BY JULIA CIRIGNANO
Dan Masterson is a Boston based singer/songwriter who is best known for his emotion driven, pop/rock music. On October 15th, Masterson won The Last Band Standing Competition, hosted by New England Music Awards that featured nearly 200 acts from across New England.
Masterson sat down with Limelight Magazine to discuss his recent win. He talked about the competition which was hosted at The Hard Rock Café in Boston and his gratitude towards his band, fans, and the judges.
“The band and I are really proud to have won and we’re excited for the opportunity that comes along with the prizes of studio time and promotion,” Masterson said. “Especially because so many great acts competed (not just at the final round but in the preliminary rounds) we feel lucky to have made it. A few judges who had seen us perform before said we were far more polished and comfortable at this show. I credit that to my bandmates who have been playing out with me now for around two years and to our friends who come through again and again, singing along at the show.”
Masterson spoke about how he met the other three band members Alec Gaston, Matt Silva, and Jamie Howell.
“I met Matthew Silva (bass, vocals) when he responded to a Craigslist ad,” Masterson said. “I’m always very specific in Craigslist ads for bandmates. I think I referenced James Jamerson and a few other bass players I really like so I could find the best match. It’s a tricky business using Craigslist but [Silva] knew all the names, understood the vibe, and was a great fit.”
“Alec Gaston (guitar, vocals) I met in the middle of one of his solo cover gigs in the basement of the Harvard Square Tasty Burge,” he continued. “I stumbled in just to kill some time and grab a bite. There were maybe five people in the room and he was laying it all out, like he was determined to melt those five faces. When he took a break, I introduced myself, asked him if he’d be interested in checking out my group and possibly joining up.”
“Jamie Howell (drums) came on board about six months ago after Alec suggested he join up. Alec and Jamie also played together in a Brooklyn-based group called Chameleon Culture so the transition was very smooth.”
These four band members form a tight knit band family and have continued to refine their music ever since meeting. Masterson spoke about the experience of playing with his band during the competition.
“The Hard Rock Café has one of the best sound systems in Boston and a great staff and vibe to go with it,” Masterson said. “I’ve had the pleasure of playing there five or six times in the last few years and every time our friends are excited to come to the show because they know it’s going to sound good.”
During the competition, Masterson performed several of his original pop/rock songs and a cover of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” He explained why he chose each song he performed, showing just how much thought really goes into picking a playlist.
“In a showcase/competition scenario, we have a relatively short amount of time to both entertain the crowd and impress the judges,” Masterson said. “We knew that ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ got great feedback from a recent benefit show we did at Oberon so we decided that would be the cover tune for both rounds. We also rolled out a brand new arrangement of ‘Helpless’ at the first round, which gave our fans something fresh and showed the judges we had some versatility to our sound.”
“For the final round, we went for all the crowd pleasers — the songs that have been popular on Spotify and Pandora like ‘Learn To Live’ and ‘Slow Burn’. We put ‘Atlas’ last at the final because it has a fun bridge that the audience likes to sing along with. These are all things we’ve learned by playing shows, watching footage from the gigs, and thinking critically about how we can constantly engage with the audience,” he continued.
Masterson’s prize for winning the competition included studio time at three recording studios. He talked about how excited he is to record especially at Rocking Horse Studio in Pittsfield, N.H., with producer Brian Coombes.
“We already had some plans in the works for recording new music so to some extent we’re planning to hold that studio time in our back pocket for when it’s most needed,” Masterson explained. “I have chatted with Alex Allinson at the Bridge Sound & Stage (in Cambridge, Mass.) about doing something really special for our biggest supporters but I don’t want to let the genie out of the bottle too soon. Your readers will have to jump on my e-mail list to find out!”
Masterson released his first album in 2011 title The Father Time. He explained the copious ways in which he has evolved since his debut album.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with several professional engineers and producers since that release and I’ve played tons of venues both solo and with my band,” he said. “I’ve played to audiences of all sizes on instruments of varying quality with sound systems of even more varying quality. All of those experiences reform how we arrange a song, how I play a song, and future writing. Most importantly, I think I’ve learned that the only way to really improve your craft is to work with musicians who are more talented than you, engineers that are more knowledgeable than you, and producers who are more experienced than you.”
Masterson released his most recent album Atlas in April of 2015 and has plans to work on new music soon.
