Meet Mason Hill, the UK Rock Band That’s About to Break Out – Interview
Remember the name Mason Hill, potentially the next big rock band to break and with good reason. U.K. audiences are already clued in as the band's Against the Wall album recently became the first rock debut album to crack the Top 20 of the U.K. charts since Greta Van Fleet arrived on the scene in 2018. They're also the first U.K. rock act to have debuted inside the Top 20 since Royal Blood did so back in 2014.
So who are Mason Hill, how did they get here, why should they be on your radar and why are they here to stay? The roots of the band date back to their teen years when vocalist Scott Taylor and guitarist James Bird met in school in Scotland. By 2013, they started their band, adding drummer Craig McFetridge, bassist Matthew Ward and guitarist Marc Montgomery along the way.
Their story is one of dedication and ingenuity, building a following with relentless touring in their homeland and employing an aggressive social media presence during the pandemic-stricken year of 2020 to garner a swell of support and interest once their album finally arrived.
Their latest track to surface is a cover of the Foo Fighters classic "Best of You," and we start there in introducing you to Mason Hill, the next U.K. rock band you need to know. Check out our chat with singer Scott Taylor and guitarist James Bird below.
We'll start current with your Foo Fighters cover "Best of You." Could you tell me why that song and what the Foo Fighters mean to you?
Scott Taylor: We went into lockdown obviously quite suddenly like the whole world did and we were a bit lost on what to do. We love the Foo Fighters and we tried the song maybe three weeks before lockdown and were just messing about, like, do you want to give this a try? Do you want to see? I don't know if we can pull it off. We were doing these homestyle recordings, very, very just bare, bare, bare and we ordered all the video equipment to get it working and then just tried it.
Something just clicked with us and the song. It just made it magical because we love the Foo Fighters so much and we felt like it suited us. A band can cover a song and sometimes it doesn't feel right. We felt like that one felt right. That's why we wanted to bring it out and pay tribute to this one amazing song. Even after 15 years, I'm still falling in love with it at this stage.
Mason Hill, "Best of You" (Foo Fighters Cover)
This band started with both of you and then you added pieces along the way. What were you looking for in terms of what you wanted to put together for your band when this first started?
James Bird: I think back when we started out, we were just wanting to be Black Stone Cherry at the time. I think we just wanted to play heavy music in front of thousands of people and we didn't really know how we were going to achieve that, but yeah, we were just like proper full-blown teenage music fans that just wanted to go onstage and play really. So we just did what we could to do that.
After every time we did it, even if it was just to, say, two people, five people or just the bands themselves, we would come away like, "Right. Okay. What about that? That wasn't bad? How can we get from this venue with five people to a sold out show?" So we just kept at it. We were just relentless to be honest. We just had a massive, massive drive and still do. That's what I think got us to where we are now.
Given your respective ages, I believe you were growing up at a time when guitar music was fading a bit in Europe and the U.K. So what was it that made you gravitate to hard rock?
Scott Taylor: Well, music's a weird thing. It's almost like you can't choose. The rock chose us in a way. We were shown all types of music as kids and don't get me wrong, James and the other guys, we all have a broad range of interests, but you know, only that rockness, whatever that is, just kind of caught me and caught James. James was straight in when he was a kid. It caught me a bit later in life.
If you want to go and make millions and billions of dollars, this is not the field to be honest. We're here because it's an inner passion to just want to rock out like we did when we were kids and putting on tapes. I remember I had the tapes of Jimi Hendrix, so that was my first love and ever since I've been obsessed with a guitar.
James Bird: It's an addiction, man. It has the highest highs and the lowest lows. There is no in between but the highs are so good though. When you get to this stage and you get to play the songs in front of people and you get the reactions at the end of the day ... So you're onstage usually for what? An hour, an hour and 10 max? It's a very short amount of time for you to take that in you then go away travel or whatever, stay in the van, stay in a hotel. So much time passes before you get that hour and 10 minutes back. You quickly forget so that the addiction comes back and then you want to just keep doing it. I think it's what we've always strived to do. It's what we enjoy doing and what we've been working hard at, so it's addictive.
James, you had a chance to share a stage with Zakk Wylde, a hero of yours, in your early teens. What impact did that have on you?
James Bird: When I speak about it I always describe it as the possible pinnacle moment that made me. Something just switched, and I could never stop playing guitar because of that moment. As a kid, I was into a lot of different bands, a lot of different guitar players, but Zakk, for some reason was the person I was really in love with. Really, I had a shrine on my wall. I had posters of him, it was weird. I had his guitars and everything. So yeah, it was a bit obsessive. I tried to look like him as a kid, too, with blonde hair and a leather waistcoat. It was cool. Like this kid's all trotting about looking like Zakk. But because of the obsession and then because of actually getting to meet that person, it just did something.
So the moment I met him, I was just like, this is like Jesus coming in to my life. And then when I got to play onstage with him, it was just the most motivational thing that could have happened to me at such a young age. I think I went home after that, and as this kid I was already practicing like mad, but because of that, it just made me realize that's what I want to do. I want to do that again. It just, it just forced me to never stop playing guitar really.
