Matt Schofield is an up and coming blues guitar player and singer. He has done extensive touring and his craft shows it. Matt mixes a little jazz in with his blues roots and it gives him a unique style. After being brought up listening to Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan and others, this gave him a solid foundation to start with. Now this U.K. bred guitar player draws nice crowds all over the world. Matt is currently on tour so check him out.
R.V.B. - Hi Matt?
M.S. - How you doing?
R.V.B. - Pretty good. How are you doing today?
M.S. - Yeah alright... thanks mate, alright.
R.V.B. - Are you in the middle of doing a whole lot of traveling?
M.S. - Pretty much... last week I was for sure. I actually must have passed through five different states in twenty four hours, last week at one point. So yeah (hahaha) I've got a week in one place at the moment.
R.V.B. - So I understand you're in Toronto?
M.S. - I am right now yeah. This is where I come back to between tours, mostly these days. My girlfriend is from there so I've been playing in the U.S. so much we've been ending up coming back here a lot.
R.V.B. - Is it hot up there because it's real hot here.
M.S. - Yeah, it's hot and humid up here which makes a change from snowing and freezing like it was for four months until recently.
R.V.B. - Yeah, I don't know if you were around here for last winter... here in the northeast was horrible.
M.S. - Yes I was. I spent December to February in Toronto for Christmas, (hahaha) with my girlfriend, and then came down and did a northeastern tour in March. It was brutal the whole time. Wasn't it.
R.V.B. - Yeah, I still like the four seasons or whatever, you know.
M.S. - It's a little bit too cold for me up here in the winter. Us Englishmen don't do great in extremes of temperature in either direction. We're quickly too hot or too cold. We're used to that kind of non descript climate in the UK all the time, you know. (Hahaha) it's kind of rainy and mild. (hahaha) We struggle with the extremes.
R.V.B. - Well you guys are a little bit more north in the latitude than we are here in New York.
M.S. - Probably, but we definitely don't get the winters as harsh and we don't get the summers as hot here. It's something to do with being a little Island or something.
R.V.B. - Right. So how did you get involved with strictly the blues and not a rock and roll band?
M.S. - I picked up the guitar to play blues. I grew up on my dad's records, on the big vinyl collection of blues that he has. So when hearing that from being really young. Muddy Waters, B.B. King and stuff like that. So I didn't come to the blues via innocence. It was just blues for me. So the first band I started with within the first six months of picking up the guitar was a blues band. You know, in school... in our little country village in England, we were the only band and we were a blues band.
M.S. - No, my dad had a guitar around but he had like two licks, a couple of chords. He never really played it, but he listens to music like a musician. He didn't really play at all but he taught me how to listen to music. I remember being really young and he'd be in his home office with his headphones on... with his vinyl and his reel to reel tape machine. I had seen him listening, like really deeply. I saw he got really absorbed by the music and so when I started playing, he'd point out things for me to really listen to, you know in my coming of age.
R.V.B. - So how did you go to playing the guitar? Did you just say "I want to play the guitar"? Did something spark you into doing that?
M.S. - You know I don't really remember because it was kind of around that kind of music and I got one with nylon strings... a little acoustic when I was probably about 8 or 9. We did Christmas carols in school... that kind of thing, (hahaha) but I really didn't get going. Then I started really getting more into music when I was about 12. I really deeply listened to a lot of B.B. King and then my dad showed me a video... my dad's in California by the way, so I used to spend every summer in California with him... northern California. I would go out there when I was about 12, so that would have been in 1990. B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert Collins all jamming together and I just thought it was the coolest thing I've ever seen. I wanted to be up there doing exactly what they were doing. So that was like ok... I now I need to play. So that was it, from that day on I was a guitar player. (hahaha) I had a band within six months and did my first gig.
R.V.B. - Now when you had that first band... was it the traditional set up with the drums and bass or was it that unusual set up with the drums and the keyboard player?
M.S. - No, no this was a bunch of school friends. So it was bass, drums and first we had a second guitar player. We had a keyboard player, but you know it was like we were thirteen years old. Although having said that... Johnny my organ player who is still with me now... we did go to the same school. We didn't play together at that time, but we did do our first gig together then. Eighteen years ago now I think? We did our first gig together, so he's from the same town, and we've been playing in the organ chair and thing like that for the best part...
R.V.B. - Where was your first gig?
M.S. - My first gig was just at the school actually. We were the only band. There wasn't loads of bands in school so it was kind of an unusual thing where we were. Then my main gig for many years as a teenager... there's an air force base very near where I grew up. It has one of the longest runways in Europe. The U.S. Air Force had it on lease from the Royal Air Force for many years. This is during the first Iraq war actually, in the early 90's. They use to use it for the B-52 bombers to stop on their way over from the US. So there was a lot of service men there, and so we used to play in the recreation room in the bar on the air base for the Americans, who were more fans of blues than local people were in the countryside where I grew up. So that was our main gig... playing to the U.S. Air Force... The pilots and all the air force guys. They were into what we were doing, you know.
R.V.B. - That sounds good for them. They like to be entertained.
