Cynthia G. Mason

Magnet Magazine

Returning after a seven-year hiatus from music, Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Cynthia G. Mason has lost nary a step. Her new five-song EP is aptly titled; this music is as vivid, evocative and narratively compelling as a film. Songs like the title track and “One More Trip Back East” are both inviting and mysterious. Mason’s strikingly clear vocals and hypnotic acoustic-guitar arpeggios join together to form well-honed melodies. Her minimalistic lyrics never waste a breath, but they invite multiple interpretations.

Thanks to the subtle polish of Brian McTear’s production, hints of Suzanne Vega occasionally rise to the fore on Cinematic Turn. A trio of musicians (including drummer Christopher Sean Powell, also known as Pow Pow from Man Man) provide sympathetic backing. But the focus is truly on Mason here. The EP is as a clarion call, heralding the return of a singular talent.

Philadelphia City Paper

Once and future Philly fixture Cynthia G. Mason says she hated music for awhile — that’s why it’s been eight years since she gave us something new to listen to. Now she’s back with Cinematic Turn, a stunning and understated EP that delivers classic CGM acoustic gorgeousness with a newfound urgency. We “spoke” over email about why she left, why she’s back and why she walks the modern social media hellscape with a flip phone in her pocket.

You said part of the reason you left music was you weren’t enjoying it anymore. Actually, I think you said you “hated” it. What was wrong? Was it music or was it you?

Oh, it was probably both. I had been playing music since I was a child, then playing all ages shows, clubs/bars since I was a teenager — in bands and solo. I’d had short breaks from it before where I developed some contempt for it, didn’t enjoy doing it for whatever reason. But, this time it got to the point where every new album I heard just sounded terrible, everything I tried to write sounded terrible, and every show made me feel terrible. For the first time, I started saying “no” to every show. I took my guitar and gear and put it in a closet in my house, closed the door, and that was it. It was a little extreme. But, yeah, friends have told me that there was maybe a dip in their interest in music during those years, too, and also a complete change in the music business. And, of course, some of it is that I got older, met my husband and had a kid, and I wanted to sit down at the end of the night and quietly read instead of go out to rock shows. But, I think I know now that desire for quiet and calm, spending time with my family, doesn’t have to mean completely eliminating music from my life like the infectious disease that I made it out to be. I guess you must really love something to hate it that much.

                                                                                       

 

I’m also going to pull the lady card and say that I do think it’s harder for women who decide to have children to continue at the pace they are going with music — recording, touring, finding time to write, practicing. Caring for an infant and then toddler can be all-consuming and you see a lot of ladies dropping out at a pretty high rate at a certain point in their lives. I have seen some returning, too, sometimes when the kiddies get a little older and it gets more manageable.

So what’s changed? How did you and music get back on better terms?

Small moments, a few big things. My husband and I would venture out every once in a while. He knew I was missing music, but that it was a touchy subject for me, so we would go out infrequently, check something out and he’d look over to gauge my reaction, like “What do you think? Is this doing anything for you?” In 2013, we went to that ‘Dancing Around the Bride’ exhibit with Lee Ranaldo at the Art Museum and he was getting all of these cool sounds out of his guitar, performing John Cage. Dancers would pop out every once in a while to perform. We spent the whole day there, wandering around the room, taking it all in. I remember I had a horrible cold, but we were both just in the zone. That show had an effect on me, there was some kind of spark. We would go into Fergie’s and listen to some Irish music over a beer, get the nosebleeds at the Philadelphia Orchestra. Laura Marling and Jason Isbell released records that year with some killer songs. So, I started listening more, looking around to see what was out there for the first time in a long time. That got me more interested in playing and my fingers started to itch for the guitar.

Some of it is just time. I have a little bit more time for it now. My daughter is getting closer to 5 and can occupy herself a little more. It’s easier to find those odd times in the day to pick up the guitar and noodle around and get into my own head a little bit, spend some time alone.

I’ve had this old-man thought about awesome musicians who fade away when life/family/work start piling up: I just hope those kids get to see their parents play, on stage, with people clapping. To see how much ass their moms and dads can kick. Does it mean something to you have your daughter see you perform?

