Matt Schofield sits down and discusses his new album "Far As I Can See". It's always great to talk with Matt - his passion for his craft and his ability to explain the writing and recording processes, as well as his take on playing live, come through loud and clear in this interview.
Interview with Matt Schofield
March 20, 2014
Hi. I’m Steve Hefter and I’m backstage at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, and I’m here with the brilliant Matt Schofield after he just blew the crowd’s faces off. Matt, thank you.
We had a good time, yeah.
It was an amazing show tonight.
It was good fun. It was a good crowd, good vibe, good room to play in. The right band for the situation, everything’s good so…
Yeah it sounded amazing. So this is the third interview we’ve done, so we sort of have a time series or time lapse of interviews going on here. How was tonight for you?
Yeah we do. It was really good actually, really good. We needed it tonight you know. We’re very dependent on the overall energy in the room and the vibe from the audience and also the vibe from the sound in the room, you know ‘cause we improvise a lot we’re very kind of dynamic like that it so it’s gotta be just right for us to get to that final level so...which is really where we’re always looking to get. So I always say, “I want the only thing to determine how good my gig is, the only thing I want is for that to be me”, if you see what I mean. I don’t want to be susceptible to sound problems, or you know, a bad room, or inferior equipment or something. I want all that to be completely transparent.
And you’re the only variable.
I’m the variable and then it’s down to me. So tonight, we could take it as far as we wanted to take it because the audience was great and the sound was great for us on stage and that makes a big difference.
So you’re happy with your performance?
Yeah we had a really good time, yeah so I feel nice and relieved.
Good, it was one of the best shows I’ve seen you do, and I’ve seen you like five times in the last couple years.
Well thank you mate, yeah. We felt good about it, you know the whole thing. And that’s what you’re shooting for. So…it doesn’t happen every time, not from lack of trying because we always go out there and give it the full, you know, we never phone in. It’s always, everybody goes up there and goes for it but, sometimes something else is getting in the way of that, but tonight we didn’t have any of that so we could go all the way.
You have a new album out since I last spoke with you?
Yeah, I think we were working on it last time.
Yeah, you were. You were going back, I believe, to England to finish it up?
That’s right, it would’ve been just before I went and finished it yes.
And it’s called “As Far I Can See”?
“Far As I Can See”, yes. Featuring Johnny and Jordan. Jordan who was with us tonight, Jordan John on the drums, and he’s doing the great backing vocal parts on the records.
So you got your drummer with you this time?
Yes, yes we do. Yes and this is the core of the band. We also have a great bass player, a friend of mine from the U.K. Carl Stanbridge on the record. On most of the tracks, a few organ trio tracks but right now in the U.S. we’re still traveling as an organ trio, ‘cause it travels well…
He’s playing with you in England?
Yes he did do the last European tour as well. So it’s kind of fun for me actually to do a bit of both you know and then Johnny gets to play some piano and stuff as well. But right now over here, I think we talked in the last interview actually about the realities of touring and visas and all those kinds of things.
Yeah all of those headaches.
Yeah so the trio works, Jordan being Canadian, a little bit easier for him to get into the U.S. (chuckling). So yeah, this is kind of three of the core members of the band on the new record. The album’s also got horns and a couple of other guests here and there on it so.
Is there a meaning behind the name?
The name is actually a line from a song “Hindsight” so it’s a little tagline in that song. But also it kind of jumped out as being relevant to the whole thing, the opening track being “Far Away”, and then, it’s a pretty diverse record it’s lots of different flavors of what we do, you know? We didn’t restrict ourselves this time which maybe, the previous record we wanted to be a bit more focused in a singular kind of direction. But this time we started recording it before we had a new record deal and so it was kind of that let’s just go in and record some music that we want to play. So everything is just really genuine, it’s a really naked record, for want of a better term. It’s just plain, whatever came out, and I took a very loose framework of the new songs into the studio, but everybody in the band really brought something to it. Simon Law also, co-Producing and engineering, he’s the guy that makes my guitars and we’ve known each other for 20 years so he’s my live in front of house engineering in Europe as well so. The whole thing was like let’s get everybody that does stuff together and go in the studio in that format. Everybody, Carl on the bass, I’ve known for 15 years we used to does loads of gigs together in London. Johnny of course we did our first gig 17 years ago. Jordan I’ve known for eight or nine years and he has his own band in Toronto. I’ve played with his band, he’s played with my band, so it was like let’s get a bunch of people together that work together really good, get Simon who knows the sound better than anybody else to engineer it. Go in with a framework of a bunch of new songs and sort of see what happens. So that kind of seemed like the right title because it was just as far as we could go, as far as we could see. This is the music where it is right now. So it seemed like the right kind of a description.
