Garbage Greek’s Lee Mason goes it alone (sort of) with new solo LP

The new album from L.A. Mason, out digitally now, collects songs written over the past decade and features the contributions of longtime musical collaborators Jason Winner and Patrick Koch.
Lee Mason
Lee MasonCourtesy the musician

The first words on the new record from L.A. Mason, the solo guise of Garbage Greek’s Lee Mason, are, “Give me some status,” a line I heard on initial spins as, “Give me some static.”

The latter would have served as an appropriate introduction to the LP, which, as with Garbage Greek and Mason’s other band, Comrade Question, frequently centers on scuzzy, reverb-laden guitars that tend to sound as if they’re being filtered through a rusty sieve. 

“I had gone to Secret Studio, and [recording engineer] Keith [Hanlon] had an amp there that sounded great, so I went and traded mine in and bought the same model he had,” Mason said in late April. “And at first, I had the distortion turned all the way up, and I was just having a lot of fun with that kind of thing. … And now it’s been three years, and I don’t have the distortion up nearly as loud. It’s like, what was I doing? Well, what I was doing was messing around with an amp I had never really used before and seeing what it could do.”

The songs on L.A. Mason’s eponymous debut tread familiar sonic ground for the musician, steeped in a buzzing mix of the 1960s British Invasion, rock and soul records Mason absorbed listening to his dad’s record collection growing up. Befitting a solo debut, a handful of the songs center on isolation, Mason inhabiting narrators who navigate the aftermath of splits (the shaggy, shuffling “Broken Hearted”), struggle with feelings of loneliness (“Thinking About You”), and pine for lovers who have moved on and left them behind (“Gone”).

Mason described these solitary reverberations as circumstantial – “Thinking About You” emerged from efforts to write a pining, Temptations-esque love song, while “Gone” was adapted from a murder ballad. At the same time, the musician conceded that a number of these songs emerged from a point in time nearly a decade back, well before he met and married his partner, Rachael.

“Around that time, I was single, so it makes sense that those themes of loneliness or of relationships and wanting someone were all just sort of there,” Mason said. “Going back and revisiting anything like that, you feel nervous putting it out into the world, because it’s like, well, shit, some of this is very personal.”

Though billed as a solo record, Mason’s Garbage Greek bandmates Jason Winner (drums) and Patrick Koch (bass) give the tunes added punch – their additions coming at the suggestion of Mason’s wife, who, after listening to early versions of the songs Mason recorded on his own, told him that the demos sounded great. “And I was like, ‘Oh, no, no. This is the actual thing,’” Mason said, and laughed. “And she was like, ‘You should probably call up Jason and Patrick and go and do this in the studio.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, fair.’”

Recorded at Secret Studio over a pair of days in 2021, the record reverberates with a chemistry the three have honed over nearly a decade of making music with one another, first in Comrade Question and more recently in the comparatively primitive Garbage Greek. “It’s just funny that I created this so that I wouldn’t have to rely on Jason and Patrick,” Mason said, “and now they’re most likely going to be in the band.”

The songs on L.A. Mason were compiled over more than a decade, a stretch of time in which Mason went from a single musician who wanted little more than to create relentlessly to a married man more content to take things as they come. “I didn’t really start playing until I was in my mid-20s, and so I felt like I was behind, and I wanted to do what a lot of independent garage bands were doing and just keep releasing music,” he said. “I just wanted to write music, and I guess subconsciously there was this fear of death and an idea that I might not have a lot of time, so I better see what I can do now.”

This idea, Mason said, was informed in part by the death of a cousin who was hit and killed by a drunk driver while riding his bike at age 20, embedding in the musician the idea that we have no control over when it’s our time to go. “He was my younger cousin, and that one just rocked our whole family,” he said of the tragedy, which obliterated the idea of invincibility that many carry in their early to mid-20s.

In more recent years, this relentless push Mason felt to create, and which he said could lead to deep feelings of guilt in those instances he tried to carve out time away from music, has settled into something more sustainable. “Now, it’s a little bit different. … I like playing songs, and creating with my friends,” Mason said. “I guess I’m just more laid back about it. And I’m able to enjoy it a little more as opposed to always thinking that I’m not doing enough.”

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