It was really something when I first pulled the guitar out and started playing for my daughter. I remember she looked at me with a look of such surprise and curiosity and actually said, “Mommy, you play the guitar?” We looked at each other with our eyes bugging out of our heads. I was just as alarmed. My own kid didn’t know I played the guitar? What?

Now, as soon as she sees me pull out the guitar, she will immediately grab her little drum and start playing with me, conducting, and yelling “Louder!” “Faster!” She is way more punk rock than I am. Maybe there is a drum kit in her future.

There’s still that same old sadness in your new music, but I’m detecting maybe something else: a new energy or urgency, maybe? Do you feel your sound has changed?

I’m still drawn to the sad things. Mournful, sad songs. Those are always the songs that knock me out. I’ll hear a song that sounds like pure grief somewhere. I want it to hit me in the gut. I want to try to hit someone in the gut. I don’t want to mess around.

I think the songs might be a little more driven, a little more complete. I wrote a lot of them on the train or waiting for the train. The instrumentation on the recording really came together nicely and added a lot to each song.

Since you’ve been gone, music has become a short-attention-span dystopian hellscape dominated by social media and self-promotion. Are you dealing?

Yeah, didn’t someone just discover that we officially now have the attention span of goldfish? I’ve tried to avoid the hellscape/social media for so long. I still have my flip phone, even though it has dropped on the floor and down many, many flights of stairs. When I’m away from the computer, I’m away from all of it. But, like many people, I still spend way too much time in front of the computer each day. I don’t like that everyone just stares at their phones all day, fondling them.

I’ve always been a beat behind with this stuff. I was crotchety when I was 20. I never liked CDs and held onto my cassettes. Then I didn’t like mp3s and held onto my CDs, even though I never liked CDs. I liked vinyl, but didn’t love it the way I should have. Now, I’m being told that people are making/buying cassettes again, so it’s time to go deeper into that closet and pull out my old boxes of cassettes from ’96, ’98, start trying to sell those at shows. There were listservs, there was Friendster, then Myspace. By the time Facebook came along, I was done with oversharing. I really wanted and needed some privacy. I just got on Twitter a few months ago to get connected a little bit and it’s okay. I like taking a peek every once in awhile to see what’s going on. But, if I’m on it now, I already know it's on its way out.

I’ve always been pretty bad at self-promotion, but I know that’s always going to be a part of it, so I’m trying to find a way to have a toe in, but not get pulled all the way into the hellscape.

There’s a whole new generation or two in Philly who don’t know who you are and why they should pay attention. What should they know?

I’m the one who writes the quiet song on the album where the rocker pulls out the acoustic guitar for that one track. It’s the song about someone dying or how you’ve let someone down. Except it’s like that for every song.

Cinematic Turn is really gorgeous. I missed having new CGM in my earphones. Does it feel good to be “back”?

Aw, thanks! We have to stop meeting like this. I’m starting to feel like those kids in the British Up series where the filmmaker meets up with them every seven years to see what they are doing with their lives. Here’s Cynthia from Philly at 40. I had a great experience recording the songs and I’m happy to be back. I realized how much I missed talking to other musicians, people in the music scene, writing, practicing. It’s nice that I’m not hiding the fact that I’m a musician anymore. There are people who didn’t know me in that capacity at all, so it’s kind of a relief to be up front and open about it. I’ve been enjoying playing the guitar so much more now than I ever did before. It’s a pleasure. It’s so strange how that can happen after all those years.

Philadelphia Weekly

Listen closely. Cynthia G. Mason isn’t going to raise her voice or repeat herself if you miss something. The inveterate Philly songwriter’s new Quitter’s Claim—her first album in half a decade—is soft and careful enough to require endless attention. When a line does jump out, it’s a revelation. Like Damien Jurado or Red House Painters, Mason mines delicate moments for emotional heft while stoking a haunted, dusky vibe. It’s potent stuff...

Philadelphia Inquirer

Since the mid-1990s, singer-songwriter Cynthia G. Mason has been a captivating presence on the local music scene. Her entrancing, hushed songs never go to obvious places. Instead, they feature unexpected chord progressions and intriguingly elliptical lyrics. She's earned comparisons to Suzanne Vega, Kristen Hersh, even Joni Mitchell. With several self-released cassettes and CDs under her belt, Mason has made a move to the Philly label High Two for her first national release, the excellent Quitter's Claim, due out on Jan. 23. On the album, Mason and accompanist Larry D. Brown construct sparse guitar arrangements, giving plenty of room to Mason's clear, unaffected voice. It's a method that lets sterling songs such as "Breaks the Drill" and "Claim" shine.

