Jason McMaster may be most remembered for fronting mid-80’s metal collective, Dangerous Toys. The band broke in 1989 with its debut record spawning the hits “Scared” and “Teas’n Pleas’n.” Prior to and following Dangerous Toys’ era of popularity, McMaster also served as frontman for the band WatchTower, and over the years has served as vocalist for Broken Teeth, Evil United, Ignitor, multiple tribute bands, and his latest, Howling Sycamore. He is one of the busiest men in heavy music yet he always finds time to juggle all of it. “I love rock n roll, what else is there?” the singer said, speaking with Metal Nation this week.” This winter he released a new album with his band Ignitor, and on January 26 his latest project, Howling Sycamore will unveil its eponymous debut effort.
Howling Sycamore is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Davide Tiso of Italy’s dark progressive metal unit, Ephel Duath. Drummer Hannes Grossmann (Necrophagist, Obscura) is also involved in the project which features guest appearances by Bruce Lamont (Yakuza, Corrections House) and Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia). McMaster was recommended to Tiso through a mutual acquaintance and the music immediately struck a chord with the singer.
“Loved the material,” offered Jason. “I was contacted by Davide, he sent me the material and I checked it out. I had no idea what to expect. Pleasantly surprised. The songs are dark, brooding, and gave plenty of palettes for me to create journeys for the listener, as much as the music does the same.”
Progressive music is not new terrain for McMaster who began his professional recording career with Austin’s technical thrash progsters, WatchTower from 1982 to 1988, and again from 1999 until 2009.
“Some of this reminded me of old days with WatchTower: freaky beats and crazy guitars on top.” Jason shares of the Howling Sycamore sound. “The esoteric side of things is where this may lie for most listeners, but I felt at home with this stuff. Writing melodies for this was where I was seriously having the most fun.”
Howling Sycamore has already posted the first track from the debut record, “Upended,” on its Bandcamp and YouTube pages. The song itself is a mind-bender, but McMaster is quick to point out that it is only one of many sonic journeys on the album. “There are lots of planets to visit on this record.”
Given the wild and sometimes frenetic chaos of Howling Sycamore’s music, one might think McMaster might struggle to craft the melodies to sing over top of it, but he declared the process not to be such a daunting challenge. “Not really, it was all a bit crazy as far as where to start,” he admitted. “What notes shall I use? What the hell is that tuning they are using? These are questions I had on my mind.”
McMaster also spoke about his vocal approach for this record compared to his other, more traditional bands like Dangerous Toys and Broken Teeth.
“It’s closer to some of the Ignitor and Evil United stuff I have going. I keep thinking WatchTower, but it’s just me and whatever styles I have borrowed from my idols. Me creating moments and places for listeners, as much as for myself.”
Earlier this winter, McMaster’s band Ignitor unleashed its latest effort, Haunted by Rock & Roll, which he hails as, “Classic old traditional thrash/power metal with a lot of fun things going on. We have a Raven cover of ‘Hung Drawn and Quartered,’ and we have a song featured on the new Hatchet movie. The videos we have been releasing sort of bring the Ignitor style to light, with Mercyful Fate meeting Dio and Judas Priest in dirty leather and studs.”
One of the videos released so far is the newest installment in the cultish horror film series Hatchet. Jason shared how he came to be involved in the film, titled Victor Crowley.
“Adam Green, the director and writer for the franchise, contacted me years ago as a fan, and we just chatted about working together. He actually gave me the idea for the song title, ‘Hatchet (The Ballad of Victor Crowley)’, reminding horror fans as well as Dangerous Toys fans of the Shocker (Wes Craven) movie soundtrack song called ‘Demon Bell (The Ballad of Horace Pinker). Adam is a metalhead, but I don’t think he has heard this Howling Sycamore yet.”
McMaster also shared the story behind the band’s choice to cover the New Wave of British Heavy Metal classic, “Hung, Drawn & Quartered” by his heroes in Raven.
“We needed to pay tribute to Raven, they are so great. Over-the-top sounds of pure unabashed rock ‘n’ roll, that is in the field with all of the greats of the NWOBHM tradition. This song is one of their best and could be a peaking moment for them. We love our whacky version.”
Two new records might be enough for one singer, but Jason McMaster is not that guy. He has plenty more in the works. “Lots more coming,” he revealed. “Evil United has a new record almost done as well.”
Be sure to check out both the Howling Sycamore and Ignitor releases, and keep your ears on alert for the new Evil United.