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Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013

Country Rockers Chasin’ Mason Avoid Nashville’s Grip


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“I hate country music, but you guys rock.”



That, says Donn Trampe, is “our greatest and most recurrent compliment from first timers” given to the Milwaukee band for which he plays bass, Chasin’ Mason. And considering the band’s M.O., that’s no accident. The titular song of the act’s latest album, Real Life Real Loud, proclaims their mandate to “play country music for a rock ’n’ roll crowd.” More than 20 years since Garth Brooks married stadium-rock antics and cowboy hat/Western shirt ensembles—and more than 40 since The Byrds gave a psychedelic makeover to Grand Ole Opry influences—that claim may no longer seem like a big deal, but the Chasin’ Mason boys come about their country/rock hybrid naturally, without pressure from the Nashville machinery that fuels much of the world’s impression of their chosen genre. 



Though Wisconsin is known as the nation’s Dairyland, country music coming from the state has only made a dent on the national radar. Chasin’ Mason’s sound fits commercial country radio’s current sonic menu, but they’ve developed it on their own terms. Trampe says of the growth the band and their style have experienced since their 2003 formation, “Ten years ago, it was nearly impossible to find venues that would give country music a shot. Back then, country music in Wisconsin was equated with cowboy hats and line dancing. It worked in our favor, as it pushed us to hit the road and start touring early on. Playing here less actually helped build interest at home and in new regions of the country.”

Even though the band has made it big enough to have more than 10,000 Facebook fans and move plenty of CDs, their can-do spirit still meets with challenges. “The big drawback being far from Nashville is the lack of support for an original music scene in the Upper Midwest,” Trampe laments. “Down there, it’s the norm.” 



Though there is more of an established circuit for rock acts in Wisconsin, the success Chasin’ Mason has accrued so far has put them in the position of being boosters for other acts aiming at the same kind of dreams. “Hopefully, we have inspired younger players by showing them you can make original music, tour and support yourself as a musician in Wisconsin,” Trampe says. What, then, of their relationship to the city that continues to rule the country roost? After playing a number of showcases for labels and publishers, Trampe’s impression of Nashville is that “it’s a really fickle town. We have watched many artists we befriended over the years burn out quickly down there. We are blessed to have an amazingly supportive fanbase and are content to make music our way in Wisconsin. Too many ‘industry’ opinions can get a band off track and destroy the magic.” Trampe admits that Music City suits almost got to Chasin’ on occasion as well. 



One thing the guys share with the current country mainstream is a fascination with hip-hop musical elements, heard on at least a couple of Real’s songs. Their incorporation of styles from airplay chart-toppers such as Jason Aldean and Bake Shelton has been controversial among many traditional country fans but Trampe puts it in an understandable, sympathetic context. “It’s not just country. Urban music has influenced the approach, subject matter, production and fashion of all corners of popular music. We all grew up listening to a wide variety of music, not just country.” As for the one instance of turntable scratching on their latest long-player, it has a rural point of reference. “It was to make it sound like a rooster crowing (or) chicken pickin’ on a guitar.” Though Trampe concedes that there’s an increasing homogenization in U.S. pop music, he draws a line: “It goes too far when country forsakes its roots to sell records. You can hear the difference between influence and gimmick.”

As for their own sound, Chasin’ Mason maintains a balancing act. The fact that the members’ musical diets range from Merle Haggard and Keith Urban to U2 and Metallica guarantees that, per Tampe’s description, “this isn’t your parents’ country.” Yet their name itself speaks of respect for a mentor. “It’s an homage to country guitar great Brent Mason,” Trampe explains. “We felt like his level of mastery is a life-long goal. No matter how far we would go, we would always be Chasin' Mason.” 



Chasin’ Mason headline the Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, Dec. 21, with opener Naima Adedapo. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is $10, or $5 with the donation of an unwrapped toy.

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