The Philadelphia Daily News

Local singer-songwriter Cynthia G. Mason has been a fixture on the indie rock scene since the mid-'90s, when she started putting out cassette-only recordings on her own label, Spiderwoman Records. The 32-year-old West Philly native is gentle enough for the 'XPN/Lilith crowd, but her darkly observant lyrics and intricate guitar picking have earned her comparisons to Cat Power, Suzanne Vega and Kristin Hersh. She took a break to study at Temple Law School and is now a public-interest attorney at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, where she helps low-income women who are victims of domestic violence. Last year, she got her big break when her recording of Richard Buckner's "Surprise, AZ" ended up on a Believer magazine CD, alongside tracks by Spoon, the Decemberists and the Shins. Mason also loaned her vocals to B.C. Camplight's "Blood and Peanut Butter," featured on an episode of "Grey's Anatomy..."

Metro

Having taken some time off from recording to pursue a law degree, Philadelphia singer-songwriter Cynthia G. Mason is celebrating the release of her first collection of new songs in five years, “Quitter’s Claim,” a dark, introspective set of starkly gorgeous miniatures. For the first time she isn’t releasing the CD herself, instead hooking up with Philly-based label High Two. She discussed the process via e-mail: Do you see an overall theme to the songs you selected for the album? I do see an overall theme to the album, but I don’t think I realized it until I had finished it, and looked at it as a whole. A lot of the songs seem to be about quitting, making excuses, and then trying again. Was there a specific atmosphere you were trying to evoke? I wanted to make an album that was quiet and intimate, something that sounded natural. I felt the most comfortable playing music at home, so I decided to start recording it there. Larry [Brown, Mason’s producer] brought over his four track. I would wake up, make some tea and play into it each morning before work. On some of the songs, Larry and I sat in his apartment and just recorded everything live. We wanted to keep things simple, but also add some depth and texture to the guitar and vocal lines, so Larry added harmonica and slide guitar to some of the songs. You can hear car horns honking and guitar strings screeching and chairs squeaking. I guess that’s part of the charm of home recording. How confessional are the lyrics? Each song was based on a very specific feeling I had about something that happened, and then I would expand from there to flesh out the story. I would sit down and think, “This is what it feels like to lose this person,” or “This is what it feels like to work at this job,” or “This is what it feels like to fail at something.” I would try to describe it to myself, but I also wanted other people to be able to identify with it.

