The GeeksverseMikey Mason: Comedy Rock Star

Mikey Mason: Comedy Rock Star
Published on Thursday, April 18, 2013 by
The Comixverse recently sat down with comedian and singer/songwriter Mikey Mason to talk about his new EP Storm Coming, a collection of original music inspired by Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods.

Geek. Fanboy. Comedy Rock Star.

Mikey Mason embodies all these things, and the combination makes for a pretty funny comedian and singer/songwriter. With several comedy albums under his belt, Mikey recently did a serious side project: Storm Coming, an EP inspired by Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods.

He took some time out to talk with us about the album, and you should listen to it, especially since he’s been kind enough to give us permission to embed it here, and you can listen while you read. It’s also available at his website for free (or donations, your choice). While you’re there, enjoy his comedy, too. There’s plenty there for everyone.

TheComixVerse:  Mikey, before we talk about your new EP, Storm Coming, let’s introduce you to any of our readers who may not be familiar with your work. You’re a Geek, a Fanboy, and a Comedy Rock Star. All of us here can relate to the first two, but tell us a bit about the third.

Mikey Mason: I’ve been a full-time standup comic for 4 years. When I started standup comedy, I was a middle manager at a real job, and I’d take days off to “go play comedy rock star.” Eventually I dropped down to part time there, and then quit. But I’ve never really taken the title seriously. It’s just a way to “brand” myself, help myself stand out from the other comedians, and it works because I’m a guitar act and (I’ve been told) what I do onstage is fairly distinctive.

TCV: Your music is fairly distinctive as well. Lots of comedy music acts that cater to the geek set have a lot of parodies in their body of work, but you seem to eschew those and focus on originals. Was that a conscious decision or just sort of a natural thing as you established your repertoire?

MM: I just don’t find them as creatively fulfilling as I do writing original songs. Writing a parody takes considerably less skill, talent, and work than writing a catchy, popular song. It is an opinion that many people who write parodies don’t want to hear expressed, because they think I’m judging them.

Look: I write the occasional parody too. It’s fun. But it’s WAYYYY less effort than writing an original song (even an original song that isn’t that great…)

Writing a song requires arranging chord structures, creating a melody, and writing lyrics. It involves tempo, mood, pacing, instrument choice, and even a sense of the theatrical. It requires creating a musical atmosphere that reinforces the lyrics and sets the tone of the piece, created from beats and notes and chords and rests, silence and volume, and shaping it into an aural sculpture using voices and instruments and equipment and performance techniques.

Writing a parody requires that you take a song where somebody else already did all of that and re-write the lyrics. That’s it. Done. A parody purposefully cashes in on someone else’s hard work and talent and the exposure of a popular song.

That being said, I enjoy good parodies. But I’m a musician at heart–an artist. I want to create, and parodies are less creation than they are modifications of existing works.

TCV:  I was planning to discuss your comedy records a bit more before bringing up Storm Coming, but your references to aural structure, musical atmosphere and the theatrical couldn’t have given me a better segue into it.

For an EP, it’s pretty neat how many different styles you’ve woven through it. The influences seem to be all over the place, from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, maybe some David Bowie, and classic Celtic drinking songs, while looping around on itself and tying itself back up in a neat, interconnected bow, much like American Gods itself. How did this one come about?

MM: I’ve been wanting to do some “serious” music for a while now. Not a lot, just enough to show myself I could do it as well as the comedy stuff I’m doing now…

Sometime in mid-January of last year, I started writing the song “Storm Coming.” I’d have probably written it and discarded it, but the idea came to do an album (or small collection) of songs inspired by American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and I started making lists and doing lyrical “sketches” of potential songs/topics to use in such an endeavor. The earliest list I’ve found is dated Jan 23, 2012.

Anyway… I decided to do this, get this out of my system so I could focus on the comedy again. Turned out that I liked the songs, so I put them out there with no set price (because they’re the musical equivalent of fan-fiction, in my eyes) and I’m back on the comedy path, now.

I approached the songs much like an author of fiction writing short stories or novellas. I used a lot of what I learned in my creative writing degree to create thematically cohesive lyrics that not only applied to specific instances in the novel, in certain cases, but also covered broader themes and elements that permeate the novel.

There are lots of songs I didn’t get the chance to finish and ideas I didn’t take a real pass at, but there’s time. I might record one now and then and tuck it in with the others… I might even let people know if and when I do something like that. (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, knowwhatImean?)

TCV: What was your technical process like? We’ve certainly come a long way from requiring a studio and massive rooms of equipment, but I’ve seen a few of your video blogs, and you’re just busting out tracks in hotel rooms now.

MM: Well… Writing was done in short bursts with my acoustic guitar, for the most part, except for “Keeper Of The Peace.” That was written in my head and performed via midi. There are chords there I’ve tried to figure out on the guitar, just to add a guitar track, but then gave up… I also tend to write by dictating into my phone while I’m driving. Usually this just generates lists of ideas, titles, subject matter, or whatever. Sometimes it gives me an entire line or two. In a rare instance, as is the case with “Believe,” I wrote the lyrics by dictating them into my phone while driving home from RavenCon in Richmond, VA.

