The hustle and bustle of the small city passed through the apartment. From 2002 to 2003 the apartment, which sits above a Chinese restaurant in downtown Evanston, IL, housed Zachary Mastoon and Jason Hunt, childhood friends and lifelong musicians. Mastoon remembers how he and Hunt had turned the five-bedroom apartment into a hub for local musicians and creativity.
“We converted one of the bedrooms into a studio, and then in our kitchen it was like this huge drum riser and synths,” Mastoon said. “We had always rappers coming in and out of the house because everyone in our apartment, including Jason, were in another band. So, it was an interesting time.”
In the year that the two lived together, Mastoon and Hunt’s apartment was a breeding ground for creativity. It was in this apartment that the two collaborated as a duo, creating a project that soon became known as Boy King Islands. In the time since, the duo has managed to release three studio albums, even as the changing demands of life made it ever more difficult to work together.
On June 16, Boy King Islands released Pastels, an 18-track release that Mastoon considers to be the duo’s swan song. Mastoon has since decided to move on from the group, and the mixtape collects the sorts of loops and vignettes that he considers to be the crux of the project. The release has a mix of older songs and smaller vignettes built by Hunt on a loop pedal. These songs span the length of the band’s catalog, and attempt to give listeners a taste of a duo whose story is filled with twists. Boy King Islands has weaved its way through much of his life, and Pastels is a testament to new beginnings and moving forward.
Mastoon and Hunt have been playing music together since 1991, when they were both in high school. After leaving Evanston for college, Mastoon returned to his home state after graduating from New York University. He and Hunt, who played in another band with the other members of the apartment, continued to collaborate with each upon their reunion in Evanston.
While Mastoon was working on his solo electronic work as Caural, he would hear Hunt working on loops in his room through the walls of his apartment. He and Hunt would develop these loops, collaborating on guitar, drum and lyrical additions. It was around this time when Mastoon lost his mother to cancer, which he said fueled their collective collaboration.
“There was all of this activity in the apartment, there was all this music happening, and then a lot of emotion,” he said. “It really happened organically, and we were really excited to see some sort of like rock stuff come out of our collaboration.”
When Mastoon moved away from Evanston to New York City at the end of 2003, he and Hunt continued to collaborate with one another by mailing CD-R’s to each other. This process soon turned into a full-fledged endeavor, with the two working towards a full-length record, Fall, which was released in 2010.
While living in New York between 2003 and 2007, Caural began to pick up steam. Mastoon spent much of his effort during this time touring under his solo moniker, which is more electronic-centric than rock, hitting the road with artists like Busdriver, Deerhoof, and RJD2. Mastoon said that he would intermittently visit Chicago over these few years and work with Hunt, but it proved difficult to work with any consistency.
Hunt lived in Evanston throughout these years, and still lives there today with his wife and daughter. Given these moves and constantly changing circumstances, Mastoon said that he and Hunt often found themselves with different priorities throughout their career together.
“It’s always kind of been that the project has been delayed,” he said. “Not only from me being somewhere else and coming back and using the post office and using airplane tickets to work on music, but also his life kind of took a domesticated shape far quicker than mine did, so his responsibilities were much different from mine, obviously.”
Over time, Boy King Islands released two follow ups to Fall, titled Sun Worship and White Mirror. Given Mastoon’s constant movement, Boy King Islands have never performed live over their 15-year career. Mastoon said that this inability to perform live was liberating, as it allowed them to take greater risks with their sound, knowing that they wouldn’t have to replicate it on stage, working with instruments like the clarinet and jaw harp.
With the first song from Pastels released in 2002, this mixtape brings the Boy King Islands catalog full circle. The ideas on the mixtape range from early experiences with guitar centric loops and swaying effects (“Fall”), to frugal guitar pieces that carry a vague jazz presence radiating in the guitars and keys (“A Tear & A Smile”).
Each of these tracks and vignettes features glimmers of the band at different points of their career, and brings listeners closer to the creative foundation and inspiration behind tracks that took shape on the band’s full-length releases.
As Boy King Islands takes its final form, Mastoon and Hunt find themselves apart geographically, but together for one last swan song. Mastoon currently lives in Los Angeles, where he is working on jump starting an acting career while diving back into Caural.
Even so, Mastoon said that he is still looking for new adventures. He and his wife recently produced a short film together, and are contemplating a move to New Zealand. Even though Boy King Islands has run its course in his life, Mastoon is still searching for new ways to excite himself and move forward creatively.
“When I was going to college, I had no idea what I wanted to be,” he said. “I’ve been doing what I studied. I’ve been making art, I’ve been creating things, and reading, and learning and constantly learning. That’s what’s been most important to me, constantly learning, because if you’re not constantly learning, your art sucks.”