Philadelphia City Paper

For Cynthia G. Mason, it was a matter of if, not when. After a string of cassette-only releases, the singer-songwriter with the rhythmically droning guitar figures, haunting voice and bewitchingly abstract lyrics, released her first CD in 2000. The eponymous seven-song collection on her Spiderwoman label earned her local plaudits and national acclaim. She started playing with a backing band made up of then-members of skronk-rock outfit Need New Body. The follow-up was being planned. The West Philly native and Penn grad had, it seemed, arrived. And then the waiting started. “Then I went to law school,” smiles Mason over a plate of French toast at Little Pete’s diner, around the corner from the apartment she’s lived in for the last nine years. “I guess there were several attempts [to record a follow-up], and a bunch of really wonderful Philly musicians along the way who wanted to help out. Everyone was supportive and great, but for some reason another year would go by, and I’d kind of make another attempt with another few people, never finishing the original idea. There are some unfinished demos out there.” For Mason, one roadblock was that writing and playing music is often a solitary endeavor, so scheduling with bandmates who had other projects proved difficult. “I would find myself playing with other people, and then playing solo again,” she says, “and I couldn’t figure out what kind of record I wanted to make.” But the big holdup was the simple fact that putting oneself through law school, and the esquire title that comes with it, is a bit all-consuming. Now a graduate of Temple Law, Mason works as an attorney for Philadelphia Legal Assistance, serving victims of domestic abuse. During the long six years since her last record, a couple of showcases for labels that bore no fruit soured Mason on the business a bit, and “I felt like it was time to take a step back and focus on what I liked about music again.” So she started playing as a duo with Larry D. Brown, one of the guys in her old backing band, and started having fun again. “He knew I still wanted to finish a full-length album, and he also knew that I wasn’t really interested in going into a studio again,” she recalls. “One day he lugged over his old four-track and his favorite Radio Shack microphone and said ‘Make a record. Work on it whenever you feel like it, and have fun.’” And that’s when Quitter’s Claim (High Two), Mason’s first released recording in six years, began to take shape. “May apartment gets amazing light in the morning. That’s such a nice time to be there.,” says Mason. “When I began recording the album, I set up the four-track on my little round kitchen table in front of the window, put all the mics in the mic stands and plugged all the cables in and then just left everything like that for a few months. In the morning, before work, I would make some tea and record songs. I had a flexible schedule at the time, so I was going to work late. I had the whole morning to hang out and work on the songs. I get up pretty early these days, so I don’t get the same light, but it’s still nice to make music before going into work.” For Mason, it was something of a return to basics, to the days when she’d record and release her cassettes through Spiderwoman. She finished the album this summer and decided to put it out herself. “I had it mastered, got the artwork done, and it was about to be pressed,” recalls Mason. A serendipitous encounter with Dan Piotrowski of Philly’s High Two Records-- home of Adam Arcuragi, Dave Burrell and Sonic Liberation Front-- changed that. “I told him I was about to release a new record. He said he was interested in putting it out. It was really a stroke of good luck.” She gave him the e-mail contact of the place about to press the CD and Quitter’s Claim was added to the roster of one of Philly’s up-and-coming labels. “This is cheesy, but things kind of work out when you stop trying,” says Mason of her previous attempts to land a label. It was a lucky stroke for High Two, as Mason’s first released songs since the turn of the century-- save for her stunning cover of Richard Buckner’s “Surprise, AZ” on last year’s Believer magazine compilation-- delivers on the promise of that eponymous CD and ups the ante. Mason unfurls her trademark meditative rhythmic picking-- “I consider myself a rhythm guitarist, even though I’m fingerpicking,” she explains-- on a collection of 10 songs that ruminate, not surprisingly, on the frustrations of trying to get things accomplished. Opening track “Like a Lifer Out for Good” and its sentiments of quiet desperation and tacit acceptance leave the listener wondering if the album will continue to track two, while “Fits and Starts” (“I keep trying to disconnect”) could be read as an encapsulation of the last six years, and “Quit While You’re Misled” is, admittedly, as bald-faced as Mason gets about her musical hiatus. It’s not all about consternation, though. “The Way the Morning Came” is a touching if sad study on love and loss (“Every minute was a track star, with no skill for running late”) and “Nerve,” with its chorus “we’re more giddy than daring,” chronicles the nervous and nerve-wracking first flirtations of a romance. Mason concedes that her songs all originate from her own experiences, and that she attempts to blur the details both to protect the guilty and in hopes that listeners can imbue them with their own meaning. Despite the long layoff, Mason is both relieved that she’s finished Quitter’s Claim by her self-imposed deadline-- “I’d decided December 2006 seemed like a good time to finish the record”-- and that it turned out, thanks in large part to help from Brown, who plays on the album, the way she wanted. Ultimately, she was hoping to put out a record she could re-create live. Because yes, despite the day job, Mason knows that making the record is only part of the equation. “I have a generous vacation package,” says Mason of the prospects of taking some time next year to tour. Then she grins: “It hasn’t come up, yet.”

Philebrity

Today’s record on the Philebrity Player is a little change of pace for us, seeing as how we don’t usually step into the realm of the singer-songwriter, for fear of going straight down the Helen Leicht wormhole, never to return. But we think you’ll agree that there’s a an edgy darkness to Cynthia G. Mason’s Quitter’s Claim, that makes this record less like an afternoon at Starbucks and more like a hypnotic sesh watching old Super 8 movies of people you don’t know. Laid thick with Nick Drake-y drones and Mason’s plainspoken vocals, Quitter’s Claim showcases a lot of what there is to love about the New Folk movement/thing — a kind of ageless directness. (We also can’t help think that this and the new Meg Baird solo stuff are part of an evolving new piece of Philly music.) As for Mason herself, she’s been playing on the Philly indie circuit for a few years now, with numerous musicians, but it seems like her most lasting musical relationship is with Larry D. Brown, who is her sole accompanist and producer here. As a result, Quitter’s Claim is as stark and as wintry as it gets. Put the kettle on, honey. Quitter’s Claim is a keeper.

