Shaun Mason has been making music as Dumb Angel for over a decade, something that initially started as a solo project that's become an ever-evolving and currently five-piece collective. Originally from Saskatoon in Western Canada, Mason is now based in Montreal and has released three albums as Dumb Angel.
The most recent of those, Broken Glass, came out three years ago yet has only received a vinyl release in Europe this month. Currently touring the UK alongside fellow Canadian outfit Praises, DiS caught up with Mason prior to Dumb Angel's visa-enforced stripped down show at Nottingham's intimate Chameleon venue.
DiS: This is your first time in Europe. How's the tour been so far?
Shaun Mason: It's been great. We started in Berlin which was on a Saturday so that was a great introduction to Europe. We played Madame Claude, which is a basement club where you go down several flights of stairs and it starts getting deeper and deeper. My guitar got lost in Zurich so I had to borrow one, but it was brilliant. Last night in Manchester was the quietest of the tour so far but we still had an awesome time. The venue was incredible and everybody was really supportive. The first five European shows have all been incredible so hopefully, it will continue! It's not ideal without the full band but we've played well at every show and taken something really good out of it. These shows we've booked have worked as a duo so far; hopefully next time we'll come back as a full band.
You've been releasing music as Dumb Angel for over ten years. When did the project start?
It's been a while. Ten years and this is our first time in Europe! It's hard to get to Europe from Western Canada. Before Dumb Angel I was playing in another group, more of a space rock/post-rock band. I just got tired of the group dynamic and wanted to try something on my own. I was getting bored of the genre and wanted to pursue something quieter, something more folk orientated and not with a band. Just focus on songwriting and learning the craft without having the safety net of a full band. Then through the years it's kind of grown into a band, although it's still fundamentally my project. Dumb Angel is a group with an ever-revolving cast of players.
Do you write everything yourself? Will Dumb Angel become more collaborative in time?
I guess I come from the Mark Kozelek school of songwriting; I generally write the songs on my own then present them to a group of people. It changes with every group of people as to how the songs turn out. So Broken Glass, the album I made in 2015 we're promoting now, involved a different cast of characters to the ones I'm playing with now. But I think it still stands up, even though the people I'm playing with now play the songs a lot differently to how they were originally recorded. It still captures the essence of what those songs are about.
So the songs on Broken Glass have changed considerably over the past three years?
I think they have. Songwriting is a living process for me, so the songs are always changing. In my mind at least. For example, the Dumb Angel set on this tour is just two guitarists; one electric and one acoustic plus one vocal. We were going to do a full band but then we had to adapt when three of the band members couldn't get visas in time. A really great example is the album that we're waiting to release next year. It's actually a self-titled older album that we've re-recorded and hopefully will be out in the spring of 2019. I think we exist in an interesting space - we're not governed by any label pressuring us into releasing material to suit them. Our friends Beliefs, for example, have a label but struggled to find a booking agent for their last record, and they exist in this space between being strangely marketable like Tame Impala yet also really uncompromising like My Bloody Valentine. Whereas I think we're a lot less obvious to people in both how we sound and what we're capable of. But at the same time, there's also a danger in doing things like we do because we're not easy to pigeonhole into one particular style or genre.
Why has it taken three years for Broken Glass to finally get a European release?
That's what happens when you don't have a publicist! When you live in Canada you really have to push hard to get your music heard elsewhere. It's not easily marketable, especially in a place like Canada. It's evolving, but things are still difficult. There isn't really a music industry in Western Canada where I'm from originally, so it becomes a challenge. We're fortunate the Canadian government has a number of funding organisations to help artists like us get off the ground but at the same time, you can't rely on that stuff so it's important to stay focused and push hard in whatever ways you can.
You're now based in Montreal. Was it an absolute necessity to move from Saskatoon in order to get your music heard by a wider audience?
Definitely. It really was. The internet helps when it comes to accessing music from that part of the country, but the bands who are getting recognised in Western Canada aren't really my thing. It's all very lowest common denominator stuff. So we fall outside of that scene, and Jesse (Praises) does too. She's based in Toronto, which has a lot of industry people there along with a great support system. Jess and I relate to each other in a lot of ways - when we write we're both coming from the same place musically and lyrically. It's tough, so if you want to go to Europe and the UK and nobody is going to pay your way you have to bite the bullet and do it yourself. It's a little stressful, but I also think there's something to be said about being in a band, getting on a plane, then jumping in a van and playing shows overseas. Things just happen, and 90% of it is about getting out there and playing.
What advice would you give to a new artist or band that's just starting out?
I would say you really have to hustle more than ever. You have to work so hard for good things to come. The industry is dissolving in a lot of ways so you've no one else to rely on. I see it and that scares me so it's more important than ever to just get out there and perform. To fill in an empty space and keep pushing. I went to an incredible festival at the end of August in New York and saw Mercury Rev play this incredible score to 'Carnival Of Souls' with Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth and Robyn Hitchcock, yet there were literally ten people in the crowd! When you see something like that so poorly attended it's terrifying but at the same time, it also justifies why they're doing it. It's a dip but I honestly believe things will pick up again. There's so much great music out there, so many great bands touring right now. You have to get out there and be a part of it.
Are there any new artists or bands you'd recommend for Drowned In Sound and its readers to check out?
SM: There are loads! For example, just in Saskatoon there's an incredible number of great bands. There's one called Caves. You should check out The Garrys as well. Obviously Praises who we're touring with right now are incredible. In fact, everybody on the Hand Drawn Dracula label are worth checking out. Like Tallies for example.