A big man with a big voice, Canada’s Matt Andersen has been attracting attention globally, gathering awards along the way. The blues, gospel, classic rock and heartfelt folk roots take their turn in his music, as those catching him live in concert will find out when he tours the UK and mainland Europe to promote his new album, Honest Man. Paul H Birch caught up with him for Ramzine.
Ramzine: I hear influences as diverse as Van Morrison, The Guess Who, Little Feat and Blood, Sweat & Tears in some of your music. Who were your musical Influences growing up and why?
Matt Andersen: I’m from a small town, so was at the mercy of whatever my brothers and parents had in their tape collections. Lots of classic rock, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steve Miller, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc from my brothers. Classic country from my parents. On my own, I found my way to all sorts of music. I’ve always tried to be as much of a musical sponge as I can.
Ramzine: Which came first your interest in the guitar or singing; and what prompted you take them seriously?
Matt Andersen: I would say I sang first, I didn’t play guitar until I was 14. Music is a big part of the culture where I’m from. It wasn’t so much of a decision as it was just what I grew up with. It wasn’t something I had to consciously take seriously. It’s something that I loved; I never had to force myself to do it.
Ramzine: You’ve a preference for playing an acoustic, and often in a band concept. What is it you feel that instrument offers you creatively?
Matt Andersen: It’s where I’m most comfortable. I love the connection between the acoustic guitar and the song. It’s often how I love to hear music; it’s pure to just hear how a song was most likely written. Just a voice and a guitar.
Ramzine: Canada has a strong reputation for acoustic guitar playing singer/songwriters, from Joni Mitchell to Leonard Cohen, onto Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young… Were any of these influences in you becoming a songwriter?
Matt Andersen: Absolutely. I’ve played a bunch of Young and Lightfoot songs over the years. Stan Rogers is another Canadian writer whose songs were among the first where I really started paying attention to the lyrics. At first, I had songs that I loved to play, but I don’t think I really knew why. As I got into writing, I started to realise it was the lyric writing that was drawing me in.
Ramzine: Despite your preference of instrument, you graduated more towards the blues rather than say folk. How so?
Matt Andersen: To me, blues and folk go hand in hand. Blues is just folk music with a groove.
Ramzine: You’ve won European Blues Awards, Maple Blues Awards and others having gathered an international following. How long have you been playing professionally and did you start solo or playing in a band?
Matt Andersen: I’ve been playing professionally since 2002. I stared out playing in pubs, doing a duo or trio. As I worked out of that scene, I started playing solo more and more. Now I’m pretty much always solo. I do enjoy getting to play with the band when I have the opportunity. It’s great to share the stage with other musicians. At the same time, I’ve never give up the solo shows. There is something special about one person singing songs to a room full of people.
Ramzine: Perhaps you could give us a little personal history regarding your musical journey prior to your last album Weightless being nominated for a JUNO Award in the Roots & Traditional Album category? Did you feel your records were evolving musically as you also expanded to tour the USA and Europe?
Matt Andersen: I definitely feel like I’m growing as a musician and the records represent that. I’ve really started to see the benefit in co-writing, something I didn’t get into for the first few albums. I feel like that really brought in some great influences and ideas that I wouldn’t have reached on my own. I’ve also had the opportunity to hear a lot more music as the years have passed and find new places to take inspiration. With all of that, along with new producers on each album, I’m finding new ways to expand on my musical knowledge. I think it’s really helped keep me from doing the same thing over and over again.
Ramzine: Your current album Honest Man was produced by Commissioner Gordon and has found you entering new territory musically with dance beats and the like. Did you enter into this spirit of experimentation willing and did this change the focus of your songwriting?
Matt Andersen: When I work with a producer, I pretty much let go of the wheel. I don’t see much point in bring someone on just to fight them to sound like the last project. Gordon was great at adding just what the song needed. I wrote the same way I always do and brought the songs, or ideas of songs, to Gordon and we’d build from there. I find focusing too much on the end result early on in the creative process (writing) can sometimes get in the way. I like the songs to evolve as new people and ideas/influences are brought in. I like to keep that part of it as organic as possible.
Ramzine: You have garnered over 10 million views on YouTube. How important is social media and the internet to an artist like yourself in an industry where getting the record company to support you the way they used to for musicians can be lacking?
Matt Andersen: The internet has taken “word of mouth” to a whole new level. You’re not just talking about a band anymore you’re sending links to videos and songs to spread the word. It always blows me away how often I’ll show up to a new town or venue and have people know my songs, simply from YouTube and friends sending them my way.
Ramzine: You’ll be passing through the UK for some select dates as part of your latest European tour. What can audiences expect? I gather these will be intimate performances with just you and your guitar?
Matt Andersen: Yes, me and my guitar. I’ll be playing songs from the new album as well as my previous recordings. I like to keep my shows relaxed and comfortable. Like visiting a good friend. I tell stories behind the songs I sing. Really, the better time the audience has, the better time I have and that can grow into something really special and unique each night.