"New York City is like human Velcro. It's hard for people to get out."
These words from Clear Plastic Masks frontman Andrew Katz may seem a little ironic. After all, his Brooklyn-formed band did get out. And they brought their bluesy, punk- and soul-informed rock 'n' roll with them, all the way to Music City. The Masks' determination to tour led them to two big opportunities: a tour through the Southeast, and a recording slot with powerhouse local producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Fly Golden Eagle) at his studio The Bomb Shelter. The Masks soon found themselves in Nashville more often than they were in New York and decided it was time for a change.
"It happened very naturally," Katz tells the Scene. "We fell in love with Nashville and the South in general and were really turned on by the incredible bands in this town."
With a show at The High Watt on May 21 and the release of their debut full-length Being There May 27 via Kings of Leon's Serpents and Snakes Records, it's safe to say the band has embraced the Nashville lifestyle.
"There's a lot of good people there," guitarist/keyboardist Matt Menold says of New York, "but the competition there has a darkness to it. Down here it's good clean fun."
"You could get a master's degree just hanging out here for a few years with all these talented people," Katz adds. "People say that the guy pumping your gas at the gas station can play guitar better than you, and it's pretty freaking true."
People like Tokic, for example, have helped the Masks keep their live sound — scuzzy, visceral and occasionally teetering on the brink of chaos, as best demonstrated in the song "So Real" — even as they go into the studio. It's an approach Menold calls "keeping it fucking real" — that's not always a priority in other major music cities.
"Andrija knows how to get to the bottom of what our intent is right away," Menold says. "He's someone who you realize in the first few minutes of meeting him that you've been waiting to meet this guy your whole life."
Because of Tokic, the Masks' nostalgic rock will be available for a larger audience. The album, recorded with all analog equipment and without much over-dubbing, is what Menold calls a "meat-and-potatoes kind of record." The band's influences are varied: While Menold, whose father was also a musician, has been surrounded by rock music his whole life, Katz grew up on a steady diet of show tunes and classical until he was 15 and Iggy Pop changed everything. These diverse backgrounds come together in an album founded on a simple friendship and love for playing music together.
"It takes a lot of love and honesty and respect," Katz says, "but it's a joy to make music with your friends."
Two years after their move to Nashville, Clear Plastic Masks have seen the improvement, and with a full-length album, they are ready to move forward as more than just a supporting-slot kind of band.
"I think it represents our first layer of the onion — it really represents our first offering, the first cycle of songs that came through us as a band," Menold says. "I think it's a pretty honest snapshot of where we were at the time. It's an honest reflection of what we were capable of at the time. We've just been fortunate enough to be exposed to just so many righteous motherfuckers."
Both Katz and Menold acknowledge luck's role in their success. "We all share the same canon," says Katz. "Whatever you can get your hands on, whatever is moving through you, don't take too much ownership of it. You're just lucky to have something to shape and work with."