Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley and Brad Kopplin
We love the art that is created by the have-nots. We're lucky that the list is so long, though that's a double-edged statement that shouldn't be (thank you music thievery). Willy Mason, the Martha's Vineyard wonderboy who was befriended by Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst as a teenager and given a floor to squat on for a period of time by the same, is one of those have-nots, still worrying about making ends meet and living a life to its fullest. He, like the famous Hermann Hesse character Siddhartha, is on an epic journey to find himself, not feeling any need to careen into the answer. The dawning will come, give it fucking time, he says. Life is captious and garrulous. It's a mindbender, plain and simple and smartly, Mason is of the stripe that peels back the covers, asks a lot of whys - of himself and of the great conundrum. He's flannel wearing and red wine drinking. He's of the earth, the dust and is of the sipping straight from the bottle set. He is young enough to be carefree, but is such an old soul that his heart may be a grandfather clock, ticking majestically inside the bone and flesh.
His latest record, If The Oceans Get Rough, beckons to those minor defenses that are commissioned to stand against the howling and bitter winds out of doors, and empathizes with them. The insecurities that come out of his mouth are numerous, but the general theme of the record is one of gentle advice. Mason bucks himself up, regularly telling himself that even when the tunnel can't yet be seen, know young Willy, that there will be a light at the end of it. On "Save Myself," one of the most pivotal tracks on the album and a standout in this session with Nina Violet's viola and backing vocals, he sings about still seeking liberty after so much time, living in a country without history and -- when the lyrics get down to brass tacks, it's evident that he feels abandoned. The fit isn't right yet. It's a long way off. You picture Mason reading Twain on the weekends and not understanding an American culture of such muddy disgrace and neglect. He's clearly willing to labor if it means ultimate contentment. Going about your own happiness or the sometimes pie-in-the-sky pursuit of it and shucking any and all dependability on others to make it shine is his choice, and a wise one.