I met with Matt Schofield after his incendiary show at the Big Rib BBQ & Blues Festival in Rochester, NY. An extremely talented performer and friendly, open person. We sat and chatted about all sorts of stuff from electronic pipes for smoking cessation to acceptance at home and abroad as a blues band.
A very interesting young Blues man, who is charting hot and is someone who you should see if you get the chance. Thank you Matt, Jonny & Kevin !
MS: Well yeh, I have given up smoking. It’s been three months, it’s great. In fact I have a bit of a cold right now, but otherwise it’s great for the voice. The pipe is just a fancy electronic cigarette, it’s got a bit of nicotine in it so you can work your way down.. A pack a day for fifteen years, and as I hit my thirties I started to feel the effects of it more. But it works great there never was a last cigarette.
B411: Now you are a self taught guitarist – that’s pretty amazing because you certainly can play that thing !
MS: I’ve just played, I never felt that I have practised ever. I love music and I love playing. When you find something that you love that is your entire world I guess you get kinda good at it. I have been playing seriously for twenty one years. It’s what I’ve always done, never had another job.
B411: Sweet !
MS: Well, we say that driving the van, getting stuck at borders and staying in hotels – that’s our day job. We play for free, and get paid for all this other stuff. We did 5,000 miles last month will do 5,000 more this month – throw in a quick trip to Europe. There’s a lot of traveling involved but that’s what you have to do to play music. We love to play our music.
B411: How’s the tour going, US & Canada this time around ?
MS: Mostly in the US, just did a few shows in Canada. Hit some new places in the US. Last year was our first tour, ya gotta get out and spread the word. People are familiar with us from being played on radio in all it’s forms, and our records still getting out in person is the best way to do it. Even from last year it has grown massively and if it continues, then next year I will be completely happy.
We are playing here more than in the UK and Europe. It’s great, we go where the music is. For us people appreciate what we do here, they sort of instantly get it. I’m not belittling anyone, we have some great fans there, it’s just a slower road over there.
B411: I think it’s the just the opposite for some American artists, there are a few I know and have talked to about this situation.
MS: Yes I’m sure it is. Like Joe Bonamassa is massive in the UK and he is doing well here too. He’s a great player. We’ve been plugging away for years there. It’s funny I was watching this interview with Ricky Gervais, and he was saying about how in America you are told that you can be the President, and there’s this kind of championing of success and abilities. A breeding of success of sorts. While in the UK you are told it won’t happen to you, and if it does people will be suspicious and they don’t like it and will don’t reward it.
We find that true in playing music, the people here have a good time in the audience, give you feedback, and by doing so help you rise to the next level. The give back to you and it’s great and it grows It’s a whole different vibe. With the kind of music we play we enjoy getting that feedback, as you noticed* we throw in all sorts of different things – we improvise a lot and throw in stuff off the top of our heads. If the audience is with you it makes it all the much better and it allows you to do that. Personally, I can’t play the same way twice, the record is the way it was at that precise moment. I don’t think the band can play that way either.
(*Author note: In the middle of “Shipwrecked’ Matt starts to play the ‘Daytripper’ riff, and then just as quickly jumps out of it and then one more once brings it into play. I asked him if I had actually heard that or was I just tripping).
MS: Jonny and I have been playing for fifteen years – we went to the same school, we grew up in the same little country side town – Fairford in Gloucester. A tiny little village, the classic British country side. It’s beautiful and I really appreciate it when I go back, but at the time there was no music there.
B411: So wait, how did the Blues find Matt Schofield in Fairford ?
MS: My Dad, is a massive blues fan. I grew up listening to all this vinyl and reel-to-reel tapes. I was very lucky, he would tell me to listen – I’ve always thought that your ears are your first piece of equipment (instrument) – as much as anything else. If you like Stevie Ray Vaughn you have to listen to Albert King, if you like Clapton listen to Freddie King. He lives in California, so as a kid I’d go out there and spend summers with him and he’d take me to gigs. I was thirteen at the time and the first gig I ever saw was B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Dr. John and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. So that was it, I was completely blown away. Went back home and started a band – and to back track – Jonny was there and so we have been together all this time off and on, mostly on. Then last year when we were coming out to the US, We contacted Kevin to play a couple of gigs,we knew him from the Robert Cray Band, and they had parted ways after nineteen years, and a year later we are still doing it, he is on the new record we made together. It went from a few gigs to full time. You need the right mix of mates, especially with the organ trio that we do. I had done a four piece for awhile last year with ‘Heads, Tails & Aces’, but this seems to be really cool. Playing with a trio gives you more space to improvise and with the organ it can become more dynamic and sounds so much more bigger than with just bass, guitar and drums.
B411: Yes I think of you guys as an unconventional power trio. Plus the keys add so much to a bands sound.
MS: Well yes, that’s the way we like to think of it, our own weird version of a power trio. Plus I get tired of listening to myself all the time so I like to have somebody else to solo. He can have his little moment.
