Mason Summit may be only 19, but he has been playing and recording music since the age of 13. His debut album, Absentee was released in 2012 and followed by the cleverly titled, Loud Music and Soft Drinks in 2014. Both albums were critically acclaimed with the popular music blog Hyperbolium asserting that “Mason Summit’s second self-produced album suggests Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds Era” and M Music and Musicians Magazine claiming that Summit showed, “remarkable self-awareness”. With Gunpowder Tracks, Summit continues to prove himself a born artist and takes his earned seat amongst more mature pop musicians.
Again collaborating with engineer/mixer John McDuffie (Rita Coolidge’s longtime guitarist/musical director), Gunpowder Tracks boasts another who’s who in Los Angeles session players. Summit takes the lead with vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, electric sitar, Mellotron, synthesizer, electric piano and adding a little rhythm with a rainstick. Forming the core of the group: On drums and percussion is Shawn Nourse (I See Hawks in LA); the extraordinary Jeff Turmes (Mavis Staples) on electric and upright bass, clarinet; Carl Byron on keys, harmonium and accordion; McDuffie on guitars including slide. Adding to the production is Lynn Coulter on congas and tambourine, Matt Fish on cello, Chad Watson on trombone and Neil Rosengarden on trumpet.
Summit draws from the past, citing ‘60s style pop and ‘50s rock and roll as heavy influences, while being intrigued by the more explorative and experimental tendencies of Wilco and Jon Brion. The first track off of the album, “Cellophane Skin” is a melancholy mid-tempo tune that Summit placed as the opener after using upbeat rocking tunes to open his past two albums.
Proudly owning the over-the-top angst and confusion that comes with being a teenager is “Splatterpaint” while “Detour” changes the mood a bit in tone and style. A little more whimsical, the music pays tribute to the jazz influence of Fats Waller.
The title track, “Gunpowder Tracks” incorporates a Dixieland-style horn and reed section while, “Snakeskin Shoes, Crocodile Tears” is Summit’s version of a murder ballad. “Sidestreet” is a stylistic nod to Elliot Smith, while drawing lyrical influences from ‘40s film noir. The ending track, “Last Time” is a smooth jazz breakup song with a sentiment that Summit tries to live by, “There’s a last time, so make it last.”
“There’s a lot more attention to detail on this album,” explains Summit, “I treated each song as its own little production, and spent a lot of time getting the right guitar tones, drum sound and keyboard settings for each one.”
Growing up in an artistic household contributed to Summit’s aspirations. His mother is a poet and his father was a musician and actor. After graduating from high-school last June, Summit took a gap year while applying to the USC Thornton School of Music and will begin studies there in August. “(The year) was a time of personal turmoil but also one of musical growth,” states Summit, “I started being a little more active as a lead guitarist, accompanying singer-songwriters, Sofia Wolfson, Hazel Moon and Zander Hawley.” The artist also interned for producer Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck) and landed a job working concerts at the legendary McCabe’s Guitar Shop.
“These experiences taught me a lot, both personally and professionally, and I think it shows on the album,” said Summit, “I like to think that maybe I have a wider and more eclectic frame of reference than other kids my age.”