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Rucker's world
Bright Eyes smile on Willy; Grammys engage Killswitch

Earlier this year, the 19-year-old singer-songwriter and Martha’s Vineyard native Willy Mason played Austin’s South by Southwest festival — to a crowd of three. Fortunately, all three were DJs for the BBC’s influential Radio One, and they were so impressed, they invited him to play another showcase the following day, where he was the only unsigned artist on a bill that included Snow Patrol, the Futureheads, and Franz Ferdinand. While Mason was still a complete unknown around here, he broke big across the pond: even before his debut album was officially available, he’d appeared on English TV’s Later with Jools Holland, MTV Gonzo, and 4Play. His single "Oxygen" — a song you’ll be hearing a lot more about in 2005 — is making waves at the legendary English broadsheet NME and on the English version of MTV. Also, his debut album, Where the Humans Eat (quietly released in October), is just the second disc to be released on Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst’s Team Love imprint. Mason struck up a rapport with Oberst after meeting him at a show in New Hampshire, and you can see why they hit it off — they’re both precocious, sad-voiced, Catcher in the Rye–reading kids with acoustic guitars whose rootsy songwriting is too folky for even the Dashboard emo crowd. And on "Oxygen," at least, Mason fesses up to wanting to be the voice of his generation. The US is starting to fall in line, thanks in part to his exhaustive touring with folks like Death Cab for Cutie, My Morning Jacket, and Rosanne Cash. Not too long ago, he made a stop in Long Beach to perform at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival with his 16-year-old brother Sam manning the drums. Where the Humans Eat recently became the #1 album at Emerson’s WERS. Mason’s publicist also handles the White Stripes, his manager is former Run-On sideman David Newgarden (other clients: Guided by Voices, Mark Eitzel), and I guarantee you he does not drink beers at the Middle East. Good luck to the kid. When he’s the next Elliott Smith, just remember: he did not have to hang out with you to get there.

It’s about time motherfuckers recognized Killswitch Engage as one of the world’s premier heavy-metal bands. When they were tapped for a 2005 Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance last week, the band were on the road with Slayer and Mastodon. "It's totally mind-blowing," says bassist Mike D’Antonio over the phone from Montana. "Everyone in the band is completely stunned. We never thought anything like this would happen. At the same time, it’s kinda cool to validate what we’ve been trying to pull off for the past few years. It seems like it makes everything worthwhile — at least to our parents." Come February, Killswitch will be up for the award with fellow New Englanders Hatebreed and Roadrunner label mates Slipknot, as well as Motörhead and Cradle of Filth, a surprisingly contemporary field for the Grammy suits. (To which I say, don’t stop there: maybe they can take a look at Converge, Shadows Fall, Cannae, and Righteous Jams in 2006.) Mike Gitter, the Roadrunner A&R rep who signed Killswitch, is equally enthused. "Killswitch Engage have proven themselves through complete originality and an uncompromising nature. They’ve kicked open metal’s gates of steel for a new generation of bands. A Grammy nomination only states the impact Killswitch has had." Adds D’Antonio, "It definitely broadens our horizons. Coming from a band that used to play basement shows and VFW halls, this is the most amazing point in our career."

Chris Rucker is the host of New England Product, which airs Sundays from 9 to 10 p.m. on WFNX 101.7 FM.

Issue Date: December 17 - 23, 2004
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