The Rebellious Ritual of Chase Mason
Gatecreeper frontman discusses how choosing his own path helped fight addiction.
Posted Nov 01, 2019
Let’s face it—we’re creatures of habit.
Not only is it a chaotic and unpredictable world outside but also we tend to feel chaotic and unpredictable on the inside. So we create structures—plans, habits, rituals—to help us feel more focused and secure. And if we have the right structures—ones that authentically represent who we are and what we hope to achieve—those habits and rituals can feel comforting and help lead us toward our goals.
However, if we pick the wrong structures—or worse, if structures are imposed upon us—those same habits and rituals can feel confining and limiting. We begin to feel inauthentic, as though we are living not our lives but someone else’s. And thus, trying to discover the right structures becomes a lifelong quest that can determine our overall happiness and life satisfaction.
As a child, Chase Mason, who would eventually grow up to be a founding member of the death metal band Gatecreeper, found himself caught in a structure that he recognized was helpful for many people but did not feel like the right fit for him. “I was raised in a religious family, a family that’s LDS (Latter Day Saints) or Mormon…I started realizing that I didn’t feel a part of that lifestyle when I was very young,” Mason told me. “The Mormon Church service I grew up with was very reverent. It’s not like one of the modern mega churches where there’s a rock band playing and everyone’s excited, jumping around and singing. It’s more like the Catholic Church – there’s hymns, the big organ. I didn’t feel attached to that ritual.
“I’d been told to live this certain way and I didn’t like it.”
In contrast, Mason gravitated towards anything he considered rebellious. “I got really into the Punk-O-Rama sort of stuff—Epitaph Records,” Mason described. “Punk, skateboarding—that kind of rebellious, against authority type of stuff, which was exciting to me. All of a sudden I wanted to do anything I’ve been told not to do.”
Yet even in this rebellious world, Mason found that there were structures: a set of rituals that were followed in practicing both music and skateboarding. And these rituals formed the basis of something that he had not found in organized religion—a community with which he could connect.
“I think there are parallels between skateboarding and metal... like a subculture mentality. This is our thing. We have to take care of each other. There has to be order in this chaos in order to sustain us, whether it’s conscious or not,” Mason explained. “A pit at a show—they look like they’re beating the sh*t out of each other. But as soon as someone falls down, everybody stops and picks this person up. So to the outside world, it looks like these people are violent and crazy and out of control. But really it’s a controlled chaos kind of thing. When you go to a skate park there’s the equivalent of the social contract—like a community. You go, you see someone else and let them go—you stay out of their way. It’s kind of like traffic getting onto the highway. There are two lanes and it’s going into one lane. This person goes then this person goes. There’s kind of a flow to it and you just adapt to it at the skate park. It looks like people are throwing themselves off of ledges or whatever, but there’s a method to it.”
Unfortunately, Mason was drawn to another form of rebellion as well that was more harmful: drugs. “I think I smoked weed for the first time when I was 13. My thought process was I’m not supposed to do this. And that was exciting for me,” Mason recalled. “And looking back, that mindset is what got me into trouble. I wasn’t really scared of doing stuff that was dangerous. I had a pretty normal progression from smoking weed to starting to drink. And then as I got older, going through high school when heavier drugs got introduced, I was the one who was like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that!’ I wasn’t scared.”
Interestingly, in the same way Mason enjoyed the rituals of music and skateboarding, he also found the rituals of drug use compelling. “I think those parallels can be made with religion, music and drug use. There are rituals that you do in a regular manner that make you feel good. That’s part of the addiction, this whole ritual of getting high,” he described. “When I started heroin—black tar heroin—I had to get a piece of foil and you’ve got to get a straw or something. And then you get the drugs out, you set it up, you have your lighter smoking it. It could take 15-20 minutes to do what you’re doing. So that’s really appealing. Obviously, with heroin you get physically addicted. But the mentally addicting part, even before the drugs enter your system, when you’re setting it up… you start feeling high. Because your body knows that’s what’s coming next.”
Mason struggled with addiction for years and was initially turned off by the 12-Step program he encountered in rehabilitation. “I was introduced to AA and 12-step programs… but I was hesitant. The whole thing about God turned me off,” he recalled. “And when they first said you have to be completely sober, that was very scary to me. I just wanted to stop doing heroin. I didn’t want to quit doing everything. I just want to be able to smoke weed or drink or whatever casually.”
Interestingly, it was members of the metal community that changed his mind. “I was lucky enough to find some people in the AA meetings that were into the same things as me. Like I saw a guy with a metal band shirt on. You see someone who has the shirt of a death metal band and you’re like, ‘This is one of my people.’ You instantly have a bond,” Mason said. “For me it was important. Because I thought, I’ve seen this guy at a show before. I guess my life isn’t over if I do this. I can still enjoy the things I enjoy doing. So if it wasn’t for that, if I wasn’t able to find people with the same outside interests as me, I might not have continued to do it.”
Mason also came to realize that he could have a spirituality within the context of AA that actually worked for him. “I had a friend who’s pretty agnostic. He was just like, ‘If you wake up in the morning and you see the sunrise and the wind is blowing, is that you that’s doing that?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And he was like, ‘That’s all you had to believe. Science, physics—some force that’s making these things happen. As long as you are willing to accept that there are things out there doing these things that are not you. That’s all you really need,’" Mason recalled.
“And I was like, OK, let’s move on.”
Once he felt comfortable with the spirituality of AA, he was able to create a structure that felt comfortable for him. “AA is very ritual based—there’s a specific structure. So that may have been why I rejected it at first. It was a ritual that I was unfamiliar with. So the first couple of times I went, it wasn’t for me,” Mason said. “There are a lot of meetings that I don’t want to go to. It gives me the feeling of, Why am I here? Why am I doing this? But luckily for AA and the recovery community, there’s so many different flavors of it that you can go to. There are so many different meetings. Some are more faith-based. They all have to adhere to the specific structure of AA. But there are definitely different styles of meetings you can go to.
“It took me awhile to find one that I liked.”
Mason has remained sober, and is excited about Gatecreeper’s new album Deserted. And he hopes that he can continue to embrace the rituals that feel genuine to him.
“I am a pretty ‘I like what I like’ sort of person. I generally wear the same thing every day. I can eat the same meal several times a week,” Mason said. “Going to a show, playing a show, writing music, there’s a ritual to it.
“There’s a routine that can make you happy.”