Not too long after that, my parents split up and that's when I moved to Scotland and met Scott and that's the rest of that. But that experience was nothing that could ever have been forgotten. It's been the very reason I think I've been playing guitar this long.
Scott, at an early age you had dreams to be an Olympic swimmer as well that you gave up to pursue music. Did the dedication you put toward pursuing swimming at an early age transfer over to starting a career in rock?
Scott Taylor: I guess the drive is the same. I never felt, even at a young age — swimming wasn't the right thing for me. I'm very glad I had that experience in my life, and seem to be okay at it. We were all young and whatever would have transpired or not in the future, I'm not sure.
I just feel from a young age and James will be the same, I just wanted to do something. I wanted to try my best to stand out. A lot of people grow up in life and are eventually unhappy with their jobs. But from a young age, I just wanted to be motivated to have the chance to do something that I genuinely loved because I feel like it's rare in the world, and I realized swimming wasn't that for me.
There was too much pressure and obviously in my heart it wasn't right, because music has even more pressure but here I am loving it. It's about having that drive and is about the constant insecurities, but just trying to keep pushing through it where in years you hope to see that audiences like your album when it comes out.
It's a lot of stress being in the band, but it's so worth it when you've got each other and you're just in a room playing these songs. There's something magical about that.
Mason Hill, "D.N.A."
There are no throwaway songs on this album. And in order to have the success that you're having, you've got to have the songs and you guys definitely do. So I'll ask with this being the first record, do you have any songwriting idols or people that you've taken and learned from when it came time to start writing?
James Bird: I had various stages of the way I would play guitar. It went from the Zakk era of shredding, shredding, shredding to being big on metal. So I liked Lamb of God, Machine Head these big sort of metal bands, which I still do like and that led me into learning how to make really complex riffs, difficult things that aren't that realistic to play live. And then through that, it got me into trying to find a balance. We still have heavy elements. We'll probably have more heavy elements going forward. But I was just trying to find a balance between being a rock band that has heavy moments, but also the melody.
I think for me Alter Bridge were a big moment for me. I was always a Creed fan. I know that can be kind of like weird for some people. Not everyone's a Creed fan, but Mark Tremonti, I think is a fantastic songwriter. I think he manages to blend heavy with melody, leaving enough room for guitar and beats. And then of course, I think Myles Kennedy nailed that in terms of bringing in such a good voice to add to the rock music and making it catchy and interesting. And I think that's kind of like what we've tried to do.
Scott can probably take over as well. Shinedown is another that just has the ability to be a catchy but heavy band that also have a great vocal and great melody.
Scott Taylor: We sample in so many different genres. When we're writing, it seems to be roughly like a kind of standard rock, maybe metal and kind of pop and the pop side brings more melodies. I've been inspired by so many different people from half the bands that James said, and especially, Alter Bridge and Myles Kennedy. I really have taken influence from over the years from Chris Cornell, who is an insane singer. Chris Cornell, the way you can do kind of that roughness with his voice, I try to emulate some things with that. Myles Kennedy can bring some with really long, beautiful notes.
I'm always saying it, and I'll take heat for it, but I always look back to the '80s. Phil Collins and stuff like that because there's some really amazingly constructing stuff from back then that I wasn't alive for. And I wouldn't know about it unless I researched.
So it changes all the time. We adopted Bring Me the Horizon recently who have been on a massive breakthrough and looking at bringing in some more digital elements into the guitar driven sound. We're just so excited. We have so much information and so many kinds of people to look up to that it's a pleasure to try and sample a bit of that talent.
James Bird: We've got so much stuff in our heads now from things we liked and things we don't like. There was a time where I was like, if it's not got a big guitar solo then it's crap. That was my true verdict on music when I was a 10-year-old, so it changes. But I still like a guitar solo, but I don't think a song's crap if it doesn't happen anymore.
The fact that these bands we mentioned — Alter Bridge, they started off a certain way. They now sound maybe a little bit different to what they did and Bring Me the Horizon, being another huge band for us that has actually evolved and turned something in our heads. Nothing More as well. These bands have just given us this new sort of outlook of what maybe we could do.
Mason Hill, "Broken Son"
Favorite song for you to play live and why — and I know with the last year, maybe you haven't had a chance to get out and play, so in that case, the song you're most looking forward to playing live.
Scott Taylor: I want to say, I feel like it's changing every week right now. My, the song I cannot wait to play is "Broken Son," one of the singles that came out. Oh God, this is controversial to say in the rock industry. I shouldn't even say the name, but I just get such like a Nickelback sort of vibe, just something that really can be cool. It's such the pleasure to sing over.
It was one of our earliest songs that we wrote when we were teenagers at my first ever house on this really weird and like rubbish couch. I think I had a duvet on the floor and no bed and a rubbish TV. And we're just sitting here on a Friday night and we wrote "Broken Son." It's just got such a long history that I cannot wait to play that when people finally know that song.
