Charlie Mason Chats About Collaboration, Translation, and the Impact of Winning Eurovision

Photo courtesy of Charlie MasonCharlie Mason is an American lyricist best known to Eurovision fans as one of the writers behind  “Rise Like a Phoenix,” the winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. His career includes songs for Eurovision and for artists like Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale, Eric Saade, and Danny Saucedo. This year, he has provided the words to two Eurovision songs: Maraaya’s “Here for You” for Slovenia and Bojana Stamenov’s “Beauty Never Lies” for Serbia.

Charlie got in touch with us to promote Ricardo Autobahn‘s sweet remix of “Beauty Never Lies” and we took the opportunity to talk with him about how he got started and how he does his work.

He began his lyric writing career by collaborating with German musician Dirk Homuth, who he met through a now-defunct website called LyricalLine. Dirk started to use his lyrics so much that, Charlie said, “eventually, he formed a band and called it Almost Charlie so that I could in a way be a part of it (even though I don’t sing or play an instrument).”

He came to Eurovision through another collaborator, Kristian Lagerstrom (who co-wrote Anna Bergandahl’s “This Is My Life” with Bobby Ljunggren). “He’s a big fan,” Charlie said, “and his enthusiasm was contagious. And even if it wasn’t, how can you not love Eurovision? That would be like saying ‘I don’t like music.’ It just doesn’t compute.”

Because he is based in New York, Charlie will often work with his collaborators solely through email. “I’m pretty sure there are some co-writers who think I’m just a blip in their computers that every so often spits out a new lyric.” He also said, “[Dirk Homuth and I] were just going back and forth about a lyric today, in fact. He was aggravated that there were only so many rhymes for the word ‘all’ I could pull out of my ass!”

He has had a steady partnership with Raay from this year’s Slovenian Eurovision act Maraaya. In an interview with the website Eurovision Ireland, Raay and his wife and fellow Maraaya member Marjetka Vovk said they were fans of his song “L’amore è femmina” (Italy 2012). In addition to “Here for You,” Charlie worked with Maraaya on their single “Lovin’ You.”

Raay and Charlie first teamed up to write “My Way Is My Decision,” a single by Slovenian skiing legend Tina Maze. Charlie said of the song, “…it’s one of the rare times that I think I was able to impress my dad. He was watching skiing on TV — the Olympics maybe? — when she happened to come on, and they played a snippet of the song. So I got to say, all casual-like, ‘Oh, yeah, I helped with that song.’ Totally random.”

We asked Charlie about the artistic challenges of translating a song into English. “It depends on whether the assignment is to translate the song with the meaning intact — which means finding new phrasing to say the same thing in English — or if I have free hands to just write a new lyric with a new theme to the existing melody.” He added, “And I don’t mind very specific tasks. If someone says, ‘Can you make this a song about a panda that has an allergy to ice cream?’ I will find a way.

“What’s trickier sometimes is correctly ‘hearing’ the syllables in the original language to write a lyric in English. When I don’t recognize words in foreign tongues as words, it’s sometimes hard for me to tell where syllables end, what’s an ad lib like a ‘whoa’ or a ‘yeah,’ and what’s a crucial syllable. So I often make a mess of that, at least at first.”

In the case of “Beauty Never Lies,” Charlie worked closely with Bojana Stamenov to translate Vladimir Graić and Leontina Vukomanović’s song. “Bojana and I talked about what she really wanted to say with the song, what was important to her, and I just went from there. It just so happened that it was a subject that, for better or worse, I could really relate to,” he said. “So I just tried to write the lyric in such a way that Bojana was delivering the message that I wished I — and all the rest of us who doubt our worth — could take to heart.”

When asked about how his win at last year’s Eurovision has impacted his career, Charlie said, “I’d love to say that as a result, I wake up every day to find new texts from Kylie Minogue and Eric Saade clamoring for new songs from me. But it really hasn’t changed my career very much, if it all.”

On the other hand, there could be benefits to being a known songwriter at Eurovision. “Hopefully, the win will draw some extra attention to Bojana and ‘Beauty Never Lies,’ because between her thunderous voice and Vlad’s powerful melody, it deserves that attention. And who knows? I could still wake up tomorrow to find those Minogue/Saade texts!”

(Picture courtesy of Charlie Mason.)