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This Old House: Get to Know Great American Canyon Band

How spending a brutal winter remodeling an old home on the outskirts of Chicago helped Paul and Kris Masson make their debut album.

Posted in MusicWorld on May 23, 2016 by

Bandmates share an incredibly intimate relationship filled with long hours together in studios, on buses and in airports, often apart from family and friends. The depth of this relationship is especially intriguing when members of the band are also romantically involved. In fact, listening to the music couples create together is an intimate experience, as if we’re getting a glimpse into their minds and hearts. Cue indie-folk duo Great American Canyon Band, fronted by the husband-and-wife team, Paul and Kris Masson.

When they met in a Baltimore dive bar in August of 2009, their lives appeared to be heading down separate paths, as Paul was preparing to move to Boston. He’d recently put out an EP and had done some touring around it, and he had no idea that the beautiful woman he’d just met had been writing songs since she was a child and studied ethnomusicology in college. “I just saw him and immediately recognized something I’d been looking for,” Kris recalls.

Paul did move to Boston four days later, but after a few bus trips back and forth, he moved back to Baltimore later that year, and proposed to Kris not long after that. As both had spent most of their lives in the Charm City, they decided to embark upon an incredible journey across the U.S., playing music along the way. They stopped in Athens, Georgia, Los Angeles, and finally Chicago, where they moved into Paul’s grandmother’s old house on the outskirts of the city. It was here that they started to work on their initial recordings together, a project that unfolded as organically and magically as their courtship.

“It’s strange to try to explain how the songwriting started,” Paul explains. “It was sort of inherent. We both wrote songs, but we didn’t necessarily know what we were doing with them. I guess when we started singing them to each other, or just around each other, they started to become a more vivid picture. Something we could see with more clarity.”

As Paul and Kris remodeled his grandmother’s house, they dabbled with ProTools, working in isolation and playing their songs together on an old guitar and an old bass. “We’d work on the house during the days and work on music at night, trying to pay bills and work odd jobs in between,” Paul says. “We just made music. We didn’t have any goals; we were just having fun.”

“The winters [in Chicago] can be so brutal,” Kris recalls. “We didn’t really know anyone there, and we’d spend a lot of evenings tinkering around and writing. That house allowed us a lot of possibilities.” Ultimately, this old house birthed their debut EP in the spring of 2012. Their own brand of wistful, dreamy pop music won rave reviews from WXPN and NPR, and caught the attention of the tastemakers at Stereogum.

“We put it out on Bandcamp, and off it went,” Paul says. “We sent the songs to blogs that we liked, and some posted, some didn’t. As is the case in most businesses, one thing happens, and that leads to meeting two other people, and on and on. It just started to snowball.” “It was really wild,” Kris jumps in. “Maybe it’s because we were living far from home, that we were putting music out there with the intention of connecting with people, and it spread very organically. We just wanted to follow it. We met some musicians in Chicago, and we were fortunate to have some players with us who were willing and ready to take it out to the world.”

But just as momentum was gathering for the young band, life stepped in with different plans. Paul’s father was diagnosed with a frontal lobe temporal disorder, and, not long after, Kris’ grandmother was diagnosed with dementia. They sold the freshly remodeled house in Chicago and moved back to Baltimore to be close to family.

“These people were so monumentally important to us,” Kris says. “Even though music was invaluable to us as well, our time seemed too limited with them. It was like a gravitational force in our world, they called us back here.” Paul adds, “It’s interesting though, because we still did a lot of writing. We were voicing our feelings and emotions privately, and that was helping, but we weren’t thinking it was time to share all of that.”

They started recording again, assembling a collection of introspective, emotional, and hauntingly beautiful songs into their debut LP, Only You Remain (Six Degrees Records), an album that reads like a love letter not only to each other, but to the monumentally important people in their lives they were saying goodbye to. From the opening strains of the title track, the couple, singing in unison, invite you into their own world, their own house. Despite the atmospheric production that evokes the darkness of early ‘90s pop, the album feels hopeful and optimistic, as if the gratitude Paul and Kris feel for each other and for their loved ones has somehow been caught on tape and is seeping through your speakers.

The couple is eager to tour behind the album, and have planned a run of dates up the east coast, the Midwest and then the west coast. “We’ve held this album so close to us, and it’s meant so much to us,” Kris says. “Now we’re at the point where we’re excited to share it with others. It’s about love and home and how important it is to keep on your path. Obstacles are obstacles. It’s the shared experience that is relatable, and we hope people feel as hopeful as we are after hearing this record.”

Paul and Kris are also enthusiastic about their relationship with BMI, which started when Paul was assistant teaching after college. “We’ve met a series of sweet, gracious folks at BMI who have always been very open to us, even when we were in our infancy,” Kris says. “I think that’s very telling, to have a company that is so large to get behind us.” “And they always send the check!” Paul adds, laughing.