Eric Mayson was left with a choice when a fire burned down his Mankato apartment on Easter morning in 2009, taking everything he owned with it. He could rebuild his life as a theater major at Minnesota State University, or leave it all behind and reinvent himself. "It was an opportunity for a clean slate," Mayson says. "And it put me in a position where I had to make a choice about what to do with my life. So, I'm pretty grateful for the fire."
On the advice of one of his professors, Mayson dropped out of school that same year, moved to Minneapolis, began playing music for dance studios, and never looked back. Since then, he has become a rising contender in the Twin Cities music scene, helping to form the hip-hop group Crunchy Kids, touring with Toki Wright & Big Cats on Atmosphere's Welcome to Minnesota Tour, and playing keys and singing backup for Caroline Smith, Lizzo, and Ashley Gold.
On Wednesday Mayson will release the second single, "Flatspin," off his debut EP, Detail, dropping later this fall. And on June 24 he'll perform his experimental, neo-soul material live at Honey with Homeless & Big Cats, Dosh, and Metasota. It'll be Mayson's first public performance as a solo artist, and he says everything up to now has been unexpected, unplanned, and wholly serendipitous.
"It kind of scared me," Mayson says of the transition from sideman to frontman. "I haven't sought out a lot of gigs... a lot of people were just coming and asking me to do things. This [EP] was another one of those instances."
After the fire, Mayson was taken in by Eric Burton, now the bassist in Crunchy Kids. Burton fed, clothed, and housed him during the rest of his stay in Mankato, and shortly after Burton asked Mayson to start playing music with him.
In 2013, they recorded Crunchy Kids' sophomore album, Mint, at RiverRock Studios (formerly Waterbury Studios) in northeast Minneapolis, where Mayson met local producer Big Cats and the studio's owner, Eric Blomquist. Mayson soon became a fixture at the studio. Last fall, Blomquist asked Mayson to sign on to his new label, RiverRock Music Group.
"I think the most fun thing working in the studio with [Mayson] is how versatile he is," says Spencer "Big Cats" Wirth-Davis, who's helping to produce Detail and has worked closely with Mayson on previous projects. "Anything you might throw at him in the studio he can handle."
Mayson isn't new to music scene, but he has always functioned in secondary roles, playing the keys or singing backup vocals. With Detail, he steps up as a frontman for the first time, something he hadn't considered until fellow musicians at RiverRock approached him about it. "I think it was really us sort of pushing him and giving him that jumping-off point," Wirth-Davis says. "It was our role more to help him through that transition of making his own work and really believing in the stuff that he's doing on his own."
Caroline Smith says she became interested in working with Mayson after hearing him sing backstage at her Half About Being a Woman release show in 2013, where Mayson was playing keys for Toki Wright. "He was wearing this insanely awesome blue one-piece jumpsuit," she reports. "I heard this amazing voice... and I was like, 'Holy shit, is that the dude in the jumpsuit singing?'"
Smith says Mayson is one of the most talented musicians she's ever worked with, adding that it's not uncommon for people with that level of talent to lack professionalism. But working with Mayson has been just the opposite. "He is always on time," she says. "And not only does he listen to your ideas and respect what you are looking for, he adds such dimension to whatever role he is playing."
Wirth-Davis says it's not just Mayson's musical skills that make him so great to work with; he's also just easy to be around. "I was excited about working with him because he's one of the most talented musicians in the Cities," Wirth-Davis says. "But then I quickly found out that he's also just a really cool, smart, laid-back dude."
Mayson released his first single last February. "Capital" is a heavily hip-hop and R&B-influenced number with crisp yet resonant drums, catchy and layered vocals, and swaggering electronic sampling. "Flatspin" follows suit, but with both pieces running about three minutes each, they are the closest things to conventional pop on Detail. Mayson plans to release the EP as a digital download as well as a cassette mixtape, with each side running 20 minutes as one continuously flowing song, every segment running seamlessly into the next.
Part of exploring his solo career has been discovering his personal style, Mayson says, and to him that means bucking a strict singer-songwriter format and staying true to his experimental inclinations. This means some parts of Detail run just 30 seconds before moving on to the next hook. Luckily, he says, the crew at RiverRock is fully supportive of his vision.
"I've been exceedingly grateful for everything that's come my way," Mayson says. "I know a lot of people who have grinded their whole life to do this shit and have never gotten the opportunities I have."