Matt Schofield Interview
Matt Schofield has been on the UK blues scene since about 2002, in the last few years he has increased his fan base by touring extensively abroad. He is well respected especially in the USA by many guitarists, he is definitely a guitarists guitarist.
His eagerly awaited new album “Far As I Can See” is released on 17th February 2014, it’s his 8th album. Matt is one of the most influential Blues Guitarists always pushing the boundaries in keeping with the British Blues tradition. I am sure you will agree when you listen to this album.
It’s always a pleasure to meet, talk and hear Matt’s wonderful playing.
BM: At what age did you first start to play guitar?
MS: I had a guitar around from the age of probably 8 or 9, but didn’t really get going properly until I was 12.
When did you first start to play What, who or why were you influenced by to start playing guitar?
I grew up hearing all my Dad’s classic blues records. I was always a B.B. King fan, Muddy Waters, Freddie King and lots of others. The real catalyst however came at age 12 when I saw a video of B.B, Albert Collins and Stevie Ray Vaughan jamming together. That was it for me. Seeing the way they played together, how unique each of them was, and the power they had. I knew what I wanted to do. From there I was lucky to have my Dad explain that if I liked Stevie I needed to listen to Albert King, or if I liked Robert Cray I need to check out old Buddy Guy, and so on. He directed me back through the history of the music. So for the first 4 or 5 years of playing I was on a steady diet of the all the original blues greats, plus some Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and the early ZZ Top records. A little later into my teens I heard Robben Ford’s music, which introduced me to the idea of jazz for the first time. In those pre-internet days, unless you had someone to turn you onto things it was much harder to find out about different music, and I wasn’t really aware of jazz until then. So I started investigating, like Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, who is one of my all time favourite musicians, and lots more. A little later again I discovered other players like John Scofield and Larry Carlton who we’re mixing blues and jazz guitar. Plus I listened to a whole lot of Soul and New Orleans funky music, like The Meters, Neville Brothers and Dr John. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg really!
What and where was you first public performance, and how did you feel when you performed?
My first public performance was a concert we put on at school. I was 13 years old, and I’ve been gigging ever since. There was an American Air force base near where I grew up, and soon after we started playing there often – the US servicemen and pilots liked blues more than the local country pubs in the Cotswolds.
I loved it from moment I first played music with other people. It wasn’t so much the performance aspect, but the making music part that excited me. Like speaking a second language fluently, and communicating with the other musicians, and listeners. My desire and need to do it far outweighed any nerves I should have had about those early performances!
I have been watching you for some years now and you have not has as many changes in line up as some bands I could mention. How long has the present line up been together?
Well, it seems (to me!) I’ve had a lot of drummers over the past few years. The constant, of course, is Jonny Henderson on organ, who has been with me since the start of my solo career in 2002, and was already doing gigs with me in other bands before that. We actually went to the same school and did our first gig together 18 years ago! On the newest record, I have a rhythm section I chose from musicians that I’ve worked with a lot in different contexts, but never together as my own band. Jordan John, from Toronto, on drums and backing vocals (he’s also a great guitarist!) has been a friend for at least 8 years now, and we’ve often worked with each other’s bands. I’ve wanted to make a record with him for a long time, and we finally got around to it. On bass I have Carl Stanbridge, who I’ve known for about 15 years. We used to do a lot of gigs with other bands when I lived in London. So he was my first call this time when I wanted to add bass guitar. But, other than Jonny, I don’t really have a “line-up” – I enjoy working with different people, and sometimes logistics or finances dictate it. So although we’ve just done a tour with the 4 piece from the new record, I still often go out as a trio with Jonny, and either Evan Jenkins or Kevin Hayes on drums, or a couple of other drummer friends too here and there. So really the band is more Jonny, plus a pool of great musicians that I draw upon depending on logistics, availability and where I am in the world.
How far and how many countries have you travelled to and played?
Quite a few! Not sure exactly, but a quick finger count gets me close to two dozen different countries with my own band, and I’m sure I’m missing a couple! The furthest we’ve gone so far is Indonesia.
