On the cover of Mason Porter’s new CD Thunder in the Valley stands a single and solemn buffalo, in said valley, surrounded by mountains. It looks the way Mason Porter sounds—like the soundtrack of every picture of a pastoral landscape you’ve ever seen. It evokes beans being cooked cowboy-style over an open fire by a guy named Cookie. It’s big jugs of bourbon marked with three Xs to warn of proof. This is bluegrass played by three guys from West Chester, and despite how old that sounds, they do a hell of a job. Mason Porter songwriters Joe D’Amico (mandolin, vocals) and Paul Wilkinson (guitar, vocals) took a pause from fingerpickin’ to talk to us about the many things that make that solemn buffalo inside them tick.
Road trips: ”I would often go on camping trips to the mountains in Virginia with my older brothers and sisters and my friends. The thick fog, wildlife and just not being able to see houses or buildings is something that totally blew my mind, and I fell in love with it immediately. Eventually on these trips I would discover Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Johnny Cash from buying discount cassette tapes at gas stations; music I might not have found in Philly.” J.D.
Relations and time: ”Memories, relations and temporality combine to provide a mass of material for songwriting. Memories of first seeing the ocean, or a scenic mountain range, or laying your eyes on the New York City skyline all have evoked a sense of wonder and awe at nature’s and man’s works. Relations between people have the ability to draw out emotions of the most exhilarating or gut-wrenching nature.” P.W.
Fairmount Park: ”There is a big section of Fairmount Park which makes its home in Overbrook where I grew up. It is almost entirely woods. Not just any old boring woods, but exciting woods filled with streams, tunnels, quarries, steep hills, massive rock formations and plenty of places to make a great fort when I was a kid. I spent a good chunk of my childhood exploring those woods. There was a huge freedom and sense of adventure there which undoubtedly influenced who I am a as a person and a songwriter.” J.D.
Easy Rider: ”The scene in Easy Rider when ‘Born to Be Wild’ is playing made making music a must.” P.W.
The American West: ”There is a frontier-era America theme that weaves in out of Thunder In The Valley. It’s a romantic time period for me and a lot of what or who Mason Porter is comes out of this fascination. ‘Snow Angel’ and ‘Delta Queen’ are very narrative and fictional, taking place in different times. Sharing the songwriting with Paul and Tim (Celfo, upright bass), we each take turns from this perspective as well as from more personal topics like ‘I Belong’ and ‘Nowhere.’” J.D.
Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus: ”We’re demanding creatures in a world that provides no meaning. Songwriting provides meaning: to express dimensions of life through the lens of song. Taking a particular situation where life punched you in the throat and expressing it through song in a way that is universal to others’ lives creates a connection between the music and the listener.” P.W.
The music of my family: ”As the youngest of seven kids in a musical family, I heard it all from baroque, classical, romantic periods, to the big bands and jazz standards, to the blues of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, to the Irish and Italian music, the Beatles, classic rock, jazz-fusion and a lot more. I guess I picked up on my own in the Nirvana era and kept listening to as much music as possible, later getting into folk, country and bluegrass.” J.D.
Sat., Feb 6, 10:30pm. $13-$15. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. 215.222.1400. worldcafelive.com
PW's Music Issue 2014