Beta Band member and Britpop legend Steve Mason talks about his newest record ahead of his appearance at this year's TRNSMT
One thing's for sure, there's no danger of Steve Mason calling About the Light 'fucking awful'. Those were the words he used to 'hype' up The Beta Band's debut studio album in 1999. His fourth full-length record under his own name exudes confidence. 'I think I got to the point where I really wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing it on my own,' he says. After a fruitful decade, the point, you sense, has now been made.
About the Light is Mason's first release since relocating from Fife to Brighton. It's also, by design, the most band-centric record of his solo career. 'I just wanted to make something that was really exciting to play live and that was exciting to listen to on record,' he says, explaining that he'd started to find himself 'bored' when working alone. 'In order to do that, you need to have an uplifting time making it and writing it, and to feel the power of four people and the excitement of writing new parts.'
Helmed by Britpop super-producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur and The Cranberries), About the Light is a record characterised by horns and backing singers, an extra dimension that Mason wanted to bring into the mix from the word go. 'The strange thing is that I hadn't actually worked before with a producer whose records I own,' he explains. 'I was wary of working with a producer who was too big and worried they would take away the DIY element I love and get too professional. I guess it's part of a new thing I'm trying of pushing it and working with the best people you can get.'
Talking to Mason, you wonder if his changing circumstances (since moving to Brighton he's married and become a father for the first time) are responsible for a renewed focus and apparent desire to seize the day. But while he acknowledges he's in a good place now, he recalls a 'rollercoaster year' in the build up to About the Light's release. 'When I wrote this record my wife and I had just found out that we were gonna have a baby,' he says. 'That whole year was just quite mad; I had some other much more sad things going on with my family [Mason lost his stepmother to cancer].'
He stops to think, briefly, before adding, 'maybe it became a release; when the four or five of us got in the studio we were trying to build this thing that would protect us, a little world that didn't have all this going on. Even the good things, like getting married, can be fucking stressful as hell, especially when you're trying to organise a wedding in four months: it's mental! And then obviously at the back of your mind, you're thinking "I'm gonna be a dad, I'm gonna be a dad". I was ready for that and really excited about it but it's a lot of pressure. You start to think "am I an adult now?"'
It's a ride that he's enjoying though, and his relocation is a big part of that. 'I was living in a cottage in the woods near St Andrews, and it was great,' he says. 'The whole house was a recording studio so I was making music all the time. I came off tour, walked into the cottage and had this moment of clarity that I could blink and be 50 years old and be this little weirdo living in the woods on his own. So I just thought now's the time to try and do something about this.'
Touring throughout 2019, Mason is making some festival appearances this summer, including a return to one of his favourites, Green Man in Wales and – after a few appearances at T in the Park – a debut show at TRNSMT on Glasgow Green. 'Most of my memories are of the punters,' he says of the old festival. 'You'd see these guys who'd nicked a shopping trolley, pushing it towards the site loaded with a massive carry-out on the Friday morning. It did get a bit out of hand at points but I had some very good times there.'
Just don't expect a Beta Band reunion anytime soon. I ask Mason about last year's 20th anniversary re-release of his old band's seminal breakthrough The Three EPs. Did he dig it out for old times' sake? He gives another of those warm laughs that appear so frequently throughout our conversation. 'No, I didn't. They did a great job repackaging it but I didn't listen to any of it. I was in the middle of writing and recording About the Light. I'm sure I'll go back to it. One day.' For now, Steve Mason is only looking forward.
After taking over where T in the Park left off, TRNSMT returns. The line-up for 2019 will be headed by Stormzy, Gerry Cinnamon, Years & Years, Example, Catfish and the Bottlemen, George Ezra, Circa Waves and more.