The first track on the Album is…
“From Far Away”.
I read that you did one take and that’s the take on the album?
No, not that one. Actually there’s “The Day You Left” and “Red Dragon”, the last track. They were the one-taker’s. In fact “The Day You Left”, we’d never even played all the way through, I kind of showed the guys the changes, and the one that ended up on the record was supposed to be the run through, but we took it all the way and there was some kind of tension in everybody, not really knowing it completely and following each other, and just really feeling our way through it, and that kind of tension created the right vibe for the track. So we did it again and we went, “Ah, it wasn’t as good as the first time”. It just had ‘that thing’ you know?
It sounds great.
The same thing happened with “Red Dragon”, the last track, which has a Hendrixy nod, that was the same thing. At like one in the morning or something we just got to get the right vibe to do that. And especially with those kind of tracks you can’t construct them in the studio or over-dub things or layer them up or something. There’s no way you could do that and get those dynamics. You’ve just all got to be in the room playing , so they’re very genuine, straight up four guys in a room playing.
Yes totally old school. Bleeding, my guitar was bleeding onto the drum mics, and the organ’s in the room. So there’s no fixing anything, if you screw up, start again kind of thing. So, it’s warts and all you know. But that’s how you get that feel. The opening track is a bit more of a… it’s funny actually a few reactions from people have been, “Oh, he’s going for a more commercial thing”…or something like that…
People have said that?
Yeah not in a bad way just oh you know, maybe he’s trying something for his new record label or something like that, which is kind of funny to me because we don’t do anything like that at all. When we go into the studio we just play and whatever comes out, is what comes out. And when I write a song it’s just what comes out , so if I was trying to be commercial then I’m definitely in the wrong game you know, playing blues, it’s the wrong game to try and be commercial.
It’s definitely a different type of album than your last few. I thought it was more sublime, there were some more subtleties in this album.
Yeah it covers the whole...‘cause I’ll tell you a big thing was trying to be as comfortable as possible in the studio, so not making any kind of compromises for the performance. It was all about getting the performance, so the compromise would’ve been on the sound potentially, I don’t think it did in the end but we were happy to make sound compromises in order to get the performance. So like I say things were bleeding, we’re all in the same room, you can’t go back and fix things, and you’ve got to kind of embrace the moment and the sound is going to be...it is what it is. You can’t do anything to it after when it’s recorded that way, so that’s how we did it this time in order to get the most dynamics and be as comfortable as possible about the whole thing. Just be able to create and be free in a studio environment, which is kind of unnatural for us in a way, still, because we’re a live band and we feed of the energy of the audience. So I suppose in some ways we were our own audience for it so that’s how we picked the takes. If we felt good about it, not if it was some kind of arbitrary idea of perfection it was, “Does this feel good? Yeah I think that’s the one.” You know and if Simon is in the control room going, “Yeah this is coming together”, that’s how we picked it.
The music is about the feeling in the end anyway.
Yeah totally, with this kind of music it’s all feel and so even like down to the mixing we kind of committed to a lot of stuff as we went along, and then build a mix, and if I was going to sing a final vocal separately than playing the guitar track with the band, we’d build a mix towards that, I’d sing the vocal, and then we printed the track, and that was it. Put it to bed. Leave it alone.
So, it’s a moment in time, it’s…‘cause that’s how we play. We play in the moment. In order to do what we do you’ve got to be completely clear of what’s happened and what’s coming and just be right there. And so that’s kind of how we tried to make the whole record.
