U student Matt Mascarenas strives to change the way music is made — by reintroducing the creative process when releasing music. In pursuit to keep his music alive creatively, the artist started a solo project. In 2015, he released Westing along with impromptu recordings and a handful of singles. His first full band EP, “Rough Year” was released Nov. 16.
Mascarenas has been a member of a few different bands for the past decade or so but is most well-known in Heartless Breakers, where he became frustrated with the process it took the four-person rock band to release its music, concerned the group would lose its creative process.
“By the time we started writing our songs, they weren’t even recorded, released and marketed for at least another year,” he said. “Which in between that time, I get really excited, then I get really anxious. I kind of lose my patience because at the beginning, when you’re writing — that’s when the songs really feel alive and they excite me.”
With Westing, Mascarenas aims to cut out the anticipation of waiting for his music to be released, particularly by eliminating the financial aspect of a band.
“I wanted to write and record a song and when it was done, I’d just throw it up [online],” he said. “I want to clear my brain of thinking about all of the planning and just write the next song — to make sure it’s more about the creative moment rather than the whole spiel, like: here’s our song, here’s our record and the next year’s worth of touring. Sometimes it’s really exhausting and I really wanted a reason just to make music.”
Mascarenas’s sound is somewhere between the punk-rock music he grew up with and the slower, indie songwriting he grew into. He sought to make “Rough Year” as raw as possible.
“I wrote these songs when I was at a point where I needed good thoughts,” he said. “The songs, lyrically, are about me fighting the negativity in my head, trying to be more optimistic, trying to be more productive. The only reason I got in that position is because I had a difficult year. Making these songs helped me get through it.”
The solo project, however, came with challenges Mascarenas hadn’t expected.
“It’s kind of scary,” he said. “I’m used to collaborating with people. I’ve released many records, but the biggest thing I’ve learned now is the challenge of, ‘OK, when do I call a song done?’ Usually, we’re bouncing ideas around off each other. […] Learning how to manage myself was the biggest thing. That’s what the first song, ‘Calm Down’, refers to.”
The EP also challenged Mascarenas in a personal way. “I always thought, growing up, being angry would motivate me to change whatever position I’m in — and it did,” he said, before adding, “Now that I’m getting older, I just don’t think that’s the healthiest route for me. It’s exhausting and I don’t want to be mad anymore. [This album] helped me look at the world and whatever’s in front of me with a problem-solving way, rather than dropping a song when I get frustrated. That’s not a good way to go about anything. I need to figure out a way to make this song awesome and not give up on it. I would never have thought about that as a challenge before, moving in; to really manage my time, my resources, my emotions and just these little things I didn’t have to worry or stress about before.”
Mascarenas said his time at the U offered a unique opportunity to align the music he is passionate about with the necessity of financial stability.
“Like everyone else, I started going to school with no idea of what I was doing,” he said.
During his time with Heartless Breakers, he began handling the press and public relations and soon found other bands seeking him for help with theirs.
“It’s kind of been backward — doing all the things in my band has pushed me in the direction of, ‘OK, I know what I want to do [in school],” he said. “I learned that having a publicist is really important, but what if I could just do it myself? I got into strategic communication and thought, ‘This is perfect. This is in line with what is happening in my life.’ You know, being in a band doesn’t guarantee a lot of money, so being able to have my ‘two lives’ aligned with each other is such a cool thing.”
“I didn’t build up any campaign plans leading up to [the EP] at all,” Mascarenas said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever released an album with no lead up to it. Honestly, I have to say I’m really pumped on how it’s turned out. I think catching people by surprise has helped people listen to it — it’s a more exciting way. I went in thinking that if I didn’t hear anything back for the next couple weeks, that’s fine. But everyone who’s messaged me that’s downloaded it or bought it, even though it’s free — which is a weird thing — has been really, really cool and more than I could have expected. I have people dropping me money and that was definitely not a goal of mine, so thank you,” he said to all who have helped make his dream a feasible reality.
“Rough Year” is free online and can be downloaded at westing.bandcamp.com.