Her Jazz

The Believer knows something: Philly bands are awesome. That’s why they’ve been featured on the Believer comps. Well, its time for another to shine...While I love the ornate touches on Richard Buckner’s totally classic “Surprise, AZ”, particularly the dobro and harmonica, sometimes I can’t but feel that it might be made better if it were well, made under. And who better than Cynthia Mason, one of my favorite local musicians to perform the task? Recorded with just some light fingerpicking on the guitar, Cynthia’s voice slips back and forth between the two poles of talking and singing, never pledging allegiance to either, which makes the gray area covered in Buckner’s lyrics ever more affecting.

Philadelphia City Paper-Best of Philadelphia

BEST OF: "Best Philly Represent."  When feisty San Francisco culture journal The Believer dropped its June/July music issue complete with a CD of indie rockers covering indie rockers, we ran out and bought it for the hot Devendra Banhart-on-Antony and the Johnsons action. But lo and behold, there on the sneaky smash compilation of 2005 were Schuylkill punchers Cynthia G. Mason (breathing a sort of desperate, trembling life into Richard Buckner's "Surprise, AZ") and Espers (doing their past-perfect nu-psych thing to Fursaxa's "Firefly Refrain"). Well played.

Time Out New York- Top Live Shows

Throughout the late ‘90’s, only a few Philadelphians knew about Cynthia Mason. When she performed, her graceful, understated songs frequently awed clubs full of noisy chatterers into silence. But she never toured and was a lamentably rare sight on the stages of her hometown, spending more nights bent over her law-school casebooks than over microphones. On her 2000 self-titled, self-released CD (Mason’s only one so far), some tracks fill space with mellow guitar squalls and slowly rolled chords; some sport plaintive arrangements of vocals and fingerpicked acoustic guitar; and still others swell with an organ and strings. Her casual, breathy voice has invited frequent Nico comparisons, but the overall feel of the album—with its slow, elegant pop compositions that never veer too far toward perkiness or sleepiness—is most evocative of Suzanne Vega’s tender snapshots and Cat Power’s oblique emotional poetics. Out of law school and finally ready to give her considerable talent its due, Mason has spent the past six months working with her new backing band, drummer Areif Sless-Kitain (of D.C. hardcore groups Regulator Watts and Bluetip) and pianist Daryl Hirsch, recording new songs that bear the orchestral influences of Van Morrison and Nick Drake. None of these tracks have been released so far, the trio has yet to play a single show, and it’s Mason’s first gig in New York: Sunday will mark a long-overdue debut in more ways than one.

 

Philadelphia City Paper-COVER STORY (2003)

If you look at it one way, making the album’s the easy part. It’s much tougher to get the music to the people. It’s not like major labels -- or major indies, for that matter -- come around to The Khyber or Tritone scouting for talent, with distribution deals burning holes in their fur-lined pockets. No, more than likely you’re going to have to do it your damn self. That’s what singer/songwriter Cynthia G. Mason did. Her Spiderwoman record label started as a way to distribute the music she recorded on a four-track in her West Philly apartment. Starting in 1996, she sold her cassettes at shows, gave them to friends or traded them with other artists. Since then she’s moved downtown and acquired a following and, more recently, a backing band. She’s also collected a decent-sized debt after putting herself through law school and self-releasing 2000’s haunting folk-rock self-titled CD. Wiser and more skilled, Mason is exploring different roads for her next album. We asked her to talk about the nuts and bolts of music at its grass-roots level. We also asked her to come to the office with her guitar and pose for our CliffsNotes-inspired cover. She’s shy, but thankfully she said yes to both.

City Paper: Was it easier to work with cassettes when you started?

