David Mason-Cox has been playing in bands and writing songs since he was fifteen years old. Growing up in western Sydney, he quickly fell in love with the songs of John Lennon and the Beatles, and later Cream, Free and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“I was turned on to the possibilities of music,” says Mason-Cox.
“And there were so many great Australian bands like Daddy Cool, Spectrum and Chain. Later on I found Dylan, Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks. I was blown away by David Bowie, Yes, Mott The Hoople and Steely Dan. It was a musical paradise.”
In the mid-1970s, Mason-Cox and co-writer Kevin Bennett (now of The Flood) were approached by the Q Theatre to write a rock musical. The result was St Marys Kid, which dealt with growing up in Sydney’s west.
St Mary’s Kid had a successful run at The Q Theatre in Penrith, before transferring to The Mayfair Theatre in Sydney in 1978.
The rock opera Paradise Regained followed in 1979 and received critical acclaim and outstanding reviews.
“I thought I would continue as a writer and musical director for theatre,” says Mason-Cox.
“But playing in a band was simply too alluring.
“So I took to the road in the early 80s and played my songs with The Idle Rich for a few years.”
Along the way Mason-Cox signed a publishing deal, which led to him co-writing and recording Aussie Rap in 1983.
Now acknowledged as the first Australian hip-hop record, Rap Attack garnered significant airplay and is cited as having helped to inspire a generation of Australian hip-hop performers.
Mason-Cox says, “My publisher had suggested me as a co-writer for a humorous rap track intended for Sydney radio personality Doug Mulray. For some reason Doug couldn’t record it and, as he’d heard my demo, he suggested me.”
“Aussie Rap received a lot of airplay on 2JJJ but I thought it had disappeared largely unnoticed, until many years later when I was holidaying in Sweden. I received a call from a chap from Triple J. He was recording a series on the history of Australian hip-hop and had learned that the track had caused a bit of a stir. I was pleasantly surprised that anyone remembered it but happy to have caused a small ripple of interest.”
After The Idle Rich folded in 2003, Mason-Cox performed as a solo act until forming The Wild Armadillos in 1987.
As the band evolved they started recording tracks for Don Quixote on a Barbed Wire Fence, Mason-Cox’s first CD released in 1990.
The opening track Roll Away proved to be a sleeper and was picked up by radio for airplay after The Way Things Are and Mystery To Me from the second album proved so popular.
By 1992 The Wild Armadillos had grown to an eight-piece band, in time for the release of the second album Tripping Upstairs.
The album received strong reviews and widespread airplay; it was nominated as Album Of The Week by Sydney’s 2SM and six other stations along the east coast of Australia.
Nevertheless, the band was finding the going tough.
“The songs weren’t easily pigeon-holed, so many in the music business found it hard to understand what we could offer.
“By the time we released our third CD, Evangeline, in 1995, the band had lost a lot of its momentum.”
As it turned out, positive reviews and sporadic airplay just couldn’t sustain an eight-piece band.
“So we took a vacation. But we never planned an 18-year holiday!”
While most of the band raised families and pursued other careers, Mason-Cox continued writing and performing; in 2000 he wrote The Challenge for The Sydney Paralympics Opening Ceremony. Addressing the subject of human courage in adversity, the song was performed by Jeff St John and certainly kicked off the proceedings with a bang.
In 2001 Mason-Cox composed, produced and recorded the music for Tasmania’s contribution to The Centenary Of Federation. The Instrumental piece Tasmania 4×4 consisted of a basic theme played in four distinct styles to echo and amplify changes in popular culture over the century.
On his latest release this is what we do, Mason-Cox and The Wild Armadillos continue to explore their accessible mix of country rock and pop.
The songs are muscular and melodious and the lyrics are intelligent studies of a cast of maturing characters.
A quest for understanding and an eclectic musicality have been the hallmarks of each of the four CDs released by Mason-Cox.
“For me, the song is the thing,” he says. “My favourite albums have always been much more than ten or twelve similar sounding tracks slapped together; they are statements of intent, there is a theme. I am trying to achieve that too.”
Recording for this is what we do commenced in 2005. The album had originally been slated for release in 2006.
“But I learned that I could re-envision and refocus the songs in new ways by using the freedom and power afforded by the recording software, Pro Tools. So it was rescheduled…more than once, as I juggled like crazy while doing other projects.”
That juggling saw him record, edit, mix, master and/or produce 12 CDs for other artists over the next eight years.
“All the while I was tinkering away with my own album when I could,” he says. “After a while I realised that I needed to hand it over to someone with a fresh perspective .”
Long-time friend, guitarist and now music producer for the hit TV series Mythbusters, Doug Weaver agreed to step in and help.
“He came in with a clear vision and ended up mixing the entire album,” says Mason-Cox.
“Doug just ‘got it’ immediately, he enhanced the emotion and the sound and completely understood the aspirations I had for the material. He improved everything and provided an aural subtext that I could only hint at.”
Now The Wild Armadillos are back after a long hiatus from performing, and Mason-Cox is awfully glad.
“While I enjoyed working on other projects, I missed the dedication and flexibility of my long-time compadres.
“Playing music is so emotionally charged that it just feels right to do it with such close friends. It really is a family affair.”
Providing irresistible grooves and tasty licks are core members, David Ferguson (electric guitars, vocals), Dave Zaikowski (slide guitar, keyboards) and Wayne “Killer” Kellett (bass) have been joined by Malcolm Wakeford (drums, vocal) and Doug Weaver (guitars, vocal).
Since the release of Don Quixote on a Barbed Wire Fence in 1991 Mason-Cox has honed his storytelling and always packs an honest punch. He has been favorably compared to Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp and Difford/Tilbrook of UK Squeeze as well as his early hero, John Lennon.
Don Quixote on a Barbed Wire Fence – David Mason-Cox (1991)
Tripping Upstairs – David Mason-Cox (1993)
Evangaline – David Mason-Cox and The Wild Armadillos (1995)
this is what we do – David Mason-Cox and The Wild Armadillos (2013)