“We’re definitely itching to get back in the studio and put some new tunes down,” he said. “I’m excited to be working through the preliminary stages of a new project with Boston Music Award winner Dave Brophy. I don’t want to let the genie out of the bottle too soon but we have some exciting plans that involve new music coming your way at the start of 2017.”
Masterson is known for his emotional performances both live and on his albums. His music is first and foremost piano driven pop/rock which is evident within his exceptional performances. Masterson said that his favorite part of performing is the “connection the music fosters between people and the ability of songs to reach people.”
“It’s great to look out from the stage and see friends meeting new people,” he said. “It’s energizing and inspiring to hear from fans after a set that a certain song helped them through a breakup or a tough move or some other life stressor. There are also these moments where the whole band vibes and plays off one another in a really indescribable, improvisational way. Those moments are thrilling and keep the songs alive.”
While Masterson’s ability to produce emotional performances has it pros, it also has its cons. He talked about how he deals with being open and honest all of the time.
“I always remember that even though I’m drawing on my personal experiences and personal emotions (which can leave me feeling exposed for sure) these are often universal feelings: rejection, existentialism, financial stress, jealousy, heartbreak,” he began. “Sometimes, I’ll start off writing a song that’s very personal but fictionalize or embellish the story to make it slightly more compelling or more relatable. Putting emotion into a performance is essential to me.”
“It’s great that fans turn to these songs because they are raw, open, and relatable,” Masterson continued. “It’s also great to perform the tunes with a full band because we can enhance the dramatic nature of the lyrics with our arrangements and that makes for a show that sticks with the audience.”
When writing songs, Masterson likes to challenge himself by starting with fictitious scenarios.
“It’s easiest to write about real life scenarios because I can draw on every thought and emotion I might have at the time but a good portion of my writing starts off with a fictional character or hypothetical situation,” he said. “I try to come up with a clear idea of what a person might feel or say or do in a given situation. Sometimes they relate directly to my personal experience. Other times, it’s purely an exercise in empathy and creative writing.”
Although Masterson takes on as much creativity as possible with his songwriting, it is also a therapeutic, self-healing experience for him.
“A good number of the songs off [my sophomore EP] Learn To Live were written after a particularly difficult time for me, when I was questioning my own character and dealing with the fallout of a failed relationship,” Masterson explained. “Sometimes it’s good to vent through songs. My priority though is on the craft of writing a good song. I really respect songwriters who choose each word carefully, consider the meter and placement of words, even how a word sounds on a certain note or how the melody helps augment the emotions of a certain phrase.”
Masterson is a perfectionist when it comes to songwriting. He is passionate about his writing but is also greatly aware of the world outside of emotions and rock n roll. Masterson explained his mission as a musician both on a micro and macro scale.
“I want to write songs that reach people and connect us to one another,” he said. “I strive to have a great, energetic live show and carefully crafted studio recordings. I treat songwriting and performing as a craft that I’m constantly working to improve. I also aim to support other artists, craftspeople, and small business owners who play an active role in their community and do amazing work while doing good. I buy USA made merchandise via locally owned and operated vendors like QRSTs in Somerville. I work with designers and photographers from the immediate area. At the Last Band Standing Final, we also raised $55 (which we are doubling) to donate to the Cambridge Health Alliance’s Haitian Mental Health Clinic. They offer culturally sensitive counseling for folks in our community who may be dealing with family loss or stress following Hurricane Matthew’s devastating impact on the people of Haiti.”
Off the heels of his Last Band Standing win, Masterson has some future plans that he can talk about.
“We’re looking toward a victory mini-tour around New England to celebrate the Last Band Standing win and bring our band to some cities we haven’t been just yet,” he explained. “We’re also starting in early on applications for summer festivals, hoping to get in front of new audiences and keep our momentum moving forward. The radio promotion campaign from Powderfinger Promotions (another Last Band Standing prize) has the potential to really boost our visibility across New England and we want to have some high profile appearances lined up so listeners who happen upon our new tunes have the opportunity to catch our live show too.”
Don’t miss Masterson live at The Common Man in Concord, NH on Nov. 3 and Article 24 in Brighton, MA on Nov. 18. Masterson’s music and complete list of upcoming shows can be found HERE. You can also check out Masterson’s email list which is the primary destination for updates on new music and performances HERE.