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FOREWORD

Mason Maggio is a man of many talents. Currently he is the sole member of Souveneer, an indie-folk/rock project formed in 2016, but you might also know him as the lead singer from The Republic of Wolves and Tigers on Trains. I caught up with him recently on the progress of his new EP, the future of his other projects, and even his successful stint on Jeopardy.

In addition to the interview, Maggio has also granted Sputnikmusic exclusive early access to his upcoming song, “Evelyn”, which will be on his 2022 EP Sleep Study. “Evelyn” drops officially on Thursday, June 9th.

You can stream “Evelyn” below, as well as Sleep Study‘s two other already released tracks as you navigate through the interview.

Enjoy!


It’s been a while since we’ve caught up for an interview (2016, to be precise). A lot in the world has changed since then…how are you doing?

A very tough question to start things off! Overall I’ve been well. Without getting into major worldwide events, some of the main happenings in my life since 2016 have been moving from New York to LA, getting a dog, becoming obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons, winning on Jeopardy, meeting/collaborating with some amazing songwriters, and growing enough as a musician and artist to fully embrace my solo project.

There’s a big audience on Sputnikmusic for The Republic of Wolves and Tigers on Trains, but your solo project, Souveneer, isn’t quite as well-known yet. For our readers, how would you compare Souveneer’s approach (both musically and lyrically) to that of your other projects?

From my perspective it mostly just feels less constricted, and more authentic to who I am as a songwriter — if I’m trying to take a listener’s viewpoint I’d say it’s a composite of genres from alternative rock to folk to pop to emo, with most of the songs ending up somewhere in that melancholy, introspective indie-folk space. Lyrically it’s probably similar to a lot of the Tigers on Trains material, but with some more self-awareness and even a sense of humor. I still love colorful, poetic, evocative lines, but I think lately I’ve taken to interspersing them with more straightforward, honest, conversational lyrics.

I should specify that when I talk about Souveneer as a project of unrestrained self-expression, I’m essentially referring to the music released from 2019 onward — so I’m kind of disregarding the first two EPs that I put out under this moniker. I don’t disavow those releases, but they definitely represent conscious attempts to push my songs in the direction of one genre or another. So that feels like an earlier, less fully-formed version of the project that exists now.

How did the name Souveneer come to be?

I’ve always been very into linguistics and word origins and whatnot, so when I was playing with possible project names I leaned toward using real language to make up a term that, in some slightly different universe, could have existed. “Souvenir” in French literally means “to remember,” and I guess I liked the idea of combining that with the English suffix “-eer” to indicate something like “a professional rememberer.” As someone who focuses a lot on the past and memory (in both positive and negative ways), I felt like it was really fitting.

Is there a method to the madness when it comes to releasing all EPs, or is this mere happenstance? Are there any plans for a future Souveneer LP?

There’s not really a conscious method, outside of the begrudging acceptance that full-length albums really aren’t a great way to get your music heard as a smaller artist these days. I love albums as a listener, and I’ll certainly put one out for this project at some point — but for now I’ve come to embrace shorter collections of songs as similarly capable of creating an extended, cohesive narrative experience. For what it’s worth my forthcoming EP will be nine songs, which some people would probably consider a full-length record; if anyone ends up perceiving it that way that’s fine with me!

Last year you released Dream Journal, and later this year we’ll be getting Sleep Study. Based on the titles, is it safe to assume that these releases are thematically linked? Are there any motifs that we should be on the lookout for?

They were definitely intended as two sides of the same coin, with Sleep Study starting from some of the songs that I left off of Dream Journal. As I kept writing for the new EP it definitely took on a life and sound of its own, but thematically it’s still a sequel or follow-up to Dream Journal. That central imagery is inspired by my longtime struggle with Narcolepsy, which has sort of shaped everything else in my life. But the songs on both records deal with the usual themes of love and sadness and anxiety and aging, but mostly through a kind of absurdist, surrealistic perspective — recounting life as though it were a ridiculous dream, just in case it is.

Your latest song, “Evelyn”, sounds like something of a lovelorn plea. Can you take us behind the curtain regarding the song’s intent/message?

