Louise Thach: The words sad and sexy are pretty much the complete opposites of health and happiness. Is that why you chose them for the name of your album?
James Mastro: Yes and no. It's kind of funny, because at the time, it sounded good, but it seems like I've had to create a background for it ever since. But what it's about is, yeah, the music may seem sad, but if you look closer, there's real beauty in it. It's about finding the beauty in things.
LT: So your new album is basically about the band's life on the road?
JM: A lot of it is. We're an American band that travels a lot, and it's about things that we notice and pick up. It's about childhood memories and things that come to you while sitting in your chair.
LT: You had a pretty bad experience on the road a few years ago though.
JM: I was driving us to Nashville from Charleston and all of a sudden, Jim screams 'look out,' and there are three cars in front of me, because an 86-year-old man decided to make a U-turn from the other side of the highway and came to a dead-stop on our side. So I swerved to avoid hitting him and the two other cars and the van rolled over twice. It was the longest eight seconds of my life. The three happiest days of my life were when my two children were born and when I saw everyone in the band's head pop up without blood or injuries. The next day home we talked non-stop throughout the whole 10-hour drive, and part of it was because we were nervous, and part of it was s---, we could! We were alive and OK.
LT: So I read that the idea of Health and Happiness was to keep the songs as musically uncomplicated as possible.
JM: When the band first started, we didn't know who was going to be in the band. So we decided to have a simple sound, so we could fit someone into the band right away. Besides, the great old musicians who we idolize like Hank Williams always kept their songs simple. Arlo Gunthrie wrote songs with three chords.
LT: I also read that you recorded Sad and Sexy at a leisurely pace.
JM: Yeah, we usually go in, record and finish up in about three weeks. This time we spaced it out over a year and half. We recorded songs as they came in, and there was no pressure on ourselves to push it out. We got to sit back, listen to them and let them age a bit so they didn't sound overproduced. And when we got everything that we wanted on it, we ended it, and that was the hard part - knowing when to stop. It's like playing blackjack when you're up; do you stop or keep going? But we knew when to stop.
LT: So you moved to Hoboken nearly 20 years ago because the rent used to be a lot cheaper than New York, but why did you stay?
JM: I never thought I would stay in Hoboken this long, but the dumbest thing I didn't do was buy a brownstone. But Hoboken always felt like home. I went to Maxwell's to see musicians play since I was underage (but they didn't know that), so Maxwell's was a big part of it. And there are some great, interesting people in this town. It's a really colorful town.
LT: Why did you decide to open up the Guitar Bar here?
JM: I guess I got tired of going to New York for supplies, and it was something to do. I used to walk by the store and it was beautiful. I admired it for years, and rather than see someone gut and turn it into a nail salon, I could preserve this space that I loved. So I rented it out, and the Guitar Bar opened with 10 guitars in stock about three years ago.
LT: But it's grown since. Have any cool musicians stop by to pick up a guitar?
JM: Oh yeah. We've sold an old jazz guitar to Lauren Hill and Patti Smith bought some moog synthesizers.
LT: And you opened The Pigeon Club studio from the old pigeon club in Hoboken.
JM: Yeah, I did for almost the same reason as the Guitar Bar. That building has always been a mystery to me, and I when I found out it was available, I had to check it out. When I walked into it, it was like walking into a museum or another world. I feel like I'm getting a piece of old Hoboken, and it might sound stupid, but I'm honored to be there. It's also great, because I didn't have to do anything to it. It was made to be a studio. And the bands love to talk to the Hoboken old timers who hang out in front.
LT: You've played all over the country. How is it different from playing in Hoboken?
JM: We can always expect old friends in crowd, and all we have to do is just get out of bed and play. We always look froward to it, and the little kids who do crazy dances. And surprisingly, the sound is really good at Sinatra Park. It shouldn't be, but it is.
Health and Happiness will be playing on June 15 at Sinatra Park, located at Frank Sinatra Drive between Fourth and Fifth streets, from 7 to 9 p.m. The rain date is scheduled for the following day. For more information, call 420-2207.