Cynthia G. Mason: I don't know if it was easier, but I was morally opposed to CDs for some reason. I was probably the last person on Earth to buy a CD. Somehow I was convinced that CDs would become obsolete a year or two after they came out and that we'd all have to shift over to something else. I remember being really pissed off about CDs. I still think they're overpriced and not as cute and friendly as tapes and not as big and beautiful as records. The sound quality is good. I can't deny that. But, you still have to worry about them getting scratched. Blank CDs are so cheap, though. I have to admit that I like to burn stuff now.

CP: So you've come to embrace the digital technology?

CGM: A couple of years ago, my band sold a CD-R of a live show. … It even became pretty cheap to get 500 or 1,000 copies mass-produced with artwork and everything.

CP: Did people buy off your website?

CGM: People used to buy tapes from me through a little mail-order brochure I sent out. That was before I had a website. The Internet has made things a lot easier. I still sell tapes and CDs directly to people who order them off of my website, but I also have my CD up on the CD Baby website, which accepts credit cards and sends the CDs directly to the customer, while sending me the customer's name, e-mail and his/her reason for buying the CD. CD Baby keeps a small percentage of each sale and sends me a check every time I sell a certain number of CDs. Sales go up if there has been some press somewhere, but I still probably sell most of my CDs at shows.

CP: What kind of financial difficulties did you run into over the years?

CGM: I went into debt. I'm still in debt from the CD I made a few years ago. I'm paying off the credit card bill and I'm in debt from my school loans. It's pretty hard to avoid going into debt for at least the first couple of years in any small business. I never had the time or the resources to work on the label as much as I needed to turn a profit because I was either in school or working full-time.

CP: Was it worth the debt?

CGM: It was definitely worth it. I guess it was mostly copying costs that put me into debt. It was hard to make that money back quickly because I ended up giving a lot of CDs away for promotional purposes.

CP: How much should a musician let money influence her/his path?       

CGM: That's a tough one. Most musicians know, from the start, that they are choosing a difficult path financially. It's hard to make a living as a musician and artists have to make a lot of sacrifices in order to have time to do their thing. They take crappy jobs for the flexibility, live in crappy places for the cheap rent and sink way into debt. I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to get a job directly involved in music, that I would hate just to make my money from music. I saw people doing that and it often just ruined it for them, though I could understand the drive to find a job doing something, anything, related to music. I had a background in activism, so I worked for some nonprofits and thought I would try out public interest law. The law people thought I was a weirdo for playing music and the music people thought I was a weirdo for going to law school. I think artists often have to take a lot of shit from employers, peers and family precisely because they are putting so much energy and time into something that is a little bit abstract or that doesn't make sense financially or isn't considered worthwhile by society for one reason or another. Or, at least, it's not worthwhile until they have achieved some sort of financial success. 

CP: And then?       

CGM: Then, suddenly, it may be considered a reasonable thing to do. It takes a lot of self-motivation to keep at it. It's easy to doubt yourself. My uncle, who is an incredible guitarist, held music in such high esteem that for most of his life he refused to record anything because recording the music, to him, even if improvised, was not the real thing and it sacrificed something. Although I do think there is a place for recorded music, and I do think that it's wonderful when a musician can make a living doing her music, I still have a real respect for the creation of music for the sake of making it, as a way to be creative and emotional and to connect with people, without money being an issue at all. That being said, I also wish a rock band could make a decent living just being a rock band and not waiting tables, too, or not going to the other extreme and becoming greedy asshole whores for the big record labels once they get their one shot because they feel they deserve success after getting harassed at their day jobs for X number of years by some corporate fucks. Independent musicians do not know enough about the music business to start out with, and when they are faced with a contract from a record label, they are often so broke and so desperate for the help that they rush into bad deals with both indies and majors -- they give up their copyrights without realizing exactly what they've gotten themselves into. It's hard to figure out what a contract is all about or what the law is and we shouldn't be punished for wanting to make a decent living off of music.       

CP: You recently went to Soundgun and put together a demo to shop your music around to labels. What prompted this shift in approach?

CGM: I decided a while ago that I wanted to look for a label to help me with the next album because I could not finance this one myself, mostly due to my debt from school. After I made my last album, I secured a small distributor, booked my own shows and did my own publicity, but I ended up wanting to focus more on the creative aspect of writing music and less on the business side of things. Even though I enjoyed the freedom that came with running my own label, I realized that I could really use a hand. But, I decided not to sign with any label that was financially unstable or one that could essentially only do the same things that I could do by myself with a credit card.

