An Interview With Office's Scott Masson

There has been one band out of Chicago in recent memory that makes me a bit sad that I left Chicago some years ago. That band is Office. They have had the unique effect of appearing equally genuine and contrived at the very same time to the skeptic in me. Songs so earnest are rarely found in the "pop" vein. Call me what you will, but how could it be that these folks making pop music could really love music? I don't know, to be honest. But they are, and you can tell.

You might find it funny that my first introduction to Office was through a free download of their song "Wound Up" on iTunes several months back. I know what some of you are thinking, and yes, usually iTunes can't recommend bands I haven't heard of. But lo...there was Office. A short while ago I sent some questions to the band's frontman, Scott Masson, through the band's publicist, and today I got my answers! The band is currently unsugned, but in this interview Scott hints at how that might change in the future. So the question you have to ask yourself is this: When Office comes and takes over your world, will you be ready?

In as many words as you would care to use, how did this awesome band come to be?

Office formed because it made sense at the time. We all love each other very much, and there are some things we have to get off our chests. Gravity is a strange phenomenon, and nobody will ever be able to predict when it will bring people together. The word "office" is superfluous in the end. It's not a concept band, contrary to what a few people think. Every band makes decisions and delegates responsibilities. With a little bit of luck, we'll write some good songs that people will put on 15 years down the road.

Describe, if you could, each member's background in music or art before joining the group.

Tom Smith (guitar, voice) is a brilliant artist. His guitar playing is painterly, unique, and the work of a genius. He sings with a lot of wit and sardonic humor, which works well for us. He's been playing the guitar and singing since he was a young lad, and did a lot of time in punk rock prison. Tom studied print-making in Baltimore, and had some bands out there before he moved back to his hometown of Oak Park, IL. He's the youngest in the group, and definitely the most romantic.

Alissa Noonan (bass) is a closet vocalist. Since she's incredibly shy, I only hear her sing every once in awhile. She's got a beautiful voice, and I can't wait until we start working with it in the studio. Her background is mostly in art, particularly photography, but she takes a very serious approach towards music. Almost scientific. There have been shows where Tom, Erica, and I are extremely spent, but Alissa will carry us through the entire set because she is so solid and consistent. Alissa, who grew up in Chicago, is a very strong and opinionated lady, which is always refreshing to be around
Born and raised in Rockford, IL, Erica Corniel (drums, voice) is not only a fantastic drummer, but her voice has a lot of love in it too. She is a natural entertainer, and a hilarious person offstage. She keeps us loose, and helps me out with the administrative duties for the band. Her background is mostly in electronic music and DJ culture, as well as MCing on various hip hop tracks with underground Chicago-area producers. Erica has a keen understanding of dance music, and hits the drums way harder than most male drummers. She doesn't believe in unnecessary drum fills either, and plays only what is best for the song. This approach towards beat-making is almost impossible to find these days, so it's a kind of a gift when you do.

Jessica Gonyea (voice, percussion) is a new addition to the group, and she helps us keep our energy elevated. She's from Grand Rapids, MI, and moved to Chicago around the same time I moved here. She's got a really sweet voice, and plays a mean cowbell and tambourine. Her background is in painting, design, and fashion. She'll be doing some keyboard work with us pretty soon as well. We just started to work with her, so we're still learning more about her as we go. Again, Jessica is one of those people who keeps you laughing through the stressful moments of being in a band.

My name is Scott Masson (guitar, vocals, piano), and I'm from a little town in the suburbs of Detroit called Milford, MI. When I was a kid, I would listen to records, and pick out the individual vocal harmonies, and practice them over and over for about 8 hours every day. I applied this same strategy to drums, bass, and guitar. To this day, I don't know how to read music, because my education was through listening. I was a hired musician by the age of 13, and was making a lot of money playing in wedding bands, country bands, pit orchestra bands, and as a session player, etc. I gave up that whole scene around 15 years old, when I discovered punk rock. Later on during art school, I was very much inspired by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Christo, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Modigliani, and Barbara Krueger....among others (old and contemporary). All of these people completely blew my mind, and forced me to think about music in a different light. Office was born around that same moment I was studying these visual artists. It was never supposed to be a rock and roll band. That was an accident.

