The Mastersons Address a 'Pivotal Time For Us as a Nation' on New Track 'Spellbound': Exclusive

The Mastersons
Curtis Wayne Millard

The Mastersons

"How come everybody's got to be so mean?" the Mastersons ask at the beginning of their politically pointed fourth album, No Time For Love Songs. Rest assured that the current state of the nation, and the world, is very much the focus for Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, including the track "Spellbound," premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Feb. 12).

"Before we wrote the title track, we were thinking about 'What kind of record do you want to come out in the spring of 2020, a pivotal time for us as a nation and with so much going on in the world,’" Masterson tells Billboard. "So we started with that song, which is sort of tongue-in-cheek, and then just kept going. We tried to use our voice in a galvanizing way. We wanted to write something though-provoking but not polarizing, 'cause I think people largely want the same things -- a roof over their heads, food on their table, kids to be healthy. We just may have vastly different ideas of how to get there."

Whitmore adds, "I think that, honestly, there's so many powers that be that are dividing us. If you actually sit down and talk to somebody, even if they're on the other side of the fence as you, you still have an awful lot in common, more than we have differences."

The lushly produced and harmony-drenched No Time For Love Songs, out March 6, was recorded with producer Shooter Jennings at Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles, which the Mastersons now call home, after they participated in sessions for Tanya Tucker's Grammy Award-winning comeback album While I'm Livin'.

"We hadn't worked with Shooter in about a decade," Masterson says, "and it was on the Tanya session we were reminded how cool he was and what he brought to the table as a producer, as a member of the band playing piano. We approached him after that record, so we finished the year [2019] like we started it, back in Sunset Sound." The Mastersons were also happy to have Ryan Freeland, another Grammy winner, on hand to engineer their sessions, along with a band that included Aaron Lee Tasjan on backing vocals.

"It was an embarrassment of riches in there," Masterson recalls. "We'd all get around the piano, discuss a song, play it a couple times and basically record it live. That's how all our favorite records were made."

Coming second on the album after the title track, "Spellbound" also takes stock of the current state of affairs, specifically how polarized media has affected public consumption and discourse. "It seems like everybody's entertained by what's going on, and it's easy to get spellbound by this guy in the White House and everything," Masterson explains. "I think in another era people had their beliefs and would go behind the curtain and vote and then come out and return to their life.

“Now, on both sides, people will get online and make these declarations and share articles and tidbits that mirror their belief system, and even when proven wrong we don't have the humility to back down. Everyone doubles down, in fact. There's no getting to them, and that makes everyone seem spellbound."

The Mastersons will spend some time on the road promoting No Time For Love Songs, including dates with the Jayhawks. They'll also be touring with Steve Earle as part of his Dukes band. Meanwhile, the duo -- also celebrating the 10th year of their musical partnership this year -- is basking in its participation in Tucker's success, with Whitmore calling it "an amazing experience."

"It was really incredible to be working with both Shooter and Brandi [Carlile] on that," Whitmore says. "Brandi and the twins [Tim and Phil Hanseroth] wrote a lot of those songs for Tanya to sing and really thought about the place she was in her life and tried to tailor the songs for her. And Brandi was just so good at being in the room and capturing what Tanya can do. She's such a great singer, and she was awesome every day, rolling in with a big crew, coming from a hair appointment or whatever, always telling jokes -- Tanya Tucker-type jokes -- and having fun. It was so great to be part of that, and we tried to capture some of that spirit on our record, too."

Listen to “Spellbound” below.