“The album ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Emmylou Harris revolutionised my perception of country music and inspired me to pursue my own explorations within the genre.”
Melbourne cosmic country artist, Ben Mastwyk writes his songs on the move. Planes, trains, rivers and highways set the mood. “There’s something about the rhythm of the world rolling by that stimulates the process,” he explains. Gold-suited and rhinestoned, Mastwyk leads his seven-piece band, The Millions, into bold sonic territories where songs erupt into swaggering, psychedelic bar-room gems.
He released his debut album, Mornin Evenin in 2015, which granted him an invitation to perform at Nashville’s iconic Bluebird Cafe as part of the 2016 Americana Festival. Further journeys across America’s south inspired his second, more sonically diverse album, Winning Streak (2018).
With a growing reputation as a dynamic entertainer and applauded songwriter, Mastwyk has become an artist to watch in the Australian country music scene. Twice nominated for Best Country Album (Music Victoria Awards), Mastwyk has toured his songs around Australia, NZ and the USA receiving high rotation across national radio. His third album, 2021’s Livin' On Gold Street, debuted at #1 on the Australian Independent charts and #2 on the ARIA Australian Country charts.
Future-facing power-country, taken from his upcoming fourth studio album, his latest single Actually was co-written with singer/song writer, Lara Travis, and co-produced with Michael Hubbard. It exposes Mastwyk’s vulnerable side, often hidden behind his confident exterior, (he and his band, The Millions, are known for their high energy performances and dazzling stage attire).
To learn more about Ben Mastwyk, we asked him about an album that changed his life.
“The album Wrecking Ball by Emmylou Harris revolutionised my perception of country music and inspired me to pursue my own explorations within the genre. The sound of the album has always captivated me and still influences my approach to country music to this day.
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I was introduced to the album at the highly impressionable age of sixteen. Emmylou was one of my mum’s dearest artists, so the album was on high rotation. Produced by Daniel Lanois, the album’s experimental production pushes the boundaries of the genre. The use of unconventional instrumentation, field recordings, electronic drums and loops, not typically associated with country music seemed to open up a secret world.
Songs felt like meditations or even incantations, communing to outer dimensions, reflecting their strange natures back at us. It was a revelation to me that country music, often dismissed as simple and formulaic, could be so complex and nuanced. This helped open the floodgates that would lead to my own experimentations in my song construction, performance, and approach to the studio.
As a teen I was drawn to dark, experimental, and unconventional sounding music. Wrecking Ball took all these elements and placed them within the context of the country song, adding one of the most achingly beautiful and iconic female voices in country music history. Emmylou’s high and lonesome voice seemed to reach back in time and space, hanging with equal parts purity and fragility, expanding infinitely into the chasm of the songs. Her duet with Neil Young on the album’s title track introduced me to her mesmerising duet style that I would fully come to fully appreciate (and obsess over) a few years later when I discovered her recordings with Gram Parsons.
Wrecking Ball became a subtle but constant point of reference for me when recording. Working with guitarist and producer Michael Hubbard in his Melbourne studio, The Shrimp Shack, we’d frequently tap into sonic spaces and production approaches that I came to refer to as “widescreen country”. The large, cavernous sonic environments and layered instrumentation are almost certainly qualities I learned to love while listening to albums like Wrecking Ball.
Wrecking Ball was a gateway to a lifelong love of country music and a desire to push the boundaries of the genre in my own way. It showed me that there is no limit to what can be done with a simple song and a willingness to explore new sounds and ideas.”
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