Twin cities beatmaker and genre-bender Eric Mayson never expected to find himself on television, let alone on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Thanks to an encounter with frequent collaborator Lizzo, he set off for New York City a week ago, although Mayson thought Lizzo was joking when she first presented him with the offer.
“Lizzo was singing in Mina Moore’s band, and she came up to me saying, ‘Hey Mayson, I love you. Want to do this in-studio at the Current with me next week?’ I was like,
‘Yeah, that sounds great.’ She’s like, ‘Also, want to do the Stephen Colbert show in a couple of months?’” Mayson said.
Despite his appearance on late-night television, Mayson positions himself as a background player who shies away from the spotlight. Though he’s most comfortable in an ensemble, his debut EP, “Detail,” makes a case for Mayson as a solo artist.
The album runs together as a suite of songs, much like many top hip-hop releases of late. He’s playing a solo set at Icehouse Friday on a triple bill also featuring the talents of bedroom soul brothers Nooky Jones and freeform beat maker Big Cats.
Mayson is a musician’s musician. He has earned his keep and knows the hard-knock life firsthand without glamorizing the starving artist stereotype, having experienced both poverty and financial plentitude.
“When I first started out, I was stealing food and going to food shelves. I had a couple of cats, so I’d steal cat food,” Mayson said of his career as a musician. “Sometimes, you have way too much money. It’s like, ‘I don’t even understand how this money is coming in.’ It’s a total … rollercoaster.”
Though Mayson is at one of the more fruitful points of his career, he overworked himself for much of this year. Each day presented a constant stream of gigs thanks to playing piano for dance classes, but they sucked up his spare moments and left him no time to sleep, see friends or work on other music projects.
“I was waking up and going to gigs; I had my first gig at eight in the morning, and then I’d have gigs all day,” Mayson said. “In the evening, I’d play shows, and then I couldn’t leave the club until we got the paycheck, so that would be three in the morning. Then I’d go home, and my free time would start because I can’t go to sleep after a gig, or I’d feel like a slave.”
Despite this feeling and his inherent humility, Mayson couldn’t say no when RiverRock Studio started a music label and wanted to release an album of his originals. Many of
Mayson’s initial tracks didn’t make the release, and feelings of self-doubt seeped into the recording process, he said.
By Mayson’s admission, the first iteration of “Detail” featured pop-based songs that were more down the alley of what he believed RiverRock wanted him to produce. When he chucked that formula out and created a narrative in the neo-soul vein he’s familiar with, “Detail” wrote itself — more or less.
“I wrote a whole record and then hated it,” Mayson said. “I was [like], ‘I don’t think I should be doing this. I don’t think I’m ready. I don’t know if I have anything to say.’ … I’m not used to the idea of self-promotion and it freaked me out. I scrapped that record, and I wrote ‘Detail’ in 48 hours and love it and totally stand behind it.”
When performing “Detail,” Mayson splits up the album into two long pieces since the tracks transition into each other well. Despite Mayson’s desire to avoid the limelight, other musicians around town were captivated by his performances and took note of what he’s doing.
“I had a chance to go see Mayson’s tape release at 7th Street,” Nooky Jones frontman Cameron Kinghorn said. “I respect him so much, and I got to see that show. I was like,
‘Man, he’s killing it. His band’s killing it. People love it.’ I was like, ‘We gotta have Eric do his own thing [for our show] — it would be such a perfect night.’ ”
“Detail” is another masterpiece in Minneapolis’ growing neo-soul and hip-hop scene that has helped put the city on the national radar. While Mayson is optimistic about the music and culture of the metropolis, he doesn’t buy into the hubbub generated by countless magazine and newspaper articles proclaiming Minneapolis as the next Portland, Ore.
Mayson has seen a different side of Minneapolis, too, a city that’s much tougher on its residents than the stories acknowledge.
“You keep seeing those articles about [Minneapolis being] the best place to live — as long as you’re not black,” Mayson said. “I’m half black. As a person who was raised in both worlds, it’s easy to see [racism] around Minneapolis, but it’s also easy to ignore. … It seems like a great place to write [about] in ‘Time’ magazine that’s ‘The new shining mecca of whatever’ — [but] not for everybody.”
Eric Mayson (with Nooky Jones and Big Cats)
Where Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
When 10:30 p.m. Friday