M.S. - Right and these guys were like F-16 pilots and they'd be drinking like whiskey all night and then like flying back to the U.S. the next hour and I was like "Holy shit", these guys are rock and roll. (hahaha). Plus they had a late license there. It was under like US jurisdiction in this particular area there. All the pubs closed at 11 o'clock in the U.K. back then. that was the law but they could drink till three in this place so it was like a little piece of America within the UK. So that's where we used to play. It was really cool.
M.S. - For the first year when I was doing gigs, I was practicing on that one with the nylon strings... a three quarter size thing. I borrowed the schools guitar. The school had an electric guitar... a cheap Strat' copy. I borrowed that for the first year or so, and then finally the following year when I was back out in the US we got a Strat'. I've been mainly on those ever since. I've got a few different things but that was kinda what felt right, you know.
R.V.B. - What amp do you use?
M.S. - I use an amp by a company called Two-Rock from California. It's my own signature model that they had developed for me. It's kind of in the "Fender'y" type side of things. They're expensive, fancy amps but I've used those for about 7 or 8 years. I used good old Fenders before that but I was looking for something newer that I could get around the world a bit here than a 60's Fender, you know.
R.V.B. - So after you did all those air force gigs... how did you start branching out or get your first break?
M.S. - Well I'm still waiting for the break probably, but (hahaha) it's just a slow road.
R.V.B. - Well you seem to be grinding it out and that's the only way to do it these days.
M.S. - There is no like made it moment or a break moment really. You just keep trying to get out there a bit more. I moved to London when I was 18... when I finished school. I was maybe going to California, but I started a couple of pro jams in London and I think at the second one I got offered a gig in a fairly well established London blues band with a harmonica player. A guy called Lee Sankey. So by the end of that year I was in the studio making an album with him, and gigging in London at the 100 club, and Ronnie Scott's and places like that. I'm doing it and it was like yeah ok cool, so it's kind of carried on from there. I've been through different British bands, and toured Europe, and other places, as well and eventually started doing little side projects of my own, as well you know with Johnny the organ player. Then that started getting more interest and gradually took over from doing sideman work. I started doing my own thing and put out a little live album, and kind of "Here we are now". There was no sort of master plan to it.
R.V.B. - Well you know to be a young blues player and touring as much as you are across the world... you're doing something right.
M.S. - Well right yeah, I've always just figured to just try and keep the musical integrity and do what's real... play what I feel and if I feel good about it, enjoy it and have a good time playing it... then I think other people will latch on to it as well. So we try and keep it pretty pure I suppose and do what we do and hopefully people will get it. I'm definitely in the wrong part of the business to come up with some, you know "I got to write a hit record"... you're wasting your time doing that in blues. You just got to play what you feel relates and communicates with people and keep reaching them, you know.
R.V.B. - I know you play a lot of festivals and things like that. Do you get teamed up with other blues players that are noteworthy?
M.S. - Yeah, you cross paths with all kinds of people. I think the biggest festival experience was actually in India of all places, in Mumbai. I wound up sitting in Buddy Guy, and that was like a lifetime thrill... Buddy being one of the originals, and one of the few that's left really. That definitely sticks out as a big thrill, to get to play with him. I didn't expect that to happen in India... maybe Chicago (hahaha). That was amazing but yeah you get to cross paths with all kinds of people, so that's pretty cool.
R.V.B. - I know your influences are pretty much like most blues guitar player's influences... The Kings, B.B., Albert and Freddie. I presume you've seen B.B. play.
M.S. - Yes, many times. As a matter of fact we did the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands a few years ago. We got to play before him, and I got to hang out a little bit with him before the show. He was so gracious in more than just the music. Just as a human being he's an inspiration for me, and how gracious he was to me... I was just a fan you know, like he knew I was playing on the festival as well, but to me He's like "My hero". So yeah, he's amazing for so many reasons.
M.S. - Yeah, a little bit of Eric. When I was starting out but I never actually crossed paths with Eric. I listened to a little bit of him when I was starting out. I never really listened to the British guys that much. I actually liked Eric's pop stuff more, you know. Like when I started playing "Journeyman", and "Twenty Four Nights", and those kind of records from the late 80's, and early 90's, I liked a lot. I really listened to the American guys more... the older guys that my dad was into. Of course being in the generation that I am, lots of Stevie Ray Vaughan, some Hendrix of course, and then a little bit later when I'd been playing for a while, I sort of discovered jazz via Robin Ford's playing. His playing sort of introduced he to jazz, which I wasn't so aware of and then checking out other guys like John Scolfield, and Larry Carlton. Those kind of more jazz sided blues players, and then from that getting into a lot of non jazz guitar music as well. When I'm just listening to music, I listen to a lot of Oscar Peterson... I listen to a lot of saxophone, Miles Davis. That kind of stuff.
R.V.B. - Yeah that "Bitches Brew" album from Miles is one of my favorite jazz albums.
M.S. - Yeah, all that stuff is really important to me as well. It's kind of all the same. There's really not much difference to me between Oscar Peterson and B.B. King, in a way. It's just music that I like, and it swings, and it grooves, and it's soulfull, and it's passionate. You know a lot of New Orleans stuff as well... Dr. John, that kinda stuff. The funky stuff from down there is really important to us as well. The James Brown soul stuff.
