Key questions inspire the songs of a seasoned young American troubadour
Anyone who caught homegrown double Brit-Award winner Ben Howard on his UK tour last autumn would have enjoyed the privilege of an opening set from American troubadour Willy Mason.
The 28-year-old New Yorker will also be joining Totnes rising star Ben – presented with trophies for Best Breakthrough Act and Best British Male at the glittering televised ceremony on Wednesday evening – when he plays a string of sell-out Australian dates in April.
"There are so many good artists out there at the moment and we're all jumping around on each other's tours; it feels kind of old-fashioned in a way," says Willy, who will be special guest for Mumford and Sons, who just scooped the gong for Best British Group, on their United States dates later in the year.
In the meantime, Willy – who possesses one of those ageless, seasoned, folky voices – will be playing some headline shows of his own around the UK, including a date at Exeter Phoenix on Monday, March 4, and a bunch of European festivals, like the Goldcoast Ocean Fest at North Devon.
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In spite of his comparatively tender years, Willy already has three highly acclaimed studio albums under his belt. The most recent, Carry On, was released in December, his first record on Fiction Records, home to Elbow, The Maccabees and White Lies among many others.
Coming in the wake of his gold certified debut Where The Humans Eat, featuring the classic track Oxygen, and the progressive sound of his 2007 sophomore offering If The Ocean Gets Rough, Carry On has been five years in the making.
It is his most ambitious work to date. Elements of dub and reggae infuse themselves seamlessly with guitar, low strings, and Willy's deep vocals to deliver songs awash with hope, disillusionment, love and lost connections.
He has been writing songs, playing and touring pretty much non-stop for the past ten years – everything from intimate house concerts to arenas.
"It can be the best thing in the world... and it can be quite miserable. You are constantly walking on a tightrope and you don't want to look down," confesses Willy, who has music in his blood.
He grew up in his mother's home Martha's Vineyard.
"We didn't listen to a lot of recorded music at home, but there was live music going on all the time; there were always guitar lying around the house. I loved it – it was fun," he recalls.
"My mum was writing songs all the time, playing gigs around town and recording. For her first album my brother and I were in the studio with a Little Rascals boxset as our babysitter. I remember one day picking up a guitar and coming up with a little riff – there was no avoiding it really."
In high school Willy became inspired by cultural analysis in an English class – questioning what makes people act the way they do. That has been his inspiration ever since.
"I get excited about a moment when you put two questions together and come up with an answer. And I thought that if I can put that into my songwriting, I might have something original to say. I try to make poetry, create shades and a mood and people can read what they want into it."