Steve Mason - Black Affair
The Beta Band are dead, King Biscuit Time has been offed, Black Affair is here. The elusive Steve Mason refuses to sit still musically as Malcolm Jack discovers
The last many people will remember hearing of Steve Mason was when, in April 2006, he prompted much head scratching amongst the press by cancelling a nationwide tour with his post-Beta Band project King Biscuit Time, before leaving a curiously oblique message on his MySpace profile: ‘Peace to you all. I’m out of here . . . Over and out.’
It was assumed that he intended to quit the music industry. In reality, Mason – who has previously described himself as a ‘reclusive, depressive maniac’ – was on the verge of quitting something much more serious. ‘It was more life,’ he admits, with a hearty chuckle, as firm an indication as any that his horizons have brightened somewhat since those dark, doomy days. ‘Luckily I had some good people around me at that time,’ he adds, ‘and I got over it. I’m still trying to push forward into the ether.’
The enigmatic Fife-based musician returns to the limelight this month with debut album Pleasure Pressure Point from his newest endeavour Black Affair. Rooted in 80s hip hop, new jack swing, old school house and classic electronica, it harnesses tightly wound programmed drum beats, razor sharp synth lines and simmering sexual undertones to create an engrossing pop record with an infectiously clubby feel.
The album’s release is the culmination of a two-year period of creative re-genesis for Mason. ‘To me, King Biscuit Time felt like something that someone the band I was in would do after they’d been in that band,’ he explains. ‘I’ve always kind of thought of myself as an artist really before a musician, and artists never rest on previous works. The things I’d done in that band were always about pushing things forward and trying to do things we’d never done before. So, really Black Affair is just an extension of that.
‘I wanted the challenge of making entirely electronic pop music really, something I’d never really done before. It gave me a chance to go back and listen to a lot of records I hadn’t heard for a long time: Montell Jordan, Blackstreet, Bell Biv DeVoe. I wanted to do something brand new and exciting.’
The Beta Band, who split in 2004 saddled with hefty debts to their record label, remain a touchy subject for Mason – he insists there’s ‘no discontent from that period’ but never once mentions them by name throughout our conversation, referring to them only as ‘that band’. His stance on their material has evidently softened of late however. At the Fence Collective’s Homegame festival in Anstruther last April, he played a solo set featuring a number of the influential folk-hop outfit’s best loved numbers, including the seminal ‘Dry the Rain’. It was a special moment.
‘That was for those people that go to there, because a lot of those songs really influenced that scene,’ Mason explains. ‘I just thought it would be a really nice thing to do. It felt like the right time to do it.’
He scoffs, however, when I ask him if he intends to wrap any of The Beta Band’s material into Black Affair shows. ‘Fuck no!’ Mason proclaims, laughing. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. With this, I’m putting as much distance between me and the past as is humanly possible.’
The GRV, Edinburgh Sat 12 Jul.