No-one could ever dispute Mason Rack’s work ethic. Sometimes driving 2500km in a weekend to get to gigs, this man knows what it’s like to be a full-time musician – something he’s been for more than 15 years.
He was a bricklayer before that – and “not a good one” in his own words. But once he found music, and he was able to throw in the trowel [sorry J], he never looked back. Although that simplifies Mason’s story somewhat. Because in the mix, there’s also Mason’s early drug addiction and hopelessness, prison and violence and finally recovery and long-term sobriety.
“I’m 17 years sober,” he tells me, sitting at the Dust Temple in Currumbin.
“I attended 12-step groups and that gives me the foundation to be OK anywhere, with anything, anytime,” Mason said.
“I still go to meetings, even when I’m on the road. But if I’m somewhere and someone gives me some kind of contraband, I gradually accept it, smile and say thank you and then give it to others.”
The life of a touring musician is hard enough without throwing recovery from addiction in the mix.
“You get no sleep and you just do gig after gig after gig after gig, and they’re all free pub gigs, which is great and fun and it pays the bills and it gets us overseas, but that’s all it can do,” Mason said.
And that line of thinking is the catalyst for what I feel is going to be some kind of Mason Rack rebirth. When we speak, he’s been spending time in the studio with Brad Hosking (Blind Boy Studios) on his first new music in two years. Mason’s first ever single, called ‘Time Again’ and due for release 9 February follows six full-length albums, two of which are live and two DVDs, one of which Mason says was “terrible”.
He’s looking strategically at how and when he gigs, where he tours and how he markets his music. Big moves for a very hands-on and grassroots musician. Mason is also pretty excited about how different this single will be from previous releases.
“I want to make something that lasts forever, so it needs to be the strongest that it’s ever been,” he said. And when he says strong he’s talking about all of the song’s elements – songwriting, instrumentation and also the quality of the studio it’s recorded in.
“It’s about very little compromise, and not having a strict timeline to finish.”
Previous Mason Rack projects have been recorded under time and financial constraints and Mason says he’s spent a lot of time saying “that will do”, something he just can’t bring himself to accept any longer.
“I’m tired of that,” he said. “It kills a little bit inside of me. My musical genie inside goes ‘ohhhh, another stab to the heart.’ I say it will do and my heart says ‘no it won’t’.”
While the three-piece spend most weekends driving up and down the Bruce / Pacific Highways playing free pub gigs, they’ve also made a massive name for themselves outside of the Gold Coast. They’ve played a heap of big festivals in Germany, Italy and Canada and delivered six headlining tours of Europe and Canada. Not to mention their Australian festival roster which includes Byron Bluesfest, Blues on Broadbeach, Gympie Muster, Adelaide International Guitar Festival, Woodford and regional festivals in Caloundra, Airlie Beach Queenscliff, Bridgetown and the Big Pineapple. 2018 will see the band tour Canada again for the first time in five years.
If you haven’t seen the band perform live, you should know that Mason Rack Band are infamous for their live drum duels, onstage antics and signature stage show which includes a percussion extravaganza on beer kegs.
“The show is very left of centre,” Mason explained.
If you’re a jazz person, you’re going to like some of the songs, if you’re a country person you’ll like some of them, if you’re into blues or rock, you’ll like some of them, it’s a kaleidoscope of musical fun.
Which goes some way to explain how the Gold Coast band has been booked for blues, country and folk festivals – sometimes in the same year.
It’s a far cry from Mason’s previous life, but not totally unexpected. Mason’s father Billy Rack was also a well known Gold Coast musician.
“He performed a lot of stuff over the years,” Mason said, “contemporary lounge to jazz – he started out on drums when he was young in Melbourne and played bass guitar and sang.”
“I started playing with him in a little restaurant in Palm Beach called Ron Romans on 8th avenue. There was a puppet show down there – an amazing variety show – just run by one person – kids were entertained for the whole night without their parents being worried about where they were or what they did and come 9.30 they’d line up three chairs and the kids would fall asleep at the table and then dad would play ‘kissy kissy’ music for the mums and dads, who’d have a smooch and a slow dance on the dance-floor. The place was booked out for seven years.”
“During the day dad ran a surf school and surfboard hire at Greenmount beach – I started surfing when I was four and playing percussion when I was five. So Greenmount and the surf was my babysitter.”
“I dropped my wife and kids at beach just now, to come here, and I can remember what my dad would have done. He would have said ‘listen for the whistle’ and he’d come down to pick me up and he’d whistle and I’d come running.”
“He was a super beautiful person, and kind-hearted to a fault – he’d literally give you the shirt off his back, take people off the street and give them a meal and a job if he could. I lived on his floor for years sometimes when I was going through stuff. The bedroom had people in it who were worse off than me and the fridge was usually empty but everyone got a meal. He was an incredible person,” Mason said.
Mason’s connection to the Gold Coast runs deep. A previous Surfers Paradise State School and Miami High School student, he fondly remembers those venues of old – Playroom and The Patch in particular – and holds a special place in his heart for Blues on Broadbeach.
“I think I’ve played every one except last year ,” he said. “It’s a really special event. It’s free and yeah, the crowd, I wish the same crowd just came and saw us at our normal gigs.”
We have so many people all around Australia who say they saw us at Blues on Broadbeach.
“We could be in bum fuck nowhere, and they’ll say they saw us at Blues on Broadbeach last year and we say ‘will you be there next year’ and they’ll say yeah, we’ll see you there.”
And the highlight of Mason’s entire career “apart from my beautiful children and wife” is playing on the main stage at Blues on Broadbeach before Eric Burdon.
“That guy,” says Mason with a big grin on his face, “I had his tape before I was playing live properly and I tried to learn every song and two of the songs we still do in our show. It just so happened we did the gig just before Eric Burdon.”
“I used to fantasise about stuff that’s now come true… like making a CD, making a living from music, touring internationally, touring at all… Europe and festivals and Bluesfest, these sorts of things were out of the box drams – they felt a long way away, they felt a lifetime away.”
So what comes next for Mason?
“I have a new daughter, she’s 19 months old and stupid amazing, it’s just ridiculously utopic, she’s the core of my universe,” he said.
“And then the next level is concentrating on songwriting and delivering monster success through that – meaning hits – being able to tour six months of the year (globally) and the other six months of the year helping my wife with her idea for an animal rescue retreat and drug and alcohol rehab centre,” he said.
“The music is great and I don’t think I could ever stop playing music – particularly for people. But, all said and done, my life goal would be for music to provide us with an animal rescue and drug rehab centre – we just need 100 acres at the back of the GC.”
“The other thing for me that’s super important is our dreams – our dreams need to be our fuel – our dreams propel us. It’s easy to just sit in comfort and have a latte and watch the Simpsons – that’s easy. But getting up and having a crack at having the biggest dream you’ve ever had, why not? I don’t want to get at the end of my life and think ‘what if?’, I want to get there beaten, battered and bruised saying ‘yeah I gave it a good crack and gave it everything back’.”
And what does Mason think would have happened if he didn’t get sober?
“I’d probably be dead,” he said.
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Mason’s first ever single ‘Time Again’ is out 9 Feb prior to a show at Cooly Hotel on 11 Feb. Mason Rack Band appears at Blues on Broadbeach and a new album recorded with Brad Hosking is out soon. Mason also is happy to hear from other musicians who feel the need to reach out, for any reason. They can contact him through his FB page.
IMAGE (c) Lamp Photography