Interestingly enough “Evelyn” started out as an attempt to write my own version of “How’s It Going To Be” by Third Eye Blind — or at least my personal approach to the themes in that song, which to me is inspiringly beautiful. Some of that inspiration definitely stayed in the DNA of the song throughout the process, but it moved in a more dreamy, fantastical direction. It’s sort of like overlooking a wonderful but complicated relationship from beyond its hypothetical endpoint, reflecting on why it wasn’t right in spite of all the good stuff. So even though there are moments where it sounds like yearning, it’s ultimately more of a bittersweet acceptance of love not working out how you’d planned, in anticipation of that outcome. Along with an acknowledgment that no matter what happens, you’re not walking away empty-handed.


You’ve already dropped two other songs from Sleep Study thus far: “Origin Story” and “Midnight Math“. They take noticeably different approaches, with the former going in an upbeat rock direction (including a brief electric guitar solo) and the latter adopting more of a stripped-back acoustic atmosphere reminiscent of Grandfather. Can you shed some light on what inspired each of these tracks, and if you feel one better exemplifies Souveneer’s “core sound”…if such a thing exists?

Both of those songs came about kind of naturally, almost accidentally, and they just so happened to go in different directions genre-wise. I don’t think the songwriting process was all that different between the two, but in the production stage “Origin Story” really felt like it needed energy and grit and intensity, while “Midnight Math” seemed to call for a gentler and “prettier” folk approach. I’d say that overall these two songs represent both ends of the spectrum of sounds on this EP, with most of the tracks falling somewhere in between. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar throughout, but most of the songs also have a “full-band” feel with drums and whatnot, sometimes bordering on alternative rock or pop-punk.

My personal favorite lines from each song are “Just leave me dying on this hill with what I want to believe / I’m already exactly as free I care to be” and “I’m finding out that sometimes love is shutting the fuck up.” At the risk of putting you directly on the spot, can you delve into what these passages mean, or at least what inspired the overarching sentiment behind each one?

I’m a big fan of subjective interpretation when it comes to lyrics, and I’ll sometimes even change my mind about what my own words mean to me. So nothing is canonical! But as far as my initial intentions for each of those lines: the “Origin Story” chorus lyrics are essentially about the desire (or maybe the need) to make my own truth about who I am, even while acknowledging that there could be some higher, more objective “truth” that would theoretically “set me free.” Meanwhile that last line of the bridge in “Midnight Math” is kind of my realization that relationship issues can often defy neat, rational solutions, so sometimes the best thing you can do is stop asking questions and just live with the messiness of it all. I’m not entirely sure if that’s good advice in general, though.

https://i.imgur.com/cJGdISb.jpg

Credit: Meg Meyer Photography (https://megmeyerphotos.com/)

Souveneer is your solo project, but you also collaborate with plenty of other talented individuals. Can you tell us who’s made valuable contributions to Souveneer, ranging from guest vocalists (“Broken Light”, “Radium”) to folks who are perhaps a little more behind-the-scenes?

Aside from the moments when you hear another distinct voice on one of the songs (i.e. a credited feature like my brilliant friend Alex Aller on “Radium”), this really is a solo project in almost every sense. I’m writing, producing, and mixing everything alone in my small home studio, and I’m performing every piece of instrumentation aside from some of the drum parts — compliments to Grant Whitson for playing the drums on “Origin Story.” That being said, there are plenty of lovely and talented people (musicians and otherwise) who have contributed in less tangible ways to my projects, and to whom I’m extremely grateful. I’m reluctant to start giving specific shout-outs because I’ll surely forget someone and then agonize over it, but I can say that the other members of The Republic of Wolves (Billy Duprey, Christian Van Deurs, and Chris Wall) have all been sources of support, guidance, and inspiration throughout everything. Chris plays drums on one of the later tracks on the EP, and I think all of their voices will end up being present in some gang vocals on one or two of the songs. It’s also worth noting that Billy, on top of being behind a lot of the artwork for this project, has really been my primary sounding board for demos and rough mixes and such, and his feedback often ends up influencing the songs in ways that are hard to measure — so he definitely deserves credit as a consistent creative partner.

What led you to create a cover album of Vampire Weekend’s 2010 LP Contra? Do you have a special attachment to that LP? Tell us what it was like to reimagine and record those tunes.

