Thanks to Mason's Case, there's hope for the brave and unabashed singer-songwriter-turned-hard rocker out there. About five years into the lifespan of the band, frontman Matthew Alfano - an avid writer of Dave Matthews-style acoustic music - noticed a change. The addition of hardcore drummer David Smith a few years back no doubt had a lot to do with it, and pretty soon, the music was going from laid-back, unplugged fare to something heavier, bigger, darker - almost Tool-like.
"I'm shocked to see how far the music has come and what we're playing now," Alfano said.
It was a mutual decision to go harder-edged.
"Matt would bring me these songs that were slow and relaxed and lovey-dovey, and I'm more of a rocked-out kind of guy, so I would turn them into rock or punk songs - double-time this part or change something else - and he jumped all over it," Smith said.
This heavier sound really comes across on the band's new full-length, "The Gloom," which drops Saturday at Small Planet. The subject matter of the album, Smith says, is a big step away from typical Mason's Case, meaning fewer upbeat tracks and more in-your-face rock, inspired by real-life trials and hardships.
"It's a lot more emotional and there's a deep, underground rock kind of feel to it," Smith said. "We write about the times in our lives, and we definitely went through some darker days for a couple years trying to move forward with our music career, and it got frustrating."
The album, Alfano added, is also political.
"The CD is four years in the making, so it definitely touches the Bush era," he said. "When you start seeing friends suffering because of a business not working or seeing the (Hurricane) Katrina disaster, you can't help but have it creep into the songs.
"I feel like everyone has experienced some gloom the past four years. This album is the dark side of us, but there is still light at the end of the tunnel."
Right now, Mason's Case is in a good place. The guys - who originally met at Michigan State University back in 1998 and named the band "Mason's Case" after the two of the campus dorms - have packed their bags and moved to Chicago, although East Lansing is still "home." In Chicago, they've secured a regular gig at The Elbo Room. They've landed showcases, like MOBfest this June, with big-named labels.
Alfano, Smith, guitarist Jason Lantz and bass player Jason Rodriguez are truly working their dream.
"This is our crowning achievement, sonically," Smith said of "The Gloom," which was recorded at The Church in Plymouth with producer Matt Binder. "I highly recommend sitting in a dark room and listening to the album front to back - with headphones."
- From an article by Anne Erickson, featured in Noise Magazine.