Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore know a thing or two about writing love songs. In between playing as key members in Steve Earle’s band The Dukes, the duo has spent the last decade refining their craft. Under the name of The Mastersons, they have struck a balance between Chris’s guitar chops and Whitmore’s prowess on the fiddle, blending them together along with rich harmonies to create their own style of infectious Americana and roots music. As both lovers and creative partners, their music has always managed to capture their unique dynamic and romantic spark in the form of heartfelt songs.
All of this may make the title of their newest album, No Time For Love Songs, seem a little odd. If it’s not immediately clear, the title speaks to the seriousness of our troubled times. The duo deals with themes of grief, loss, and the collective dismay felt by so many people after the 2016 election. But there is a touch of irony in the title as they do in fact find time for love songs, and it’s love that seems to push them forward and keep them hopeful throughout the album’s songs. Produced by Shooter Jennings, No Time For Love Songs finds The Mastersons moving towards a more rocking power pop sound, at times even veering into 60s psychedelia, while still keeping their roots music credentials in tact. In his review for Glide, Jim Hynes described No Time For Love Songs “as an album that channels a range of adult emotions from grief, anger, disbelief, and a deep respect for those lost into charming, evocative, gorgeous songcraft that serves for both an excellent listen and outlook.” Recently, Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore took the time to chat with us about the new album, our dire times, the influence of living in LA on their sound, working with Shooter Jennings and more.
The title of the album immediately resonates as a reference to our troubled times and the title track directly references many of the issues facing us today. Where did the idea come from for the title, and as a duo that has been known to write a damn fine love song, do you feel artists should be focused on more serious matters?
A typical new song came on the radio with another cliché line about whiskey as parts of the world are literally on fire (California, then the Amazon, and Australia) and it just seamed hollow with all the troubles that the world is facing. We’ve always found inspiration from the times we’re living in (“Good Luck Charm” – written during some politically turbulent times in Texas). Artists have to seek and speak their own truths and it usually resonates with people when it’s authentic and something people can relate to. A lot of people are affected by the ugliness we’re seeing in politics and the way we treat each other. Ironically, “No Time For Love Songs” is a love song. We need to face some of these issues and each other together and with a little more love and kindness.
Is this a protest album?
We definitely found a lot of inspiration and important things to speak out about over the years and especially since the 2016 election. Some of the songs on the record would fall into that category, but we’ve also had some pretty profound losses over the years that have caused us to reflect, take inventory and to be grateful for what we have. Everyone needs a little hope in this world.
The theme of loss weighs heavily on this album, especially on songs like “The Last Laugh”. Can you talk about how you translated your own personal losses into songs?
Commemorating a lost loved one in song is a way to process grief and to celebrate their memory forever. Everyone can relate to loosing someone and we hope some of these songs can offer someone comfort. During difficult times, your mind tends to rest on the people you can’t talk to anymore and you wish you could ask them for guidance. These songs are a means to communicate and celebrate.
Shooter Jennings worked with you on the album. How did this partnership come about and what did he bring to the table creatively that maybe was unexpected for you?
We met Shooter about a decade ago when we all lived in NYC. We played on a couple of his records (Family Man, The Other Life). After those sessions we got so busy touring with Steve Earle and The Dukes that we didn’t get to tour either of those albums with him. He called us in January 2019 to record what would be Tanya Tucker’s Grammy-winning Country Album of the year that he co-produced with Brandi Carlile at Sunset Sound in LA. We were reminded of his incredible musicianship, but we also love making records with our friends. Our minds were made up after working on Tanya’s record together. We’ve always been a fan of Shooter because he has such a vast array of musical touchstones. The only thing unexpected was to see what kaleidoscope filter he would see our songs through and we had a lot of fun doing that.
I feel like much of this album has more of a rocking, power pop sound than your other efforts. Did you have a sound in mind that you were going for when you started recording?
We’ve been a big fan of power pop from Big Star, Badfinger and would also consider ourselves anglophiles. We also obviously have southern roots and it’s a lot of fun to ride the ridge between genres and we often say we’re as much a fan of Ray Davies as Ray Price.
How has living in LA changed your perspective, and can we hear that in the music?
The Laurel Canyon 12-string sound of the Byrds is definitely a geographical reference point for the record and also for the time and place of earlier protest music. LA is definitely a bit more laid back and the vibe we were going for on this record.
When you start writing for an album, is there a conscious effort to balance out one another’s songs?
We do balance each other when writing these songs. We’re really good at editing each other and having another perspective helps pull the lens back far enough for more people to relate.
This album marks the 10th anniversary of your partnership. Has the dynamic and approach changed at all in that time? Has it gotten easier to work together on music?
It’s constantly evolving! I think we’d probably lose interest if it weren’t. I don’t think it’s necessarily gotten easier as we’re two very passionate people living under one roof. That said, we enjoy it very much and might be better at navigating the highs and lows.
MAR 10 New Haven, CT – Cafe Nine w/Bonnie Whitmore
MAR 11 Providence, RI – Askew Bistro w/Bonnie Whitmore
MAR 12 Boston, MA – City Winery w/Bonnie Whitmore
MAR 13 Philadelphia, PA – The Locks at Sona w/Bonnie Whitmore
MAR 14 Washington, DC – Hill Country DC w/Bonnie Whitmore
MAR 16 Austin, TX – Waterloo Records in-store
MAR 18 Austin, TX – SXSW
MAR 19 Austin, TX – Luck Reunion at SXSW
MAR 20 Austin, TX – SXSW
MAR 21 Austin, TX – SXSW
MAR 22 Houston, TX – Cactus Music in-store
MAR 24 Houston, TX – McGonigel’s Mucky Duck
MAR 25 Galveston, TX – Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe
MAR 26 Austin, TX – Cactus Cafe
MAR 27 Tulsa, OK – Mercury Lounge
MAR 28 Ft. Worth, TX – The Post at River East
MAR 29 Oklahoma City, OK – Ponyboy
Mar 31 Kansas City, MO – Knucklehead’s
APR 2 Memphis, TN – Hernando’s Hideaway
APR 3 St. Louis, MO – Wood House Concerts w/Bonnie Whitmore
APR 5 Nashville, TN — The Basement
APR 6 Lexington, KY – Lyric Theatre
APR 8 Macon, GA – Rookery
APR 12 Decatur, GA – Eddie’s Attic
APR 15 Minneapolis, MN – Hook and Ladder
APR 16 Iowa City, IA – Englert Theatre ww/The Jayhawks
APR 17 Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall Ballroom w/The Jayhawks
APR 18 Chicago, IL – Old Town School of Folk Music w/The Jayhawks
APR 19 Chicago, IL – Old Town School of Folk Music w/The Jayhawks
APR 25 San Francisco, CA – Amado’s w/Bonnie Whitmore
MAY 6 Dallas, TX – Granada Theater w/The Jayhawks
MAY 7 San Antonio, TX – Sams Burger Joint w/The Jayhawks
MAY 8 Austin, TX – 3TEN ACL Live w/The Jayhawks
MAY 9 Austin, TX – 3TEN ACL Live w/The Jayhawks
May 19 Houston, TX – House of Blues w/The Jayhawks
Photo credit: Curtis Wayne Millard