I often hear bands saying how much better they are taken care of in Europe. What is the main difference you feel there is in the way you are looked after in Europe.
Where do I start?! It’s going to pretty sound bad, but it’s our experience too, and there are of course exceptions to the rule. But generally, compared to the UK, in much of the rest of Europe, along with better equipped venues, you usually get a nice meal or catering, you get drinks (or they actually read your band rider) a nice dressing room, better accommodation. Any accommodation for that matter! You get treated with respect, and not like an inconvenience to other staff working at the venue!
The understanding is there that if you’re treated well, you’ll play well, and want to come back. And that makes it a winner for all involved. Many of the venues we now play abroad, especially in the Netherlands for example, are purpose built for music and the arts, with great sound and lighting, and a skilled crew, that allow you to make your show the best it can be. Consequently, we also play to about double the audience size there, because it’s enjoyable for people to watch a show there too! I don’t want sound too harsh, because the places we choose to play in the UK are often very good now, but yes, it’s noticeably different abroad.
Have you ever played or wanted to play another instrument?
Aside from singing? Everyone has that instrument available to them. That’s something I’m always working on. I’ve been playing guitar much longer than I’ve been singing seriously. One day I hope they’ll both be as good as each other. I’ve done a few tours on bass in my time. And I love playing drums when I get a chance. That’s my musical hobby, much to the annoyance of my band mates at sound check!
You have a new album out ‘Far As I Can See’ With the first track being ‘From Far Away’ what inspired the title and the first track on the album. Was it your love of Carl Sangan gave you the inspiration?
I love science and natural history, and a lot of philosophy related to that. I spend much of my spare time reading and learning about those areas. And eventually those other inspirations, and things that impotent in life, find their way into your music. I heard Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” monologue and it really resonated with me, and I wanted to write a song with it in mind. So it’s very directly influenced, both by his words, and his sentiment.
Can you elaborate on Carl Sagan’s philosophy, and his quote of “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.”?
Honestly I don’t think I can possibly elaborate on it any better than just suggesting everyone listens to his own words. He said it much better in Pale Blue Dot than I can. That’s what was so inspiring about it. They’re perfect, almost poetic words. I just love how he shows that scientific discovery and the search for real truth is far more beautiful, exciting and truly wonderful than any man made “confident ideology” as he puts it. And that the knowledge, understanding and acceptance that we’re so terribly insignificant in the vastness of space, somewhat ironically, serves to demonstrate just how unique and special we are, and how “it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another.” How each other, and this bit of rock we’re on, is really all we have, and all we know.
Which for you is the best track on your album?
t’s tough to pick one at this point. I don’t really listen to my own work after it’s done. You’d have to ask me again in a year, and I’d have more of an objective opinion! I can tell you that we put every ounce of everything we have into every track. It’s an intimate, real, raw and honest record in that respect.
You travel a lot do you still consider the UK as your base?
I’ve not been in the UK much in the last few years. I’ve been touring in the US increasingly since 2010, and my girlfriend, who also travels a lot for her job, is from Toronto in Canada. So we often end up back there for a break between tours, when one of us isn’t meeting the other one somewhere else!
You are about to tour with the new album what are the plans and do you have any plans to support any big names?
Business as usual for me, playing all over the world. The first leg of the album tour kicks off in March the North East of the USA, which seems to be a good place for us at the moment. Lots of blues fans there. We’re still discussing some possible opening slots and double bills for this year. There’s certainly a lot of great artists on my new label that I’d be excited to tour or work with.
Someone said “To live in hearts we leave behind is never to die” Would you like to be remembered this way?
That sounds good to me. I think, at least subconsciously, there’s a desire in anyone who makes any kind of art to leave something more permanent and special, and perhaps “immortal” behind. Most of my favourite artist I listen to are dead now, but there’s not a day goes by that I don’t spend some time with them! They are very much alive in my mind, my life, my music, and in my stereo speakers!
Thanks ever so much for taking the time to answer these questions Matt good luck with your new record and tour.