You rightfully so seem very proud of this album.
I am proud of it. I think it’s captured some stuff that we’ve not captured before so yeah, I feel good about it, yeah.
You mentioned a nod to Jimi Hendrix, there was also a few other nods in there including “Yellow Moon” by the Neville Brothers.
Yeah big fans of those guys and also the producer that produced that record: Daniel Lanois, we’re big fans of him as well, so that was all part of the whole thing and seemed like the right time to do that. And the Neville Brothers tune “Yellow Moon” I’ve wanted to do that forever, that was one of the first CDs my dad had actually when we started switching over to CDs from vinyl and stuff and cassettes. So it was an early CD album they bought so I’ve loved it ever since like the late ‘80s or something.
Yeah I heard it for the first time and I’m thinking, “Wow that sounds really familiar.” I mean because you put your own spin on it so much…
Yeah we kind of kept the original bass groove, but other than that we…well actually I gotta to say, Jordan gave me the confidence to maybe do something new with it because he’s done the kind of backing vocals on it that I suppose, like Stevie Wonder meets The Blind Boys of Alabama, type backing vocal vibe. And so I thought yeah, we can do something of our own with it. Because obviously Aaron Neville, I’m like, I’m never gonna be able to sing like that guy so I was always a little bit scared of it, but I loved the tune. So finally this time we felt like yeah we can do something with this.
So you sound like – you sang like you.
Yes, you have to embrace that right? So it’s gonna be different than Aaron but maybe I can do something with it.
It’s a great album, the more I listen to it, the more I love it. The first time I put it on I thought, “Ok this is a little different”, you know, “I’m going to have to listen to it a couple of times.” By the time I hit “Red Dragon” at the end I was, you know, “Ok. I’ve got to listen to this again.”
Yeah it’s a pretty deep record actually, if I may say so. But it does have a lot of layers, there’s a lot to take in you know. So maybe for some of our more recent fans it’s gonna be like, “Oh, ok. They’re really doing something…” But to me it’s all the same as always really.
Were all the originals co-written with your partner?
With Dorothy? Most of them were. Actually Simon co-wrote “Red Dragon”, and Simon and his partner co-wrote “Tell Me Some Lies” with me which is the kind of old school rock and roll that was just something that happened, and it’s just a fun track as well ‘cause I always liked that kind of stuff but never did it, you know? And as soon as we had Carl on bass, he plays double bass, so you’ve got Johnny on the piano and go for that full Chuck Berry old school thing.
So Simon co-wrote those, but the rest of ‘em are with Dorothy, as is most of my material. And the band contributing a lot to the arrangements, say the opening track “From Far Away”. Jordan brought quite a bit to… in terms of writing some parts of it, ‘cause I kind of just had a verse and a chorus on that one, and I knew what I wanted the lyrics to be about on that one, which is very much inspired, almost directly, by Carl Sagan, the scientist, philosopher, and writer. So, there’s some science blues there for you…you don’t get a lot of that usually (laughing).
But I love all that stuff. I’m a big science and natural history lover. I found…it’s from a thing called, “Pale Blue Dot” which is a monologue that Carl Sagan did about the pictures that Voyager, the spacecraft, took of the Earth just before it went out of sight, ya know, it was just a tiny little dot in space. So that’s the stuff I find inspiring – very moving – and I wanted to write about that. So that’s what that song is about. So everybody chipped in a little bit in fleshing that out, so that was more my lyrical thing, but most of the rest of it is from Dorothy.
Great. So, what’s on tap now? Are you already writing for the next album?
No…we’re just trying to get this one out there, and the response has been great. Things are starting to go a little bit, finally, after many, many years.
Yeah – I’m glad for you. You’ve been working your ass off…
Yeah, we’ve been paying the dues ya know. It’s starting to kick in a little bit I think. It feels good. We’re just going to try and hit the road as much this year…in the U.S. a lot actually, and then back to Europe a little bit this summer.
You’re headed to Florida soon.
Florida next month – a couple of nice festivals down there…
Have you played down there before?
