The Mastersons’ buoyant Good Luck Charm frequently fortifies deep-browed songwriting with a power-pop backdrop. Based in Austin, Texas, the married duo Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore spoke with CMT Edge about local inspiration, collaborating with a spouse and their excellent new album.
“We wrote it on the road last year while we were touring Steve Earle’s record The Low Highway,” Masterson says. “We were opening the shows and playing with his band and any spare minute we were hidden out in a dressing room with a tape recorder trying to come up with tunes.”
CMT Edge: Explain the album title.
Whitmore: We were home off the road for a couple days in June last year, and it happened to be during a special session up at the [Texas] Capitol. We were watching Facebook and Twitter and getting texts from friends and all of our people were assembling there. We went up and watched [Senator] Wendy Davis’ filibuster, and it was really an exciting time in our community, seeing so many people banding together at the capitol for a civil reason.
Masterson: I came home and heard these verses that Eleanor had written, and I just had the title “Good Luck Charm” banging around. I mean, I came up with the chorus really fast. We didn’t spend 15 minutes on it. The sentiment is that regardless of what your beliefs are, it takes everyone to speak up to facilitate any change. It was really powerful to be around everyone. In these interesting times we live in, I think everyone could use a good luck charm.
Whitmore: It really is meant to be more galvanizing than polarizing. When you get together with people and talk face to face, I think you’d be surprised at how much you can agree on.
Masterson: I think that’s what music should do. It shouldn’t be a black-and-white thing. There should be a common ground and a coming together. That’s what we hope anyway.
The phrase “good luck charm” comes up again in “I Found You.” Coincidental?
Masterson: We were sitting in a dressing room in Massey Hall in Toronto when we wrote “I Found You.” When we were writing that one, it was kind of cool to bring that back. I don’t know stylistically what we were thinking, but we knew that was going to be the album title.
Tell the story behind writing “Anywhere but Here.”
Masterson: That’s the only older song I’d written in the lot. Years ago, probably four or five, my friend Adam Levy, a great guitarist, had this email list where someone would throw out a title on Thursday and you’d have to write and record a song with that title and post on the list by Sunday. So, it was just a writing exercise. Sometimes people turn in goofy songs because the title’s so abstract that you’re painted into a corner. Every now and then, you get a cool song.
Whitmore: It was in the batch for the last record, but it didn’t fit with those songs. It’s kind of cool on this record. The chord structure is really Brit pop in a way that fits with the rest of the songs in the record. On the flip side, it’s definitely a different color or tone. It’s the one song I play fiddle on. I think that adds something to the arc.
I love that you guys left in the barking dog.
Masterson: That’s our dog. She was at the studio the whole time we made the record. She’s normally really quiet and was at our feet the whole time.
Whitmore: Yeah, she’s well-behaved, but I know what to do to agitate her. I was in there doing the vocal harmonies, and she was in there and I got her wound up. (laughs) She had really good timing.
Describe each other’s greatest strengths as songwriters.
Masterson: You know, it’s so weird. The first time we wrote together, Eleanor said something and my response was, “Well, that’s a little pedestrian.” She got really mad at me and stormed out. That was eight years ago. Now, we really complement each other.
Whitmore: I think we’re both a tough room. We’ve learned how to be more civil to each other, but it’s good because I think we can both critique each line or melody and make it the best that it can be.
Masterson: We can really dot each other’s i’s and cross each other’s t’s. Eleanor has these great verses and I’m like, “Oh yeah, I have that chorus. That was effortless.” Not all are that effortless, like “Cautionary Tale” was a melody that Eleanor had floating around for ages and I had that title written in a notebook. I love the concept of a cautionary tale, but that one took a few years until it finally came out in a hotel one day in Sweden.
Yeah, it’s hard to tell who brings what anymore. I can’t tell where one person’s contributions stop and the other’s begins.
What songwriters do you draw from?
Masterson: It’s a really wide swing for us. I like Ray Davies as much as I like Ray Price. Coming up in Texas, there’s that whole fold to draw from and it’s abundant. I wouldn’t be the guitar player or songwriter I am without growing up in Texas, but then you cross the pond and listen to the Kinks and the Zombies and the Beatles. I love Faces and Crowded House.
Whitmore: Jackson Browne
Masterson: Yeah, and people relate differently. We go to Spain and they call us power-pop, and they talk about us like they talk about Matthew Sweet and the Jayhawks. You go to the UK and they treat it like a folk record. In Australia, they call it alt-country. I’m not much for labels. I just want to make some music and see what happens.