Longtime Philly singer-songwriter Cynthia G. Mason is ready to emerge back onto the scene after an eight-year hiatus. Mason, who was previously a mainstay on the local acoustic circuit, took some time off after 2007’s Quitter’s Claim to focus on her family. But, as she tells it, she started to “ache” for the need to create music again, and luckily for us, she’s returned with Cinematic Turn, her first EP since retreating from the music world. During a recent phone call, Mason shared details about her transition back into music and what’s so special about this album.
The Key: What’s different about your contacts in the music scene these days? What’s it like coming back after such a hiatus – have your connections in the scene moved on too?
Cynthia Mason: You know, some of them have, but surprisingly a lot of the people I knew that used to play music are still around, some have changed. They’re doing more work in social media, promoting – it was kind of a very welcoming thing, “Yeah, what are you doing now?” Some people are not doing it anymore, but I’ve been lucky enough to get advice from people who have been doing this while I’ve been away.
TK: What brought on the break from music?
CM: I definitely needed a break and I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, and then I had my daughter. Having a child is very distracting and takes up a lot of your time, and a lot of parents who play music bring their joy to music, and I wanted that. I wanted to be able to do that. Children have such a natural rhythm and melody – it’s a beautiful thing to watch. But when I picked up the guitar, I was still kind of drawn to sad corners in life – the doubts, the disappointments, the grieving process – things we still face even when we have children.
TK: What in particular are you enjoying this time around, that you didn’t [enjoy] as much when you left?
CM: Playing guitar was always very comforting. It was kind of a physical thing… I started to ache for it, like the way runners need to run. It [playing] just felt really good. I also wasn’t listening to any music for a long time – I had like a musical blackout for a while, it was very strange because music’s been a part of my life since I was a child, and when I started to listen to music again it was very fun! Everything I started to hear sounded good, it almost didn’t matter what it was. My daughter was just so surprised, so seeing that look on her face was also kind of worth it.
So, it felt different and it felt the same. I think I’ve just been really enjoying the process of playing and writing a lot more, that was always kind of touch and go. I would write in little spurts. I challenged myself, about a year ago, to start writing. I decided I’d give myself a month, and it became more of a discipline for me, which hasn’t been the case before. If I wasn’t done [with one song] I’d just start a new one. I’ve been talking to the young folks, and a lot of people are putting out EPs and putting out little bits of music at a time, which is better. I’m going to slow down a little bit with the writing while trying to promote this, but I would love not to take as long of a break next time.
TK: What has your experience working with Miner Street Recordings been like?
CM: Oh, so great. I had done a little backup vocals there over the years, and met Brian and Amy, and they’re just so kind and talented and I felt so comfortable there. It kind of occurred to me, ‘Hey I never made an album with Brian,’ and really respected him over the years. Since I’ve been away for so long I really needed someone to be organized for me and guide the whole process. So I contacted him maybe at the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014, and was like “Remember me from ten years ago?” He and I met for coffee and he told me what I’d missed over the past 10 years. He’s in my age demographic, so he and I knew a lot of the same people. I started to feel really comfortable about the idea of recording.
So I wrote some songs, and he was kind enough to find some time for me in December. We got together and Amy engineered it … and Brian would put the call out to see some musicians who were around and some happened to be people I was friends with. He was very good at guiding, keeping everything on schedule, made sure I didn’t lose it and get too nervous to complete the project…and it was just very fun.
TK: What difference do you hear in the music you’re making now? Does this album reflect more of who you are now, or do you feel as though it’s really similar to your older material?
CM: I hadn’t listened to the things I’ve done before in so long, and it’s so surprising because in some ways I feel very different, but then in some ways I’m exactly the same – I’m worried about the same things, but I’m different and I’m grown. But yeah, I mean, there’s some very specific songs, either something that’s happened over the past few years, or a mish mosh of things I’ve been thinking about over time, or observations – something that happened and kind of reflecting on it – the way I write seems to be similar, but it was so great to have the instrumentation that I have on the record, too.
TK: What’s it like returning to a completely different Philadelphia, so to speak?
CM: I’m 40 now, some of my friends became very successful and started to tour a lot and had really great careers and others stopped playing completely to raise families, or play a little bit and then not play a little bit. I am in touch with some friends who still play a little bit, in terms of going out a lot and hearing a lot of new music. I’ve really become completely removed, and then I started to observe from afar [what Philly’s like].
That’s been a joy to watch and hear about from people, how exciting Philadelphia is! You used to have to apologize for that [being from Philly], and people couldn’t wait to leave Philly. It was great to [go and] be around the twenty-somethings, and there was so much positivity and excitement about it. I [have] a maternal feeling about it- the pride, people want to be here, there’s a thriving creative scene, people are making all kinds of music in Philly. I did intentionally leave the grid for a while, but I understand it’s easier to connect if we use the Internet sometimes, and it’s been fun. It’s enjoyable.
I’m excited to play World Cafe Live for the record release; I have some nostalgia for places that aren’t open anymore. I’ve never played at Johnny Brenda’s – that was sort of the beginning of “Fishtown” [as it’s recognized now for its place in the music scene] when I left, during my pregnancy, and every neighborhood has its own personality. I’m working on some of that now. It would be great to keep the momentum going and play a little bit more, and hear some of the music out there now. I’ve been a little more open; it feels different to me when I’m out and talking to people about music. I think there’s a different attitude and I like it – it’s really nice to be around that energy
TK: What’s your favorite track from the record, if you’re able to pick one?
CM: Hmm, not necessarily “favorite,” but the song I released first , “Tell-Tale Song,” became the song we were focusing on at the end of recording; it was sticking out. We’ve been getting some good [feedback] from it – there’s some songs you’re not sure about, and then it just becomes something else, [and you’re] watching the songs grow. You’re like, “That necessarily wouldn’t have been one of my favorite songs,” but then it might have turned into something else. I’ve been working them out on my own a little bit since the recording, each one on its own, and they’re all kinds of fun to play for their own reasons. Some I would sort of strum with a pic, then strum with my fingers, and then put them in the left and the right, and they’ll turn out differently.
Cynthia Mason’s ‘Cinematic Turn’ will be released June 16. In the meantime, you can catch her record release show at World Cafe Live 8 p.m. May 27; details here.
Cynthia Mason, Miner Street Recordings, World Cafe Live