MS: Well I’m trying to find my own vocabulary for it all. All my heroes had their own voice/thing, when you listen to B.B., Albert King or Collins they all were so strong as individuals. Now I am a product of a different environment so I’m not gonna be able to do it the way they did. I didn’t pick cotton or any of that – so I’m trying to find my own thing. I love jazz, soul, funk, rock and we try to bring all of that into the music. To me if it feels right then it’s the blues.
B411: Yes it is an authentic sound that you give us. I think a problem at times is too may people get stuck on the blues. It’s said to be the easiest form of music but it is the most difficult to do well.
MS: True it’s not going to be the same thing as others do. I love to listen to great traditional blues, but not many can do them. We just try to be ourselves, and hopefully the feel is there that it is still blues. One likes to tip the hat to those greats but you must filter it through yourself. That’s part of the Blues – the heritage, and the history I love all that. When Muddy Waters came out in the fifties nobody sounded like that, nobody sounded like Albert Collins or Stevie when he came out, it’s important to try to remember that.
B411: Much like your cover of Albert Kings ‘Wrapped Up In Love’, I heard bits of Albert and Stevie but the overall music was Matt Schofield. So with this release you have attained the ‘Three King Trifecta’ in the Blues. Cool !
MS: We did B.B. Two albums ago, and Freddy the last one, and Albert on ‘Anything But Time’, our latest release. Though someone pointed out that there is Earl King, and I am sure there are a couple other King’s in the blues world.
B411: I can hear ya doing ‘Come On’ by Earl. There’s always ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King (we laugh). In 2010 you were voted the Best British Blues Guitarist, congrats on that achievement, considering the players out there, and the questions as to who you were here at this festival. Is that just British voting or International based.
MS: Yes, it is international voting, but only for British artists. That was fantastic, it was great, in fact we got Blues Guitarist and Blues Album. The guitarist thing is really nice but I am known as a guitarist, the album thing is really great because it means people are listening to the music and kind of getting what you are doing.
B411: I think those awards coupled with the success and exposure from this tour will set you up very nicely for the next tour. Now, as you said, you are known for being a guitarist what about your songwriting. On ‘Anything But Time’ you give us seven of ten originals, how do you approach your song writing – is it hard for you?
MS: First, we just love to play, we have our favorite places but you need to go to new spots to get your music out to the people. Ever since we’ve had our own band it’s been important for me to find a context for my guitar playing. But at this point these days it’s more important for the singing and songs, the guitar playing takes care of itself, it’s what I’ve always done. Again we go back to my heroes, and B.B. and those guys, they were the whole package. They had a persona and charisma, and more and more it is becoming important to me to achieve that. I want a context for my guitar playing a good song that goes somewhere, the whole thing. That’s what I think about now when I start off to do a record. So instead of plowing the same furrow as others have done before –the last few releases have been eight of ten or seven of ten originals – it’s not as easy for me as guitar playing but I feel the need to go there.
B411: It’s all part of that creative growth, which I would think every artist aspires to. I noticed tonight that you smile a lot while playing. Has anyone ever asked or commented that you might be too happy to sing the Blues ?
MS: Yeah right. I’m not thinking about what I look like when I play – I’m just into the music. For me the Blues never made me sad, it’s always made me feel better – an uplifting thing. Possibly part of the shared experience problem shared thing – and it’s always been about expression and creating something together, you just want to get something going on with the audience. It also goes back to the thing of trying to be comfy with what you do, I was just someones guitar player for quite a spell and I was happy to be able to play my guitar. But now with my band it’s the whole package and trying to embrace it all.
B411: I see that you produce Ian Siegal, one of my favorite artists. What do you bring into the studio to assist him.
MS: For me with Ian it’s like I’m trying to make him comfy. He is very dynamic live performer, sort of off the cuff, but different from us. So I try to capture a bit of that intimacy and dynamic in the studio. He’s an amazing singer, sometimes you go into the studio and put it under the microscope and we less confident about it. Even Ian, who is an amazing singer– sometimes he second guesses himself. With Ian I was able to tell him he nailed it – we, as Blues performers, don’t have the luxury to be perfectionists in the studio – we have three days at best to make a recording.
B411: Your new release ‘Anything But Time’, it is a bit different from you last few. It seems more geared to the American ear, this is the first one you have not produced, correct?
MS: Well, this one was produced by John Porter, it was recorded in New Orleans so yeh maybe. I grew up listening to songs John made with all these great artists. This was the first time I worked with an outside producer, I was completely hands-off. For me it was the most enjoyable recording I ever made, I just went in to play guitar and sing and turned it all over to him. They are all moment in time releases, like different children and the next one might be totally different. I must say working with John I learned more in three days regarding vocals than ever before. For me it was a good experience to just hand it over and be completely open to someone else, just play and have him say ‘you got it’ or whatever.
B411: Matt thanks so much for the time and freindship – I hope this current tour brings many new fans into the fold. I know that your new release is climbing the charts and is in the top slots for B.B. King’s Bluesville on Sirius/XM radio.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
If you wish to see more photos from Matt & Band please go to:
photos: Leslie K. Joseph