As for recording techniques, I used a mix of mic-ing my acoustic guitar with a USB condenser mic and lining in directly to my soundboard through my effects pedal via a USB connector (which is what I did with my electric guitar and bass.) All of the vocals were via USB condenser mic. I don’t have an orchestra and I’m not a proficient drummer, so all of the alternate instrumentation and the drums were all midi. I’d do a rough mix to get levels, and then start adding effects (reverb, delay, additional distortion, amplifier modeling, etc…) I used a LOT of effects on this, far more than I do on my comedy recordings.

So, once the basic instrumentation of a track was laid down, I could pretty much do the rest of the work anywhere that was relatively quiet, so long as I had my computer with me. I recorded the vocals for “Carousel” and “Keeper Of The Peace”, and did much of the midi and arrangements of the two songs, in a hotel room in Fredericksburg, VA while I was on the road. Most of the recording, however, was done at my dining room table.

Normally, I write and record in my office–what I call my cave. I felt that a change in environment would help me obtain a shift in perspective for writing and recording. Ultimately, I don’t think it was necessary, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt the process, either.

All the sound effects, the Foley effects and subtle (or not so subtle) additions that add atmosphere and texture to the tracks were added in the mixing stages, right before mastering.

The last things I recorded were guitar the guitar solos for the “Ballad of Essie Tregowan” and “Storm Coming.” I’d initially planned to use a friend or two who are better players than me, but life gets in the way of these things and I was on a (self imposed) deadline, so I strapped up and did it myself. It felt awkward. I’m a rhythm guitarist. I did get what I was looking for, though, and I’m proud of the guitar work on both tracks, even though I know many other people who could’ve done it better. They simply weren’t available at the time.

Is this too much? I’ve bored everyone, haven’t I? You asked a question that I should’ve been inspiring and mysterious on, and I ruined the magic by being honest…

TCV: Comprehensive, maybe, but not boring. So much of this can seem like wizardry, so it’s always fun to get a look at the man behind the curtain. You mentioned lots of effects, more than on your comedy. How else did Storm Coming differ (aside from the obvious of one being comedy) from your normal process, or was it pretty much just a different application of the same skills? Was one more of a challenge or more rewarding than the other?

MM: It’s a much different experience, internally. My comedy stuff has to have an edge of commercialism to it, marketability to a wider audience, that the American Gods-inspired material simply wasn’t required to have, so I allowed myself to play with different styles, instrumentally and vocally, that I probably wouldn’t have opened myself to had I been eyeing the song(s) for a comedy market.

I feel much more free to create “art” when doing something like Storm Coming, which isn’t to say that I don’t find artistic merit in my comedic work, but more that it has more defined boundaries and expectations. It has to be, to some extent, funny. This material simply had to be relevant to the novel.

It was a different standard entirely.

Externally, the writing/recording processes are very similar, with the exception of the sound and style I’m aiming for, and which effects I’ll use to achieve that sound.

TCV: And that brings us back to your comedy. Care to tell us a little bit about what that wider audience can expect at a Mikey Mason show?

MM: Which show? At my “day job” (which is admittedly a dream job) I tell jokes to a wider audience: middle America, mostly. Let’s call this “Comedy Rock Star Mikey.”

As Comedy Rock Star Mikey, I hit the stage with a ton of energy and posturing, and play up my white trash roots, drawing on them for material. I weave in and out of songs and standup, one bit or song leading to another, the show being more of a cohesive whole than a series of individual songs and bits. I play with the audience (not making fun of them, but involving them in the show) and it’s very much not your average comedy show.

At cons or geek functions, when I’m doing the “geek show” I’m more of myself, like I am in real life. I’m still a ball of energy, I still wind from song to song, and bring everything I’ve learned from my 20+ years in comedy to the stage (while I’ve done standup since 2006, I’ve performed improv, sketch, and musical comedy since 1992.) I still play with my audience, but it’s more of a genuine interaction, more of a real connection than the other. We sing together, we laugh together, we rock together. I don’t have to draw tenuous or superficial connections, don’t have to sell the audience on an idea. We’re just all geeks and we celebrate that enthusiastically together.

I think I’m a bit more polished of a performer than many you see at cons (not always true, but generally so…) And even though I’m just being me, it’s more of a magnified me. When I’m onstage as the Comedy Rock Star, it’s a more narrowed focus, a caricature of the environment I grew up in, not who I am or even who I really was, but more a caricature of WHERE I was.

TCV: Sounds like a blast, especially the “geek show.” You’ve got a pretty busy schedule lined up for the next few months, in a variety of places, so hopefully everyone gets a chance to come out and see you.

Mikey, thanks a lot for taking time to talk with us today. I’ve taken up enough of your afternoon. Unless I’ve missed any glaring topic you’d like to cover, this is your last chance in this interview to be inspiring and mysterious…

MM: Nah. I’d rather be me. It’s more fun anyway. Thanks for talking with me!

One Response
    • I’ve seen his geek show a few times, and every time it was awesome! Definitely go see him if you can, and try out his music. I haven’t gotten to the American Gods album, yet, but his last two geek albums are phenomenal! My personal fav = “Me and Alan Moore’s Beard”

      He’ll be at Fear the Con in 2 weeks. It’s an awesome table-top RPG con in St. Louis. Google it. Come for the Mikey, stay for the gaming. :)

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