CP: What are the advantages?

CGM: I won't be doing everything myself.

CP: Will you be sacrificing anything?

CGM: I won't be doing everything myself, so I will be sacrificing some control over the project.

CP: Everyone was surprised when you went un-solo and added a backup band. Now you're looking for help in releasing the next album? Are you learning to depend on people?

CGM: I was in a band in high school and it was really fun. There was a little community of bands around and we'd all play shows in people's basements and in area all-ages spaces. Areif Sless-Kitain, the drummer in my current band, was in one of those other bands. After high school, he moved to D.C. and I stayed in Philly and started playing as a solo act. Although I learned a lot about songwriting from being in my high-school band, I preferred to write when I was alone. I could get into my own head a bit and think about ways of conveying a story or an emotion without the distraction of other players noodling around.

CP: Why did you add a band?

CGM: Although there were things I liked about playing solo, it was challenging to get up in front of people with just a guitar. It was intimate. It could also be really stressful. When I met [Soundgun Studios producer] Edan Cohen [and bandmates] Chris Powell, Chris Reggiani and Larry Brown a few years ago, they inspired me to collaborate with other people again. They were so talented and excited about music -- their energy was infectious. With my new trio, too, which consists of Areif on drums -- he moved back to Philly last year -- and Daryl Hirsch on keys, I enjoy playing live so much more as a member of a band than I did as a solo act. During rehearsals, we sit around and arrange the songs, but I am still able to write guitar and vocal parts on my own.

CP: What can you tell me about the CD?

CGM: I don't have a title worked out, yet. It will be a full-length album of at least 10 songs. I am currently working with an attorney and a PR firm to get the demo passed around and to consider what labels would be appropriate for me.

CP: Any regrets, business-wise?

CGM: If I'd had the time, energy and money, I would have begun working with a publicist and booking agent years ago, even if I was still putting albums out on my own record label. I might have taken some time off from school to promote the CD. But, I've been able to do things at my own pace, which has been good, and I've learned a lot in the process. I've liked having a little label name and logo, something other than just using my own name for things. I wish I had used my full name with middle initial or full middle name from the start. It was suggested to me that I should use my middle initial, G, after there was a mix-up between me and another Cynthia Mason in Philadelphia. No kidding. I got repeated phone calls and letters from the school district, IRS and police looking for another Cynthia Mason who had apparently run into some trouble with the law. Once I was even accused over the phone of allowing my son to beat up another kid. I have no children. People seem to get annoyed when I include the G and I've been very apologetic about it. It's probably not as much a problem now because I think that other Cynthia Mason left town -- I haven't gotten any threatening mail or phone calls in a while.

CP: If you could go back in time and teach your '96 self something about the music business, what would it be?

CGM: I'd tell myself to learn web design right away. I'd be more vigilant about keeping mailing lists and keeping them organized.

CP: Do you have a job in law yet?

CGM: I graduated from law school and I am currently working part-time as a law clerk. When I was in school, I worked at Women Against Abuse and Philadelphia Legal Assistance, doing work around domestic violence issues. I think women are fucked by the legal system and I'd like to do something about it.

Performing Songwriter Magazine

Cynthia G. Mason’s self-titled CD is startlingly intimate. Her songs are confessional, indicting, personal and fierce, but her detached delivery leavens the emotion conveyed by the performance and allows it instead to be felt by the listener. On the hushed, lyrical “’95”, Mason’s straightforward delivery is embraced by crystalline plucked strings and breathing, open pauses between phrases that set the stage for important lines and quietly moaning swells of cello and viola. On “Critic,” Mason’s moody acoustic guitar carries the song but for the occasional jagged, static-touched computerized addition (noises, percussion, ominous tones) from producer Edan Cohen. Mason’s writing has been aptly compared to Joni Mitchell for its easy eloquence and the impenetrable mysteriousness of her images. She also writes with the personal honesty (but not the histrionics) of Tori Amos and the fluidity (but not the preciousness) of Sarah McLachlan. With the wonderful musical additions brought by her musicians and the overall heroin-high linear quality of the production, Mason’s CD is much like the Velvet Underground with Nico—except Mason can sing.