That’s been one of my favorite records for a long time, and I’ve always thought it was under-appreciated. I love the exciting, intricate, almost whimsical production on the original tracks, but I had always heard an underlying beauty in the songwriting itself that I wanted to shed some more light on. During the pandemic I started recording some simple acoustic covers, and developed the idea of paying tribute to the whole album for its ten-year anniversary. It occurred to me that I could bring together some talented artist friends to showcase a range of voices on the project, making the whole thing a more collaborative, communal experience at a time when that sort of thing was rare. It really was a passion project done purely for the fun of it, and I had such a good time working with all the artists involved; the fact that it eventually got noticed and shared by Ezra Koenig was an amazing, unexpected reward.

What artists and/or albums have had the biggest influence on your career? Is there one record in particular that you cherish as an all-time favorite?

Not sure I can pick one all-time favorite record with any confidence, but when I think about the albums that were most influential to me in my formative years as a songwriter, it’s mostly a bunch of emo/indie classics that stand out: Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie, Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit, Cassadaga by Bright Eyes, For Emma Forever Ago by Bon Iver, Brother’s Blood by Kevin Devine, A Mark A Mission A Brand A Scar by Dashboard Confessional, The Blue Album by Weezer, and plenty more that I’m likely forgetting!

What does the future hold for Souveneer, as well as all of your other projects? I know for a fact that there are folks who are extremely curious about that “forthcoming tigers on trains album” referenced when the 2019 single “Penmanship” dropped. shrine was also a big hit for The Republic of Wolves and there are lots of fans who are practically foaming at the mouth for a follow-up. Are there any carrots to dangle?

In the short term I’ve got the full EP coming in July, along with a music video that’s currently in the works; moving forward I’ll likely keep writing and releasing stuff as Souveneer for as long as I feel like I’ve got something to say. As for the other projects, both are very much up in the air. With The Republic of Wolves we kind of gave it everything we had with shrine, and it unfortunately didn’t really move the needle on our level of recognition or success. So we’re still catching our breath, but we’ll definitely make some more music together in the future — and another record is never totally out of the question. As for Tigers on Trains, we had been in the early stages of writing and recording a collection of new songs when we put out “Penmanship,” but a bunch of life circumstances got in the way of us finishing that project. As it stands we’ll probably put out a couple more of those songs as soon as we get around to finishing them, along with properly releasing some older B-sides and bonus tracks and whatnot. Sooner than later, I think.

As always, I appreciate your time! Feel free to use this space to leave any parting words for our readers.

I want to sincerely thank you along with anyone who took the time to read any or all of this. I’m very lucky to have the support that I do, and I’d really just love to keep making music until the day I die of some extremely rare disease or one-in-a-million freak accident. In all seriousness if you (the reader) can share my music with just one other person who might possibly enjoy it, I’ll be forever grateful to you!


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Sowing
06.07.22
It was good to catch up with Mason again after all these years. I definitely recommend his music, under whatever moniker it may come (The Republic of Wolves, Tigers on Trains, Souveneer). Souveneer seems to be his primary focus at the moment, and I'm very excited for Sleep Study to drop this July as the sequel to last year's excellent Dream Journal EP. Please support this artist if you enjoy his music and/or feel moved to do so. Thanks for reading!

DrGonzo1937
06.08.22
awesome work sow

someone
06.08.22
darn, now i have to check out their stuff

Deathconscious
06.08.22
Looking forward to hearing this. Great to see Frightened Rabbit mentioned.

YoYoMancuso
06.08.22
Great interview, huge fan of Mason’s work! The fact that he’s a Jeopardy winner isn’t surprising lol

YoYoMancuso
06.08.22
Why do apostrophes make this website descend into convulsions

Slex
06.08.22
Damn its sick to see him give Kevin Devine and Dashboard a shout i love those albums

theyearfifteen
06.08.22
my boy! evelyn is a certified BOP (as is the rest of the record)

thecheatisnotdead
06.09.22
Wow, I watch Jeopardy! pretty frequently, and never would've realized that was the same guy, so that alone was pretty cool to discover; the fact that we apparently share some pretty formative albums in common was icing on the cake. Definitely looking forward to that full EP when it turns up next month.

Sunnyvale
06.11.22
Very nice stuff, Sowing!

Veldin
06.11.22
Love Masons work. Been following since His Old Branches. Gonna read this interview later today. Anyone have a link or direct me to Jeopardy episodes? I absolutely love Jeopardy. Can only find clips on YouTube and don’t see it on Netflix

Sowing
06.12.22
His Old Branches is such a gem. Either that or Grandfather is my all-time favorite Mason Maggio work, although Shrine is only a fraction of a hair behind.

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