Vocal virtuoso Erin Mason gives her songs the full-band treatment on debut EP 'Awful Lottery'

Erin Mason has been singing her whole life. At age 15, she got a guitar as a Christmas present and was then able to accompany her own voice. Soon she formed a pop-punk band at her Canton, Ohio, high school, and later, while going to school for music therapy in Cleveland, Mason learned how to arrange harmonies, which led to singing gigs in various groups, including Columbus band Oliver Oak.

But Lowlights is the first project since that pop-punk band where Mason is the primary songwriter, and her virtuosic singing and composition abilities were immediately apparent to bandmate and vocalist Devin Copfer, who met up with Mason in a park to figure out harmonies for some of Mason’s songs about two years ago.

“We spent an insane amount of time writing these harmonies, and part of the reason why they're so insane is because Erin, with her own voice, is flipping between this soprano-alto-tenor range,” said Copfer, who also sang with Mason in Oliver Oak. “Erin’s brain is amazing. I’ve never played anything like what she’s written.”

Lowlights’ debut EP, Awful Lottery, which releases on Saturday, Oct. 31, features three songs Mason wrote about four years ago at age 22. But even with a runtime of 13 minutes, the EP feels like more than three songs. Each track is filled with surprising twists and turns that aren’t typical in indie-pop songs. Mason said she wanted to “sonically imbue some of the same sentiments that I wrote lyrically.”

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“The first and last song, ‘Dove’ and ‘Golden,’ are about empowering yourself to get over some traumas or experiences that you've had in your life that have been difficult, and realizing you can get back from any bad situation. Sometimes it feels like it's impossible, but you're stronger than you think,” Mason said. “One of the lines in the chorus of ‘Dove’ is, ‘Wash away the pains of days and show me how to breathe/Because the will that's in us still never really leaves.’ It's about being able to pick yourself up and continue on."

Initially, Lowlights existed as a three-piece consisting of Mason, drummer Joel Blaeser and bassist John Allen; Copfer, third vocalist Miles Meckling and lead guitarist Eli Chambers joined later on. The band enlisted Tony Rice to record the rhythm section in a large room at music instruction space Musicologie in Grandview, then moved to Rice’s home studio for additional sessions. “Every piece of it felt really intimate and crafted,” Copfer said.

While the pandemic is keeping Lowlights from playing a release show, the band is itching to get back onstage to perform — an act of creative expression that has become particularly meaningful. “[During recording], you do all the technical things that you need to do. You sing the songs. You hit the harmonies. You arrange the phrasing and you get this product that you really want. And then you get up onstage, and when I sing the words that Erin wrote, I'm almost crying,” Copfer said. “It's overwhelming, but in the best way.”