Prefix Magazine

I once had a roommate from Pennsylvania. "Schnapps for colds, gin for the flu!" was his rally call for the ailing, and he told horrifying stories of routine beatings and driving under the influence of everything under the sun. Nice enough, but he-- and by extension, Pennsylvania-- scares the hell out of me. Philly's Cynthia Mason is starting to change my impression. From the gentle plucking and soft strings of "'95" to the wallowing, distorted guitars of "2 Cents Turned to Billions," Mason's placid delivery and appealing production have lulled me into believing Pennsylvania is a modern-day utopia with mood-lighting. I might just head back East for my old roomie's wedding.

Philadelphia City Paper

“...While songwriting can be a potentially frustrating waiting game, fortunately Mason’s been patient, honing her share of gems. Her early work was recorded solo on her home four-track and released on two cassettes—Untitled (1996) and Critical Neighborhood Map (1998)—on her label, Spiderwoman Records. She was pretty wary about working with other musicians...However, once she started hanging out at Soundgun Studio at the behest of one of the owners, her friend Edan Cohen, Mason changed her tune...Whatever diffidence she once felt toward adding other players, you’ll find few traces of it now. The resulting self-titled, Cohen-produced album is an exquisitely arranged affair, from the precise folk-rock backing on “Measure” to the unsettled string section on “Wit’s End”...Live the songs take on yet another new life. Among the musicians recruited for the album was Chris Powell, who in turn introduced Mason to Larry Brown and Chris Reggiani. All three are also members of Need New Body, and you can just see the standard press blurb: Acoustic guitar-strummin’ songstress...joins forces with three-fifths of an art-jazz-rock freak-out troupe. But that’s a bit reductive when it comes to this group. Why accentuate polarities when they make music that sounds so natural? Their supple renditions of “Subtle Things” and “For a Living”—with Reggiani’s sturdy bass, Brown’s subtle guitar colorings and Powell’s inventive, quietly urgent percussion—underline the restless, even angry emotions that lurk in Mason’s songs. ‘We pretty much took the tunes and just arranged them for a live setting,’ says Brown, ‘And that’s something I think is a really great achievement. You come up with an album like that with great string arrangements, percussion, and computer effects and then take it and re-do it all over again for the sake of playing live. With these guys, with Chris, Chris, and Cynthia, we could probably do it again. Just for the fun of it.’”...

Philadelphia City Paper- Best of Philadelphia

BEST OF: "Creepiest chamber pop songstress" (and we mean this in a good way)... The year is 1967. The occasionally sunlit Velvet Underground With Nico LP is released, the ultimate exercise in insect-paranoid noir rock with a viola and a German girl singer. That same year on the other side of New York City, Joni Mitchell plans her dusky chamber folk debut Song For A Seagull and the cooly complex lyricism behind "Night in the City" and "Nathan la Franeer." Cynthia G. Mason is all THAT and a bag of chipped shoulders. With Grace Kelly-esque grace and Nico-like allure, Mason - on her eponymous debut CD (Spiderwoman) - intones intricately detailed songs for her seagulls like the aptly titled "Subtle Things" and "Measure."

Rockpile magazine

A longtime acoustic solo regular, Philadelphia songwriter Cynthia Mason’s debut CD features a full backing band. Think Cat Power, Ida, but not. Mason’s writing rules by force of nuance and mood rather than irksome hooks. Emotive and genuinely touching, this is the voice of an embrace, as well as a tear. Amazing.

Philadelphia Weekly

“...More than just a means to distribute her tapes of 4-track recordings, Spiderwoman has served as an effective tool in carving out a personalized space for her music, words and thoughts...Although she’s a female singer/songwriter—a figure very much in the current commercial zeitgeist—Mason doesn’t play folk ditties or novelty tunes. Her songs are dark and often anguished, strolling paths cleared by Kristin Hersh and Cat Power. Mason’s lyrics build fuzzy emotional pictures with asymmetrical images (“They fed them legends like flies/A selfish mourning forged a hostile divide”) And occasionally zero in with uncanny precision (“It’s easier to humor your sense of obligation/Than to borrow what you took.”). Her sound is somber, made all the more stark by the leftover space surrounding the skeleton of Mason alone with her five-string guitar...”