Has the band come anywhere close to signing with a label that meets the band's needs/requirements?

We are in discussion with a few labels as we speak. Our requirements are very simple: let us produce our own records, write our own songs, and create our own visual design aesthetic.

What is the song-writing process like for Office?

I write the songs, and we orchestrate them together as a collective. It's way more enjoyable for a band to work together, rather than having the "front man" spoil the show with one singular vision.

Production is where each composition is fine-tuned and sculpted. All of those notes and parts that work well during band practice or onstage, may not work during the recording phase. Most of the time, production is simplifying parts......if not completely subtracting them altogether. This tends to be my area of dominance, since I write the songs, and have made so many albums throughout my life. I'm always open to new ideas though, as long as they fit the song. I'm discovering that the band is fully capable of making these songs better than I can. This is a new sensation for me, especially since I have been working alone for the last several years.
Writing songs and producing records is usually a pain in the ass, and it's never a relaxing experience. The fun is when you can sit back, have a couple drinks, and listen to what you've accomplished with your friends. In our Office world, the song is only "complete" when there is a recorded, mixed, and mastered version on the table. Composing is only 50 percent of the game. Until the recording is finished, there is no satisfaction in life....only heartaches, clenched teeth, bitching and moaning, and a total lack of sleep. The process of giving birth is always painful, if you really love what you're doing.

I've been wondering something for a while, since your songs are somewhat lyrically subtle or inferential. What's the story behind "Wound Up"?

Nobody has ever asked us that question, so I appreciate it. "Wound Up" is a song about not being afraid to leave your house during a full moon, when all the freaks are out on the town. It's about embracing that wonderful city chaos, and going with the flow. I used to have this friend who never wanted to leave her house during a full moon, because she was afraid she'd lose her mind, or get murdered in the process. Forget drinking a bottle of wine, for she would surely lose all bodily control! Basically, it was much easier for her to stay at home, and sit in front of the TV, where she could wait out the night. Oddly enough, I'm sure she ended up even more wound up than I was, despite that fact that she stayed inside during such peculiar evenings.
This song was my way of calling her out for being afraid of the unknown.

The production of "Wound Up" took 11 months of composing, editing, drafting, demoing, and revising. It's by far the most epic pop song I've ever been a part of, and a lot of time and love went into it. Erica and Tom's vocals were great. I'm very proud of the song, and the production. It's ironic that the song comes across as "light-hearted" and "care free" as it does, because the lyrical mood is somewhat dark. There's a homeless guy offering up a joke for my pocket change, cars colliding, black cats, alley rats, drunk, patriotic tourists, social awkwardness, blue skies turning black, and people coming and going in and out of our lives.

The concept of "fear" was really in style the year "Wound Up" was written (2004). It's interesting to see all of that changing now. It feels as though people are less afraid this year. Maybe I'm wrong though. Who knows?

Here on this site I do my best to avoid describing bands in terms of other bands, opting to use music-specific terminology instead of band-specific terminology. Taking that somewhat into account, how would you folks describe your music?

It's folk music to my ears, but that concept seems to only bring up images of people on haystacks and wagons, playing acoustic guitars. That's not how I see us though. Our music is basically inspired by our environments, experiences, difficulties, domestic culture, friends, families, and lovers (oh my!). It's complex song-writing under a facade of simplicity. We like this idea of people dancing and enjoying themselves while they digest certain classic thematic concerns with us. There's a story being told within these songs, and that is the most important part of what we do. The best pop music is usually subversive. We're not singing to select groups of cool underground people, nor do I see us performing at the Super Bowl either. Office is intended for people from all sorts of age, race, economic, and social brackets, and we are very unapologetic about this. It's our goal, however, to do this thing called "pop" with some intelligence, craft, and honesty. Real pop music is always folk music, because it's communicating something in a very believable and truthful way.

If you folks could pick any band you all wanted to, can you think of who you'd like to tour with?

