NASHVILLE IS MORE CROWDED THAN EVER WITH NEW AND EMERGING ARTISTS, BUT HUGH MASTERSON HAD A HANDFUL OF FRIENDS HERE TO SHOW HIM AROUND WHEN HE ARRIVED TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO. THE RELATIONSHIPS CAME FROM HIS TIME IN THE WILD BIRDS, TOURING THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST WITH ANOTHER BAND THE LONELY H. SOME OF THOSE MUSICIANS BECAME NIKKI LANE’S BAND AND MOVED TO NASHVILLE FIRST. FOR A PROLIFIC MUSICIAN, HUGH HAS BATTLED STAGE FRIGHT WHEN IT CAME TO PERFORMING HIS OWN ORIGINAL MUSIC AS A FRONT MAN. BUT HAVING HIS BAND’S INSTRUMENTS STOLEN OUT OF A VAN - TWICE - WAS PART OF THE JOLT HE NEEDED TO STEP FORWARD.
What brought you to Nashville?
Music and friends.
You had friends here already?
I had a lot of friends actually. Alex… a lot of the people that play with Nikki Lane. I used to be in a band called the Wild Birds and about 10 years ago I would play shows with a band from the Pacific Northwest called the Lonely H which was Eric and Johnny Whitman, Mark Fredson, and a bunch of those guys and they all moved here a few years before I moved here. I had been living in Milwaukee for 15 years, moved there for college and stayed there and just needed a change and warmer weather too to be honest. And as a musician, if you’re going to move, this is the place that makes sense.
How is the music scene there?
It’s good. There’s a lot of differences. There’s a lot of great musicians and practice spaces are cheap and people take practice really seriously so the bands I was in we always practiced three times a week. It was just part of the deal. If you were in a band you had to go to rehearsal. And here, you hire a band and get one rehearsal, if you’re lucky, you’ll get two rehearsal before a gig. And everyone’s really professional and they come prepared, but when you’re playing with different guys all the time it can be kind of nerve racking because you’re used to with the same guys and rehearsing a lot so that’s kind of different. And when you rehearse here, you’re usually stuffed into somebody’s living room, playing into tiny amps and trying to make it work.
Do you think the difference is that people here are trying to do it as a career, where as people there may have other full time jobs and are just doing it for fun?
I think that’s pretty accurate. You know, it was like a club. You would go to band practice and everyone wanted to be really good at what they did. But it was also drink beers at the bar together after the gig and keep hanging. So yeah, I think so.
Is this the first time you’ve done your own music outside a band?
Yeah, I had always played guitar or bass with different bands and new that I could sing and was too shy to do it. You know that story. But I thought I sounded really good in the car by myself. And I knew that I could write but I always was kind of too shy and chicken to do it. And I just got to the point that I started feeling guilty and knew if I didn’t step out and do something I would regret it and I was just never going to do it. And you don’t want to hinder yourself. I was in a band and we had gotten robbed for the second time, all our gear got ripped off and the wind was out of our sail. And I just wanted to start writing and playing my own thing and everyone that was in that band ended up being in the band with me. And back home, my name is Hugh Robert Masterson, so people called me Hugh Bob, so we started a band, Hugh Bob and the Hustle. That was my first time writing songs and singing and being the front person. And then I moved down here and The Hustle stayed back in Milwaukee so I decided to just go by my name, Hugh Masterson.
It was probably easier playing with the same band, to start doing your own music?
Yes, absolutely. There’s a comfort level there. They were very supportive and helped craft songs. But yeah, a lot of pats on the back when I needed it.
What was the first show like playing all of your own music?
I was so terrified. I was so nervous. I was sitting in the basement of the venue and I just wanted to run away. Just so much fear and anxiety. And again, I was like, I could just slip out into the alley and leave and that would be my legacy. They would be like, “yeah, I guess he’s pretty good but he never played a show.” I just had to step up and do it. I was really nervous and my mouth was really dry, but after a couple songs, the crowd was digging it, then it felt really good and I think when the adrenaline kicks in and takes over, the fear goes away.
Then after that was it easy?
Yeah, then I was excited about it. I still get anxiety before shows. Some shows more than others, I never know when it’s gonna come, but the adrenaline kicks in and knocks it out.
Do you want to talk about your new album?
Yeah, Lost and Found. I had recorded it in Benton Harbor, Michigan with this guy Bill Skibbe at this place called Key Club Recording Company, where the Kills and the Dead Weather record. The Black Keys did a record there, a couple records ago. It’s the type of place that you sleep there. You record there and you sleep there. There’s bunk beds, and no windows, so you’re just locked in and focused on what you’re doing. So it was an interesting experience. Then I came down here with the songs and The Hustle stayed behind but I recorded with those guys. But when I came down here, Justin Glasco mixed it and we added horns and a harmonic, and a guest vocal on one of them, which was a benefit of living here. He said we needed a horn section on this song and just text somebody and they come over and bring their buddy and they already have the song figured out too.
Probably that day too.
Yeah, for sure. You can’t really do that anywhere else.
When did you put it out?
This is your first full length. Did you have anything out before that?
Under Hugh Bob and the Hustle, I put out a record. This is the first under my name.
So what is the plan following this?
I want to record again. These songs, it feels like Hugh Bob and the Hustle but it feels more mature than the first record. I just had a lot of fun with the first record and it was a lot of tongue in cheek kind of stuff. And I think there’s more maturity with this and I think the next stuff I record will be a little less rock-country and a little more down to earth. Because I found myself going on the road with a lot of different people and having to play these theaters by myself. I wrote these songs thinking I was going to have a band on stage with me, so I wrote them to be kind of fun songs, and some of those songs you can’t do by yourself. So I think a lot of the songs I’ve been writing, is writing with the idea that it’s going to sound great with a band but if I have to play solo shows that it’s going to transfer a lot better that way.
Can you tell us about the place where the video was filmed?
We filmed the song today, Small Town, which I wrote with Brian Elmquist from the Lone Bellow and it was the first song I wrote when I moved down here. And we filmed it today at the wood shop. I work here, it’s called Woodtones and we build custom cabinets and furniture.
Catch Hugh at Music City Roots on October 25th.