R.V.B. - Do you find that now you're adding that more and more into your writing?
M.S. - Yeah, I mean we were always kind of the jazzy guys in the UK. We were an organ trio, which is kind of a jazz configuration.... I suppose in a lot of people's minds, and we've always been pretty funky. I just let it come out, you know none of it's by design. Even when I write a song, it is what comes out... what I feel at the time. It's fair game to me. If it ends up being kind of a "New Orleans'y" thing... if it feels right, then its right to me. That's the way I look at it. It's all good... it's just music really.
R.V.B. - I see you just came up with a new album. How did you come up with the title "Far As I Can See"
M.S. - Well, it's a line from one of the songs later on in the album "Hindsight" and the other track is called "From Far Away" so it kinda pulled a few things together. Going into making the record... before we signed to the new label, we had just decided to start recording some new stuff we had, regardless who's gonna put it out. We were just gonna go in and start making a record. So we didn't really have any restraints on what we were gonna do. We were very open on a lot of different feels on it. So that line from one of the songs seemed to tie it together pretty well for us. It's as far as we could see at that moment... making records always is just a moment in time, because we always improvise. On shows, songs develop from there so you just have to accept that, that version on the album is just a version, you know? It's gonna become something else most of the time. So the name just kinda tied it together on how we were feeling about it at the time.
R.V.B. - I see that you were very involved with the whole process. You produced it... you wrote some of the songs. How long of a process was this to complete?
M.S. - Actually, probably the whole album took a couple of weeks of actual time. I was writing the songs for quite a bit. There was a big gap. We went and recorded some stuff, and because we were touring, it was probably about 4 or 5 months before we went back and finished it, and I sang the final vocals... we mixed it, and that kind of thing. It was over the course of about six months, but it was actually two weeks of studio time all together. It was nice and organic, and we didn't pressure ourselves. When it felt right, it was right. We hadn't signed with the new label yet so there wasn't any "You got to have this out by next week", so I had a chance to let it sit for a bit.
R.V.B. - So as far as touring and all the shows you do. Are you used to the lifestyle now? You know, living in hotel rooms... Do you like it?
M.S. - It's how it's always been for me yeah. I don't really know any other way, if you know what I mean... so I think I like it (hahaha). I like the way I look today because after a while it will grind you down, because we're not touring on private jets, and luxury tour busses. You know, we're in the van getting it done, right?.. when you're playing the blues. The way I came to look at it is... that's my job, that stuff. The 22 hour day, that's on a plane... in a van... sleeping in crappy hotel, or eating whatever you can get your hands to eat before the show. That's my job... that's the bit I try and get paid for. Two hours on stage is what I would do anyway.
R.V.B. - Well that's what a lot of people would love to do.
M.S. - Yeah, so my job is all the other stuff. That's the day job, and everybody has to dosome stuff that isn't perfect, and a living, and I get to play anyway. So that's the way I see it, or the music would become tainted by it. You have to kind of keep that bit pure, and go all the other twenty two hours to play.
R.V.B. - How many songs do you rotate in a set? Do you change it up?
M.S. - Oh yea, yea in fact I don't even have a set list really. I never write a set list for the band. I mean I've been playing with Johnny long enough that I can call pretty much anything from the last ten years, and he can play it, so we do mix it up. Generally when we start out on a tour, we kind of have a rough running order of current songs that we want to play from the record, or something like that. We kind of get up there and feel it out you know. We feel the audience... if they might be ready for a slow blues or something like that, so it's always just playing for us.
M.S. - Yeah, it's probably been 18 months since we've been out on the west coast. It's a bit further to go, so we're looking forward to getting back out there. As I said, I spent much of my youth in California, so it's kind of... I have a real affinity with the place. It's gonna be nice to get back to San Francisco and things... and back through Canada, and back to the east coast again.
R.V.B. - Yeah, you're gonna be in my neck of the woods. I see you're gonna be at the Boulton Center. Have you played there before?
M.S. - No we've not, but we did do a gig on Long Island on my first U.S. tour in 2010 and I can't remember where it was.
R.V.B. - I'll use all available media to promote the show. You'll be on the top page when the time comes.
M.S. - Thank you. I appreciate the support. That's what it takes these days playing this type of music... is word of mouth... it's grass roots. There's no big national media push for blues, and other kinds of music, so it's all hands on deck, right?
R.V.B. - Yeah, well your record company sent me a copy of your CD, and I listened to it about four times now and I really like it. I'll do my best to get some people in the place for you.
M.S. - Alright, thanks very much man. I appreciate that
R.V.B. - Anyway Matt, thanks for taking the time to talk with me, and enjoy your trip to the west coast, and have a great tour.
M.S. - Alright man, and we'll see you in August right?
R.V.B. - You will.
M.S. - Thanks Rob, I appreciate it
R.V.B. - Take care
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
For more information on Matt Schofield wisit his website here www.mattschofield.com
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