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Interview: Matt Andersen talks new album, UK tour and life on the road

We spoke to the blues singer-songwriter ahead of the release of his new album.

Matt Andersen
Credit: Scott Doubt

Originally from New Brunswick, Canada, blues singer-songwriter Matt Andersen released his first solo album in 2004.

Since then he’s put out a further nine albums – most recently 2016’s Honest Man – as well as reaching 10 million streams on YouTube, winning multiple awards and touring with Tedeschi Trucks Band, Bo Diddley and Gregg Allman amongst others. His new album, Halfway Home By Morning, is due for release on 22nd March and was recorded live off the floor at Southern Ground studios in Nashville.

I spoke to Matt recently to talk about the new record, touring and his songwriting process. Read on to find out more…

You’re just about to release your new album – can you tell us more about it?

Sure. I recorded this one down in Nashville, with Steve Dawson, a producer from Canada but who’s been in Nashville this last little while. It’s thirteen new songs, recorded at Southern Ground Studios. There’s a great history in that studio – Kenny [Rogers] and Dolly and Waylon Jennings and some great acts. I’m pretty excited about this one. We recorded it live off the floor which was a lot of fun, so all the horn players and everyone were all in the room at the same time. I feel it’s a pretty great representation of the music I’m making now and the music I want to make.

Was that live recording approach something you knew you wanted to do with this record from the outset?

Yeah, doing live off the floor is something I wanted to do. It feels the most like real music, you know? Otherwise you’re going in and overdubbing parts and the musicians aren’t all playing at the same time. I definitely like the vibe and the idea of having everybody playing at the same time and when you’re done recording, what you hear is what was made that day. It’s not all a bunch of stuff added afterwards.

Were there any songs on this record that were particularly easy or particularly difficult to write?

Uh, no. A lot of them were co-writes, and no, not really. The people I wrote with on this album I’ve written with before and they’re also really good friends, so all the writing sessions were pretty relaxed. We’d have supper and hang out and then we’d write a song.

Do you have any particular favourite co-writers? And is there anyone you’d like to co-write with in future?

Any of them really [laughs]. Like I said, they’re all really good friends. It was the first time I wrote with Amy Helm. I’ve been friends with Amy for a while but this was the first time we’ve had a chance to work together like that. So great to work with Amy. And Tom Wilson who’s on three of the tracks on the album. I’ve written with Tom a bunch and he’s a really good friend. So any of those people I’ll spend time with, whether it’s writing or whether it’s just to hang out.

This is your tenth album – how do you feel your music and style has evolved between your first record and this one?

I think for anybody the more you play the more you get cemented in what you really want to be doing, and I definitely feel like this album captured that for me. I’ve always had a big soul influence in a lot of the stuff I’ve written, but sometimes you mess around with different ideas. But this album we just stuck with what was comfortable and what I wanted to hear. I guess as far as evolving, I like to think I’m better [laughs] over the years.

You’re coming over to the UK to tour in March. What can people expect from your live shows?

I’m coming over solo on this run, which is the only way I’ve ever played in the UK really. I’m going to be playing a lot of the new songs, for sure. The new album’s going to be out, and the last time I toured there I was playing from the old catalogue. So looking forward to being able to share the new songs with people. I’ve been sitting on them for a while and I’m pretty itchy to actually get out there and play them.

Are there any songs from the new album you’re particularly looking forward to playing live?

Yeah, one of them, Quarter On The Ground. I really like playing that one live. I wrote that about an uncle that passed away and it seems to affect people quite a bit. It’s probably one of the more personal songs I’ve written in quite a while, so it’s always kind of fun to have something like that to share with people.

Is there anything that particularly surprises you about UK audiences?

How intense they listen was pretty intimidating the first time I came over! [laughs] It’s a lot sometimes, especially when you’re playing gigs in clubs, it can be a little chatty. But I found over in the UK when people are coming to pubs they’re coming for the music. It was almost a little intimidating at first. They were listening harder than I was [laughs]. But I’ve got more used to it and realised that it’s an appreciation and they’re really involved with the show. It’s not out of boredom or anything like that. So once I get my head around that I’ve always had lots of fun in the UK.

What have you learnt from touring over the years?

Really that places aren’t that different. When I was younger I used to think that places away from home were going to be this massive change. There’s differences in the culture anywhere, but when it comes down to it we’re all a lot more similar than I think a lot of people like to believe.

How did growing up in Canada and the music scene there influenced your own sound?

I just love the stuff I listened to growing up. A lot of it came from bands in the States. A lot of people who I listened to like local musicians grew up playing with a lot of the old blues and soul guys from the States when they were younger. So I’ve always had a pretty close connection to that music. I could just hear it on the radio and I got to hear some of that first-hand, which was really great. Other than that I think it’s just like anywhere else – where you’re from starts to creep into what you create, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

You mentioned your UK shows will be solo – do you prefer those to band shows? Or do they have a different energy?

I’m really fortunate that I get to do both. I love doing the solo stuff – it reminds me a lot of how I grew up with music. It was never a big production, it was just people playing music in the kitchen or the living room. It wasn’t a big deal. But I also love getting to play with a band. It’s pretty fun being able to create music with other people. I don’t really know that I have a preference, but I’m definitely comfortable doing the solo thing. And all the songs I write are written to work for when I play solo. I play solo for the most part so that’s how I write. I don’t write thinking about how the band’s going to make it work – I write just to make sure it works for me and the guitar.

I read that you started out playing in a band – how did that experience feed into your approach to your solo career?

Oh, I was playing in bands for a while and then I started to get hired for solo stuff quite a bit when I was still doing the bars, because it was cheaper and I could make more money solo than I could with a band [laughs]. So as far as how I played, I realised I had to make as much noise as I could as a guitarist. It definitely changed how I played quite a bit. That’s what I got used to. Up until two years ago, I’d say 90, 95 per cent of my year was just me and my guitar.

Do you have a favourite song to cover when you play live? And who would you like to cover one of your songs?

Oh, wow! Usually I pick my covers for what the night needs. Not so much any more now that I have a lot of my own material, but when I first started playing if I needed another fast song I’d cover a fast song. If I needed a ballad I’d cover a ballad. And sometimes I’ll still play covers at shows, it just depends on the mood. I’ve always loved doing Ain’t No Sunshine – that was one of the songs I used to play in the bars a lot. I took that one with me.

As far as somebody to cover one of my songs… I’d love to hear Bonnie Raitt sing something I wrote. I think that would be great. I just love her voice.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

Oh! Bruce Coburn has a song – he’s a Canadian songwriter – called Pacing The Cage. That is probably one of those perfect songs, just line for line. Some people can have two or three great lines in a song, and that whole song is just great line after great line.

What does the rest of 2019 look like for you? Is the album and touring the main focus?

That’s going to be the big thing for this year. I played quite a bit last year, but this year’ll be a busy year with the album coming out. So we’ll be going to do our UK and Europe run, then we’ll do Canada and then we’re going to the US. And that’ll take us into the summer when festivals start, and then probably do a bit of that same cycle in the fall. So it’s gonna be a lot of road, a lot of miles this year.

Matt Andersen’s new album, Halfway Home By Morning, is out on 22nd March.

See Matt live in the UK this March:

Friday 22 March – Dingwalls, London
Saturday 23 March – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Sunday 24 March – The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
Monday 25 March – Bodega, Nottingham

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