For fans of late 90s folktronica the name Steve Mason might ring a few bells as a former member of The Beta Band.
They were the kind of group that elicited rapturous praise from fellow musicians and serious music fans yet never quite made it into the mainstream consciousness.
Their closest brush came in a scene in cult film ‘High Fidelity’ when John Cusack’s record store owning character Rob says to his colleague: “I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band.”
He then starts playing lead track Dry The Rain, prompting all customers in the shop to start bobbing their heads. As predicted, he does sell the five copies.
After the band split in 2004 over their unhappiness with their final record, ‘Heroes to Zeros’ Mason has had an interesting time of it.
“It’s been a weird few years for me since The Beta Band finished,” he says.
“There have been different projects and then a monumental mental breakdown that led me to not want to make any music for a while.”
He says his first solo album as Steve Mason, 2010’s ‘Boys Outside’, was like starting over, and that he was lucky he managed to write it.
There was a time after The Beta Band when he was working on a building site, so he doesn’t seem to take anything for granted.
“In my head at least, there was a lot of pressure to follow up ‘Boys Outside’ with something very good,” he adds.
“That was hard, because I think ‘Boys Outside’ is a really good album, but eventually I managed it.
“It was also a bit of a gamble, because traditionally political concept albums don’t go down very well.”
He’s talking about ‘Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time’, released earlier this year.
Taking its name from a Buddhist proverb pertaining to easily distracted brains, it is, like he says, a political concept album, partly inspired by the riots of 2011.
“The album’s about the way this Government is picking on poor people and attempting to destroy those living on benefits or below the poverty line,” he says.
“They’re relentless and it’s horrific. Make no mistake, they’ll be coming after me and you soon enough. I can already feel the pinch.”
All the same, it’s been a good year for Mason, one in which he finally feels like he’s stepping out from the shadow cast by The Beta Band.
“I am very grateful that people still want to hear my music, so yes, I have been enjoying it a lot more this time than when I was in The Beta Band.
“I’m in the headspace where that’s possible.”