hitting, heavy riff with a catchy chorus, and on the other hand, "Where I Belong" is the slow number, the one that pulls on your heart strings in a very genuine, authentic way. We wanted to have a balance of 3 hard rock songs with 1 'ballad' if you will, as it showcases our diversity, without taking away the fact we are a strong rock band."

Describe if you will, the feeling of actually standing in the studio, recording with a named producer such as Sandy Jones? Many young bands find it a daunting task and it isn't always the most successful?

JAMES: "Sandy is superb! We got on with him so well that it just made the experience so easy and so much fun to do. Scott and I had done 3 demos back when we had started the band, so we weren't entirely new to being in that environment, but it definitely had a lot of buzz behind it just knowing we were recording the debut EP."

SCOTT: "Speaking for myself personally, I was so excited to go into the studio and record with a named producer such as Sandy. As a band (myself, James and Craig were basically the band at the time), we took to it and loved being in the studio. Sandy's professionalism and skill just made the whole experience flow so easily. The EP has helped us so much so we can't thank him enough."

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Now let's talk about one specific trait that the band possesses that stands out for me, and that's the competitions you've entered (and won); The Highway To Hell – Hard Rock Hell Competition, and the Scottish Section of the Surface Festival Competition, which led to a gig at the 02 in London, being prime examples? What do you feel swung the judges in your favour and would you recommend other young bands go down the same route?

JAMES: "Well, we actually entered the Surface Festival Competition as our old band, prior to forming Mason Hill, but it was a key moment. At the time, we were just teenagers looking for gigs and crowds to play to, which that competition gave us. We ended up getting to the final and winning it, which led us to play the London 02 show!"

"I think what may have stood out to the judges at the time, is perhaps the fact that although we were always one of, if not the youngest guys throughout the competition, we were playing to the same standard as bands much older than us? I would only recommend something like that to young bands if they are just starting out and want some gigging experience."

"The Highway To Hell Competition however was quite different, as we did that last year after being asked to participate. Again, I'd say it's great for gigging experience, but it's really important as well, as there is so much networking availability at Hard Rock Hell, between the organisers and all of the bands involved...."

SCOTT: "For me, any competition that can help a young band reach a new audience is definitely something we would recommend. The Surface Festival basically taught me and James how to be professional musicians. Up until then, we had had very limited experience, so it taught us what it is to be around and involved in gigs of that professional nature. The Hard Rock Hell competition then was such a great opportunity for us to network with bands and those involved. Networking is such a key factor to music."

"I think what might have swung the judges, is the energy and excitement the band has, where the passion on stage is clearly visible."

Right, now, let's just pick a favourite track of ours to talk about in a bit more depth.... And, it's your favourite "Survive" you'll be glad to hear. Tell us where the ideas come from on that one and if that is 'typically' MH going forward?

JAMES: "I actually wrote the riff to this song when I was about 18 or something, and the chorus maybe when I was about 20. I had just kept it banked, as I knew it would prove handy some day in a song! Over time the rest of the music just came to me. I think the final part added to it was the bridge, just before the solo, which Scott just hummed at first!"

"For me, this is a really good example of the sound Mason Hill will have going forward. Whilst it maybe shows us to be youthful, it still has some basic fundamentals that give off a Mason Hill sound. We aren't closed off from evolving and maturing as we go along, but it's a really good 'entry point' if you like."

Any others you'd recommend people look out for live or recorded?

"I feel the best Mason Hill songs to check out now are the ones being written right now for the album! Unfortunately, there won't be much chance to check these out on-line until its release, but we will be testing them out at various gigs!"

Yes, those shows... You have quite a few prestigious live shows coming up (Winterstorm later in the year - again with people like Graham Bonnet, who I know you've played with already - and Wildfire next month to name just two), but given the album isn't due until Feb. 2018, what are your plans going forward for the rest of the year?

JAMES: "Well, we're not actually playing Wildfire this year, however we have some really great shows lined up, true. The show with Inglorious, at their album launch in London, was absolutely fantastic and I'm so happy we got that chance. We are appearing at the 'Boardie Walk Takeover' part of the Download Festival in a couple of weeks, then we have Planet Rock Stock at the end of the year, Winterstorm, and of course, our second headline show in our hometown on August 5th."

SCOTT: "Yeah, we do have a few prestigious shows coming up and it's a really exciting time! There are a few more in the pipeline we are excited about too, but aren't able to speak about them yet!"

"Our plans for the rest of the year are pretty much focused on writing the upcoming album, scrutinising every song and ensuring the detail and quality will be the highest we can give, to make sure we live up to the hype as we start this musical career!"

Sadly, this has to be back pretty fast, but please sum up where you guys are now? The management deal with Shock City has led to so many opportunities for you, and now of course, there's the Frontiers tie-in, which was announced just prior to that fabulous night with Inglorious? So, what are your realistic targets now do you feel?

SCOTT: "Well, as I've said, we will be focused mainly on making the record, but you're right. Our management deal with Shock City, and now the record deal with Frontiers are major assets to the progression of Mason Hill, and we will really continue to work together to keep the rise of the band going. We feel we now have a chance to show what we are about on a larger scale, so in my opinion, the journey is just beginning."

It's an oft used phrase in this business – "The Next Big Thing" – but I think, as anyone who witnessed the band the other week at the Inglorious show, or who took time at the last Ramblin' Man Fair to check the guys out will testify, this band do indeed have the key ingredients, i.e the songs; and do have the swagger and the grit in equal measures to succeed. So, if you see their name on a bill near you, then do go and have a butches. You will not regret it.

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