Everything about Matt Andersen is large—his frame, his beard, his hair, his voice, and, above all, his talent as a guitarist and songwriter whose repertoire reaches deeply into blues, soul, and gospel. When he last played solo at the Burnaby Blues + Roots Festival six years ago, the New Brunswick native left the crowd gobsmacked by a performance that pulled out all the emotional stops.
Since then, with a relentless touring schedule, he’s developed an international following and released the acclaimed recordings Weightless (from 2014) and last year’s Honest Man, the latter made up of mainly midtempo and slower songs about love and the parlous state of the world.
Andersen is quick to credit his producer, Gordon Williams—who has worked with Joss Stone, Santana, Quincy Jones, and the late Amy Winehouse—for the variety of sonic textures and colours.
“I really like the way he focuses on the song—if something doesn’t really add to it, then leave it out,” he says, from Winnipeg, where he’s performing at the Canada Games. “We pulled in certain players for certain songs. It was really cool to work that way without, say, worrying about the genre or anything like that. Everything ties together well.”
All the songs on Honest Man were cowritten with other musicians.
“I’ve done that for the past two albums,” Andersen says. “I’ve started to see the benefit of it and really enjoy the process. So I’ve reached out to others. It keeps me from ripping off my own ideas too much. From song to song there are all sorts of different influences in there.”
Likewise, there’s no set formula for the way that Andersen collaborates, nor any predetermined themes, subjects, or ideas about instrumentation. Though most of the songs on Honest Man concern relationships, some have an unspecified political edge—like “Let’s Get Back”, one of three collaborations with Canadian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andy Stochansky. “He lives in L.A. these days and was looking back last year at Canada and at the craziness that was going on in the U.S. On this album I feel we really hit a groove.”
“Last Surrender”, another of their joint efforts, is a great vintage soul number in the mould of Otis Redding, complete with Memphis-style horns. “When Gordon and I first teamed up, we found a lot of common ground in musical inspiration—like Motown and the old soul recordings,” says Andersen. “After we had the bed tracks down for the song, we added things that made sense for it. I love having horns. They’re a luxury, but that song just begged for them.”
Andersen and his cowriters on Honest Man keep the songs simple and direct, in lyrics as in the music. The refrain of the closing track, “One Good Song”, penned with Ontario’s Donovan Woods, stresses each of those words equally for rhythmic punctuation. “It’s a song for songwriters. Chasing that one good song is like pursuing our white whale. It didn’t need a big guitar solo or anything, and that’s where Gordon had a really good sixth sense for giving a song only what it needed—not to distract from what it’s all about.”
Matt Andersen performs at the Burnaby Blues + Roots Festival in Deer Lake Park on Saturday (August 12).