With four warmly reviewed albums to his credit, including this year’s “Summer Cold,” songwriter/guitarist Mason Summit would appear to have a competitive edge at USC’s Thornton School of Music. But while the well-spoken sophomore’s grateful for the “nice community of fellow musicians and supportive family” who’ve helped facilitate his accomplishments, he’s keenly aware “a lot of people … are way further along in their careers than I am.” His sights are trained on the horizon.
The poised Santa Monica native has virtually grown up on LA stages, mentored by industry veterans, and recently performed alongside marquee acts at Wild Honey Foundation benefit concerts at the Alex Theatre. Throughout his 2016 album “Gunpowder Tracks” and 2014’s “Loud Music & Soft Drinks,” he was joined by session players who back the likes of Rita Coolidge, Mavis Staples and Joe Strummer. Some were friends of his parents, literary doyenne Susan Hayden (a friend of this writer) and late actor Christopher Allport. He’s heard many talk shop about a music biz “entirely different” from the one confronting his generation.
“Previous modes of making a record and selling it basically don’t exist anymore, which is really scary,” he acknowledges. “It’s the worst time and the best time in so many ways. It’s easier than ever to get your music out there, but then you have to compete with millions more people who also are putting their stuff out. I recorded this new album almost entirely myself at home with like no budget, and paid a few bucks to get it online and there it is, you know?
“On the other hand, expectations about money you can actually make are lowered immensely. I grew up with musicians that spend their lives on the road, like Peter Case, Dave Alvin — family friends in their 50s and 60s that are still touring all the time to audiences that want to hear them, which is amazing, but it’s brutal and taxing. That’s just an entirely new reality that is unique. We’re like the guinea pig generation for this industry.”
An ardent Elliott Smith fan, Summit sensitively plumbs loss and emergent self-awareness throughout the 12 intimate songs comprising “Summer Cold.” The bittersweet title track’s protagonist sounds almost happy about catching a lover’s germs, while hopeful arrangements cradle the romantic misery of “Catch & Release” and “Like Hell” (“I miss you like hell and I hope I never see you again/ Because the ending was so perfect, every wavering goodbye/ No remake could match it so I won’t even try”).
Summit wants to compose for film, make original music, and produce other artists. For now, he’s maximizing low financial overhead as a student, making albums while others release singles.
“It would probably make more sense in terms of marketability and promotion to just release a couple EPs a year, always have something new coming out. But I grew up listening to records in the most original sense of the word. That’s just the way I’m wired.” n
Mason Summit opens for Terry Reid at Wild Honey Foundation’s Backyard Amphitheatre, 1167 Kipling Ave., Eagle Rock, 4 p.m. Sunday, April 15; $20-$40. Tickets: m.bpt.me/event/3366062. Masonsummit.com, facebook.com/WildHoneyEagleRock