We'd like to tour with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

What does the band's prospective schedule for writing and recording look like for this next year? Are you folks excited for the upcoming tour and recording?

We're wrapping up the writing portion of our new LP, and then immediately jumping into the studio to record. It's all up in the air right now, since we're about to sign with a label (TBA soon!).

Could you explain the concept behind the double EP you have planned for fall release?

Well.....we still haven't decided if it's going to be a double EP, or another full-length LP. I will tell you that the mood is going to be different on this next recording. The lyrics are not as easy to digest, and it's going to be a bit rawer than our previous installment. I can't wait to start working on it, especially since it's going to be recorded on 2-inch tape. We want to re-create a good studio version of our live show. It's something we've never done before. The last 3 Office LPs have had drum machines and synths, and I guess we're all ready to make music that's more organic and human this next time around.

Are there still times when it feels odd to be professional musicians, or has the musician frame of mind taken hold rather thoroughly?

Interesting question. It's always odd to be a professional musician. The public tends to be a lot more critical of musicians than they are of visual artists, actors, and writers. The pubic also tends to hold musicians on a higher pedestal, which is really weird, since most musicians are freaks.

Musicians are dealing directly with the people on a daily basis.....face-to-face.....ear-to-ear. Other creative people can do their work, and not have to show up in person to promote it as much. I'm always amazed at the things I experience before or after we play a show. People tend to treat you differently than the other people in the room, just because you were onstage. That's very bizarre to me.

As a side note, I'm very intrigued by band rivalry, industry politics, legal affairs, and the stalkers that this job brings. Never a dull moment these days. You can't take any of it seriously either, or you'll wind up with a broken heart, and become a bitter and jaded individual. I'm definitely still working on this aspect of the job. For example, we're in the middle of some legal stuff right now, because we were burned by somebody we trusted. Now, this person wants to take a giant sum of money away from us, which we don't even have in the first place. The funniest part about the whole situation is that it's for work he didn't even do! Absurd. Sad. Sometimes this business can drive you to tears because you work so hard, and some people will just take advantage of your trust. I have broken down on numerous occasions in the last few months, but I try and remind myself that not everybody in this business is evil. We have some amazing people working with us to counter-attack all the bullshit.

Every day is a lesson in who to work with, and who to stay away from. At the end of the day, you just need to laugh it off because it\'s just politics. Music is the only thing that matters, especially when you\'re in love with it like we are.

Do any members of the band hold regular jobs? Does any one of you actually work in an office at the moment in addition to your musical obligations?

Erica owns her own dog-walking company, while Jessica is a free-lancer in Chicago. Tom works at a letterpress company, and Alissa is a stylist for a professional photography company. I am the only member in the band who works full-time on Office, doing administrative stuff, mailing CDs, conducting interviews, phone conversations, and tending to our other business affairs. That has become a 9-5 job in itself, which I simply cannot complain about. It's the best job I've ever had!

How did the idea for the band's..."costumes" come about, and how did that concept involve into how the band dresses now?

Our onstage attire has nothing to do with our band name. We hold the belief that if you're getting up in front of people to spout off a bunch of information, then you should look your best in the process. It just so happens that men and women working within Western civilization wear suits, ties, slacks, dresses, skirts, blouses, and power suits to their formal occasions. Anybody who thinks it's a "schtick" has obviously never been to a serious job interview before. Every show we play is a job interview.

Are there any musical acts out there right now that really inspire you guys who you would care to recommend?

All of the following artists are doing beautiful things in Detroit and Chicago. Our friends inspire us on a daily basis: Devin Davis, Mannequin Men, Freer, 800Beloved, The 1900s, Crap Engine, Velvetron, Crush Kill Destroy, The Modern Temper, Star, My Were They, The Changes, The Fake Fictions, and Roommate. I know I\'m probably leaving a few people out though. My apologies to them.....

Thank you for this wonderful interview.
Scott Masson

Here's a couple of songs from Office's album, Q & A...

Office - Wound Up.mp3
Office - Possibilities.mp3

Office's Official Website
Office on MySpace
Stage Hymns' Previous Post on Office


Posted by SL @ 5:43 PM

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