Interview With Carolyne Mas

Carolyne Mas talks to Folk & Tumble about career highs and lows, comparisons with Bruce Springsteen, and the surprise signing of a new record deal.

Early albums, 'Carolyne Mas' and 'Hold On' combined with blistering live performances quickly brought New York rocker Carolyne Mas to the attention of the music industry, with her live performances in particular bringing praise. Now signed with German label MIG, her music is about to be re-released for the world to re-discover this talented performer all over again.

FT:  You’ve recently signed a record deal with German Label MIG resulting in the release of a live album recorded in Bremen in 1989.  How did that come about?

CM:  It really came out of nowhere. I was approached by the head of the label via email, and everything proceeded rather quickly from there. It’s odd to me how music keeps finding me, no matter how far I have run from it. Germany is the country where I have had the most success, without a doubt.

FT:  Were you surprised that there is still so much interest in your music?

CM:  I am always surprised. To me that shows how much Mercury records underestimated my potential as an artist. Something about what I did still resonates with people.

FT:  I recently bought vinyl copies of ‘Hold On’ and ‘Carolyne Mas’.  What impressed me most about them, aside from the music, are the great production values on both records.  What can you remember about making those records back then?

CM:  Steve Burgh produced both of those records and it was a very exciting time for me. I knew Steve through Phoebe Snow and through Steve Forbert. He brought David Landau into my life, who is still the best guitar player I have ever played with. It was like a dream come true to record those albums, and I played with some amazing people. It was an unforgettable experience to be recording ‘Hold On’ at Power Station while Springsteen was recording ‘The River’. I shared Studio B with the Clash, and used Springsteen’s vocal booth – the Bruce Booth, as it was called – to record the vocal on Steve Forbert’s ‘You Cannot Win if You Do Not Play’.

I was very young and it was a very heady experience. I thought that this was what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life, so I assumed a great deal. I do remember being nudged by the label in certain directions, which was frustrating, and these directions changed from album to album as the they essentially did not know what to do with me and were fishing for a niche.

It was a situation that seemed to end before it was over, if that makes any sense. The first album was over-hyped to the point where smaller radio stations were ignored, and larger radio stations were turned-off by the hype. The bottom had already fallen out by the time ‘Hold On’ was recorded in April of 1980. The head of the label and guy who had signed me were no longer with Mercury, and the label moved its headquarters from Chicago to New York the week that ‘Hold On’ was released. I was told that “it never got out of the box”, as a result. There was very little promotion and everyone hated my manager. By the time ‘Modern Dreams’ was released, I was broke and selling my equipment at a music store where my album was in the new releases rack. A friend of mine went into the store for me as I was too embarrassed to do it myself.

FT: In those days your music was drawing comparisons to the works of Bruce Springsteen. How did that feel?

CM:  Comparisons to other artists whom I respect is a great compliment. However, the Springsteen comparison started to get a bit overwhelming at one point and seemed to follow me wherever I went. I was more of a Graham Parker fan at the time and had never seen Springsteen live. I finally did go see him with David Landau at the end of 1980, but it was with great reluctance that I did so because up ‘till that point, I had always been able to use the fact that I had not seen him play in my defence. Needless to say, I was quite flattered by the comparison after watching him play, and went to several shows after that one. I could call backstage and talk to the crew to get in. It was like that back then. To this day I think he is one of the sweetest and kindest musicians I have ever met, so the comparison means even more to me now.

FT:  There’s some great footage of you performing on stage on Youtube.  Looking back it seemed like you were a natural stage performer and there was an undeniable energy about those performances with such a tight band.  Did you enjoy performing live?

CM:  I loved it. I was in another world when I performed. I loved my bands throughout the years, but my first touring band is the most memorable to me. They were exceptional even after David Landau was replaced by Rick DeSarno. We had so much fun together; we were young and invincible. I am grateful to have had that experience in my life.

FT:  ‘Mas Hysteria’ was your biggest selling album, yet you made nothing from it.  How did that happen?

It was supposed to be a promotional album for an upcoming concert in Germany, which I am assuming is why it was designed to look like a bootleg. I don’t know what kind of deal was made for its release. I do know that it sold at what was referred to as a “nice price”, so the royalty rate was lower. I was already in the hole with Mercury for the costs involved in promoting and creating the first two Mercury releases, so that is why I never saw a penny. I believe the tape of the show was purchased from the radio station for $200 at the time. Since my manager stole my publishing royalties at the time, I had no clue as to its success which would have been evident through song writing royalties. I knew nothing about the popularity of ‘Sittin’ in the Dark’, which was something of a hit for me.

FT:  Are there are plans to release more archive material with MIG?

CM:  We have spoken about rereleasing the albums previously released by SPV GmbH in Europe. I would very much like them to eventually release ‘Brand New World’, the last album I recorded with Steve Burgh in 1998-1999.

FT:  You’ve embraced academia with some outstanding results.  Tell me about that.

CM:  I wanted a brighter future, especially to better care for my son, so at one point in 2015 I decided to go to college. I graduated summa cum laude in 2019 with a B.S. in Integrative Health and decided to keep going. I obtained my M.S. in Medical Nutrition in 2021, and then enrolled in program to obtain a Ph.D. in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. I do well in school, but it is not surprising as both of my parents were well-educated. My mom was a math teacher and had been studying to become a physician’s aid in the late 1940s in NYC, and my dad was a scientist and inventor. They were both very musical, but opted for a more conventional life in order to marry and raise a family. They had wanted me to go to college, but I felt that having an education as a safety net would make me less aggressive in pursuing success as a musician. I think a lot of musicians have felt the same – you can’t fall back on what you don’t have to fall back on.

FT:  How does it feel knowing that your music is still out there winning you new fans all the time?

CM:  It feels great. For so much of my life music was everything to me, but it was so hard to make a living playing that eventually I became very bitter about it. It was very hard on me to be forgotten by the industry, but it warms my heart that people did not forget me and that my music has crossed generations. I am grateful that MIG picked me up and dusted me off, so to speak. It’s nothing short of miraculous.

FT:  Thanks for your time and best wishes for the future.

CM:  Thank you, and thank you for thinking of me.


Read Folk and Tumble’s review of ‘Let’s Come Together (live In Bremen 1989)’