James Bird: That was a good one because we changed that a bit and people don't quite know it. While we're a band that's been kicking about for a couple of years getting experience playing live, we've not had the album to show yet. So we've been getting by with people hopefully liking the sound they see at gigs. So yeah, "Broken Son" is probably a good tune for that reason.
I think I'm going to say "Out of Reach." I enjoyed playing it live, but I think I'll enjoy it more now because of the fact that this is a song we've had a while, as well. There's a lot of changes. These changes have only been heard since this album has been released. Most people think it's now way, way better than it ever was. So I'm now looking forward to seeing them hear it in this way. And the fact that there's a whole loads of space in that tune to do things live, like you can get the crowd singing bits and whatnot. We can slow it down. So I look forward to playing that at the moment, but ask me tomorrow. I'll probably change my mind.
Mason Hill, "Out of Reach"
In a year like 2020 without touring, as a new band how do you reach and build your audience? What challenges have you faced along the way?
Scott Taylor: It's been a strange one releasing an album with no prior play, but in our defense we also had no prior preconceptions for it. So I honestly feel like it's helped us. When management came in we all sat down and really started having these proper conversations about how do we want to make the band bigger in a completely digital year. No shows, no leaflets, nothing. It's just digital.
We looked into that and I feel like I'm really proud to say that the team behind us was like almost revolutionary. They're like a social media WAZE. And they've been able to really, really get into the algorithms of trends and help us to promote this. If COVID wasn't here that may have not been possible and may have been a lot harder for us to break in there.
It's really been a new environment, but the social media team, the management and us, our content at one point was daily. We were just doing these things, anything to get out there and it really, really, really helped. It's something to keep an eye on in the future as well, the power of social media and connections with real people.
This was a seven year wait for people, and I feel like there was a silent Mason Hill crew that we didn't know about. We've went up and down this country more times than we can remember and played our butts off and done our best to give a hundred percent every single show, all five guys. I liked to hope that when the time came for people to discover the album, they would come. Well they came and it was incredible to see and we're truly humbled.
The bullet points kind of write themselves here. First rock band since Greta Van Fleet to debut inside the U.K. Top 20 on their debut album and first U.K. rock band to do so since Royal Blood. How does it feel to see those kind of early returns and what are your thoughts on where you'd like to see your career go and being one of the next generation to carry the torch for rock?
James Bird: It's really cool. When we heard that we were like, "Oh, that's really awesome." As exciting as it is though, firstly, it has made me feel slight pressure a little bit, because as far as we're concerned, we've released this debut album in a pandemic, no gigs. So we're, we're still kind of one of those bands that like, okay, here's this album, but we still need to get out there and start playing gigs. So it's a wait for us kind of thing, you know?
But I'm glad to see a band like us, a grassroots came from nothing group playing together in rehearsal rooms at gigs in front of no one managed to come through with this loyal fan base, real people, real fans and with music that went into the charts because it just ignites us with excitement to wonder what could be next. At the same time, as I mentioned, just that a little bit of pressure just because I do feel like there's a lot of eyes on us at the minute. So I accept the challenge obviously, but definitely I love to add pressure just to make sure that we live up to this new found expectation that the band has probably found itself in.
Mason Hill, Against the Wall Album Artwork
You mentioned playing up and down the coast many times in your native country, but in taking the band to the next level and touring around the world, what things are you looking forward to? What places do you want to hit that you've never seen?
Scott Taylor: I could sit here and list off every country in the world I want to see, but realistically speaking, I know me and the guys we're excited for Europe and hopefully America, that's what we want. We've been stuck in these islands for most of our career.
We can't wait to get over and just see, like from the outside perspective of America, this country we know as the land of opportunity. Is this where things will happen? You don't forget that. Even at our stage, that's been like a dream of ours to go and get to America at some point. But let's take home, just take London, and then let's get to America. We're going to keep trying and we'll see you soon in Los Angeles.
James Bird: We now know that there's all these people into the band in all these places. We've mainly been U.K.-based as Scott said, but there's a couple of little moments where you hear about people in Germany that have heard the band or France and whatnot. But now because of this album, it's just shown us that, wait, actually people are starting to find us. People clearly like this band. So we want to get to those places that we've been told where people like us. We've got this newfound burst of energy and motivation and drive to get as many places as possible and that's our goal now is to take this band from the U.K. debut and just fly with it as far as we possibly can.
I realize it's kind of hard to plan things at this point, but what do the next six months look like for you guys? What what's on the horizon?
Scott Taylor: Well, fingers crossed nothing changes as of this minute, we will be going and doing our biggest U.K. tour yet as a headline band. We're doing like 25, 26 big shows, which we're extremely looking forward to. That's a new challenge that we can't wait to hit on. And we're looking to keep up this momentum. We're looking at possibly releasing new music and before the end of the year to keep everyone a bit more engaged. Then Mason Hill moving into 2022, we look to get out to a lot of these countries as, fingers crossed, 2022 is the first proper year back to as close to normality as we can hope for.
Our thanks to Mason Hill's Scott Taylor and James Bird for the interview. Want to learn more? Be sure to follow the band via their website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts and you can currently pick up the band's debut album, Against the Wall, right here.