We all know how master bluesman Robert Johnson lugged his six-string down to the rural Mississippi crossroads in the 1920s. There, between worlds, where flesh and spirit touch, he did a deal with Satan to wail blues like no other.
Which brings us to Midnight Road, the debut album by Mason, which drops May 26.
Mason's frontman Jacob Acosta: "Many of the songs on Midnight Road are an homage to Robert Johnson's famous crossroads meeting."
As a songwriter, Acosta is a sort of musical chameleon. In comparison to his previous bands—the chiming '90s shoegaze introspection of Race You There, or the catchy acoustic pop of Roll Acosta—the Mason's heavy blues-based rock 'n' roll is a real departure. The band has a workingman's, hard-drinkin', hard-lovin', blue-collar vibe, capturing all of the grit.
Mason's sound is big, brash and powerful, tipping a hat to the blues traditions it's rooted in. Acosta's vocals, gruff and low, along with his stinging Epiphone hollow-body and cranked Fender amp forge a ballsy, raw sound—channeling guitar heroes from the 1960s and '70s—and are dead center in the mix. Anchored by the heavy-footed drumming of Andre Gressieux, a menace who slams his snare with precision and digs the beater deep into the kick-drum head, leaves the self-indulgent fills and rolls behind, laying a rock-solid foundation upon which bassist Johnny Zapp builds muscular lines. Acosta is quick to acknowledge their role in the band, "Without a rhythm section this tight, I ain't nothing." And lyrically the songs are there: Lust, betrayal, deals with the devil, reaping what one sows, heartache and the kind of redemption one can only arrive at after an arduous slog through the valley of disillusionment that is love gone awry.
We tracked down Jacob Acosta for quick Q&A about the album, the band, and rock 'n' roll, which is, apparently, still a breathing beast.
Where are you from originally?
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. I'm glad I live here in the Old Pueblo. It's more relaxed and cooler.
Formally trained or self-taught?
Formally trained. I got my degree from the Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona in Music Education.
When did you decide to pursue a career in music?
[It was during] my first year of college at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. I was at a mass with my friends. [When] the choir sang that day it sounded more beautiful than it had to me before. It made me feel similar to when someone says something nice to you and you feel warm ... and you just fill up with joy. That's when I said, yeah, I want to do that for other people too.
When did Mason form?
Around December 2016. At the time, we were playing around as the Jacob Acosta Band. In 2017, we decided collectively to call ourselves Mason.
So you're a school teacher. What grades and subjects do you teach?
I teach K-eighth grade. [At South Tucson's Math and Science Success Academy.] I am a music teacher who teaches private instruction in piano, choir, general music, music history, music theory, and improvisation/creativity.
What themes run through your lyrics?
There are many themes on the record, like relationships that are good, bad, or expensive. There are also themes about learning when you fail. Some material talks about man building things that may destroy humanity. Some songs are about people I care about or [those] that push me to crazy. One of the main themes ... selling your soul to the devil for guitar skills. In that regard, I wanted to have that homage to Robert Johnson for laying a lot of the groundwork in the development of the blues. My hope is that people find many more themes beyond this too. Broad reaching art should always have people's own perspective involved in the process.
There's a sense of foreboding to "I Bet You Know," a kind of inner confusion. What inspired this powerful ditty?
It's all about doing something you don't want to do because you think it'll make you feel better. It's like a person at a crossroads. But this person makes the same decisions that don't necessarily move them forward or backward. It's like they are trapped by the pattern of their choices. There's a lot left to interpretation too.
On the closing song, "Midnight Road," there's mysticism, maybe a search for redemption? Any backstory?
This song is really my own version of the meeting with the devil or intermediary at the crossroads. Some underlying dialogue is about the haunting aspects of the southern states landscape and perhaps a tiny bit of our history as a country. It's the origin of the blues in America. It's also the inspiration for the album cover, which features Papa Legba. [In Haitian Voodoo, Legba is the gatekeeper of the spirit world.]
Judging by your previous output, you're a pretty prolific and versatile musician and songwriter. Any other projects you're working on?
This year I am planning to release three full length records. Midnight Road with Mason, Exoplanet with HYTS (a collaboration with deep house San Francisco DJ Conrad Sasinski) and my most involved and personal album to date: Desert Sounds as Jacob Acosta.
What's next for Mason?
Mason wrote 14 alternative-rock songs before recording Midnight Road. So it's possible we may revisit those and do a record. It's also possible we may continue to go down the road we're on with blues rock. We've already written another seven songs in that style. Whatever we do, I hope anyone else who's digging our sound wants go on that ride with us.