Yeah. We’ve done a few things down there…
You are going to play Wanee this year?
We do Wanee…we did that a couple of years ago as well. But this one – obviously you’ve got The Allman Brothers last year and all that kind of thing, so it’s really cool to be a part of that. And we’re doing Tampa Bay Blues festival with Buddy Guy, Shemekia Copeland, Coco Montoya, and last time I was on a festival with Buddy and Shemekia, we all ended up jammin’ together, so I don’t know – I don’t want to say what’s going to happen but that’s what happened last time and that was a thrill for me, ya know, I played with Buddy. So that’s gonna be a fun day as well. And we also got a little thing down at The Funky Biscuit down there in Boca Raton which is one of my favorite clubs in the U.S. He’s having a little festival down there. So anyone in Florida should come and check that out because it’s a great place, a real music club…
Yeah – the Funky Biscuit. Everyone that’s around here ends up down there playing at The Biscuit.
Right, it’s killer. It’s really good. So we’re doing that. Then June – we’re doing a London gig and a Manchester gig and a Newcastle gig back in the U.K. We’re calling it the top, middle, and bottom U.K. tour – or England tour actually– we’re not even getting out of England. Then hopefully on to Italy. Then July we’re still figuring out. August we’re doing some shows in Canada. And then on and on from there. We’re hoping to get out to the west coast of the U.S. maybe September, October. It’ll be a couple of years since we went out to the west coast so, we get back out there – it’s really good.
So maybe around the new year we’ll start thinking about the new record ‘cause then we’ll get some time to record something.
You got some ideas kicking around?
Yeah, absolutely, yeah – in fact – this is the first time I’ve mentioned this outwardly, but after having the horns on a couple of tracks on the last record, I kinda got this jones to make a kinda of, ya know more of a blues record with horns and stuff, like get my kind of BB King thing together. The only problem is I couldn’t afford to tour with them in the current economic times that we live in, so, if I do it, then it wouldn’t be tourable, but that’s the slightly frustrating thing about…you don’t want to cut off your creative desires because of other reasons but you have to be realistic about what you can do in the world of playing blues. But I really want to make a record with more horns. Kind of an uptown, BB, kind of blues thing. So that’s the plan, so maybe… well we’ll see what happens.
I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. Anything else you’d like to share with the people who will view this?
No – I just want to say thank you very much to everyone in the U.S. for keeping bringing us back, ya know, for our friends over here in North America, because we really feel like it’s snowballing now, and particularly up in the northeast, in New England. Those guys are right there behind us. More than anywhere else I’ve felt in the world, I feel some kind of build going on, ‘cause it is a slow road when you play this kind of music. And it’s like you just said, you’re paying your dues for a long time and you know, I have great fans back in the U.K., many old fans. Especially in the Netherlands as well, people are really great out there. And in Belgium and other places that we find it harder to reach, but just for some reason, the northeast, down basically from here [DC] up to Boston and that whole corridor is just really feeling good. Everybody is really getting behind what we’re doing. So, that’s all I need. I’ll go play anywhere people want to hear it.
We appreciate the support.
Well, first of all you deserve it. I’ve been out seeing bands for years and years now, all kinds of different bands, and you’re right on the cusp there, ya know, you’re… to me, you’re right there at the top…
Well thank you…
…and I see you going far… as far as you can see (laughing).
(laughing) well, yeah – maybe. It’s like I say, it’s grass roots, it’s word of mouth. It’s doing stuff like this, sharing it with people. People sharing the tour dates with their friends, telling their friends, it’s that, ya know? There’s no main stream media machine behind playing kind of blues and jazz and soul and real music forms and real kind of improvisational and creative art forms like that, so everybody’s got to pitch in, it’s sort of all hands on deck, ya know? That’s what it takes. But it feels like this northeastern corridor is really getting behind that so we’ll be there and keep coming back as long as everybody’s coming out.
Great, great. Well, I’ll be there.
Alright, thank you Steve.
Thanks a lot Matt for your time.
Alright, my pleasure. Cheers.