A love affair between a young man and the blues began with a record collection.
British musician, Matt Schofield, was born in 1977 in Manchester UK. He found his passion for blues music early on through his father’s records and began professionally playing guitar at the young age of 18. Soon after, Schofield went on to begin his own recording career, and since has seen no lack of experience and musical delight along the way.
Schofield (along with his various band-mates over the years) has experimented considerably, incorporating different and powerful mixes of Blues, as well as New Orleans funk. For some time, his three-man band was truly unique in that it did not incorporate any bass guitar – a challenge as guitar and bass are at the very heart of blues. The unique and refreshing talent that Schofield brings to the table has garnered him numerous awards, including the 2010 British Blues Awards Album of the Year, 2011 Mojo Magazine Blues Album of the Year, and British Blues Awards Guitarist of the Year three years in a row (2010, 2011, 2012) – the latter of which secured him a place in the British Blues Awards Hall of Fame.
Now, with the release of his fifth studio-recorded album, Schofield will be touring parts of the Eastern United States and Canada in March, April, and May. The new album prompting this tour, titled ‘Far As I Can See,’ is being called by music critics, reviewers, fans, and fellow-musicians: Schofield’s finest work to date. While on this tour, Schofield will be appearing at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, NY as a special guest with the famed Les Paul Trio. Later in the tour (before hitting Canada), Schofield will also be performing at The Funky Biscuit’s annual Biscuit Fest, in Boca Raton, FL. For this North American tour, Schofield is truly in high demand.
It’s hard to believe that Matt Schofield’s truly profound musical career began with something as simple as a little boy messing around with his father’s collection of vinyl. But if his history of experimentation, unbelievable guitar work, and masterful collaborations holds true, ‘Far As I Can See’ and the upcoming tour will without any doubt be just another piece of his phenomenal and growing legacy.
On February 14, 2014 Matt graciously allotted me some time to learn more:
The Levity Ball: Matt! Thanks again for doing this. I really appreciate it.
Matt Schofield: Well I appreciate the support.
The Levity Ball: I was thinking I might actually have to update my Facebook status to say I was just graced with a call from Matt Schofield on Valentine’s Day.
Matt Schofield: [laugher] Yeah, of course!
The Levity Ball: So, how are you doing?
Matt Schofield: Yeah, not bad, not bad. Fairing enough in the freezing cold Canadian winter. Up here just north of Toronto, at the moment. My girlfriend is from here, although she’s in Norway at the moment. That could be a good example of our lives, I’m in Toronto and she’s in Norway. [laughter]
The Levity Ball: I was actually going to ask if you had any plans to celebrate the holiday together. That’s a long-distance valentine right there.
Matt Schofield: Well, she gets home tonight, so…
The Levity Ball: Oh, good! [laugher] Very cool! OK, if I’m not mistaken, your heroes or influences are BB King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Albert King, Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Ray, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters… and you’re often compared to, and I’m sure you’re aware of it, Robin Ford and Scott Hendrickson. What are you thinking when you hear all that?
Matt Schofield: Well, certainly the initial list is very much correct, you know, the old blues guys, and to be mentioned in the same sentence as BB King at any time is an honor, you know. Robin was very important to be as well, a little bit later on, I was already gigging and playing when I discovered him. And Scott, yeah, but he’s much more on the jazz side than I am, but yeah, the interesting thing, the blues world likes to have many frames of reference, you know. I’ve always been very proud of my influences, and the main thing for me is having my own sound. Like, comparisons to your influences can be both a compliment and a frustration. So there’s so many more than that. Things get out there after a few years because you often reference the same people in interviews, but discovering Robin, the biggest part of that for me was I discovered jazz. During the pre-internet days, unless somebody gave you a record or told you about something, it was much harder to find new music. Now, YouTube, you just jump on and follow the link. So, I didn’t really know about jazz. I’d heard all my dad’s vinyl records back in the day and all his stuff was all real classic blues. So Robin really introduced me to jazz and sent me looking at that. One of my main influences, actually, is Oscar Peterson the piano player. But that’s also what Robin did, so a lot of his saxophone players, he got a lot from that, so that’s kind of, to me, a really valuable thing for a guitarist to do, is not listen to just guitar, because there’s a lot of other instrument ideas, and other instruments. And that’s what it’s really been about for me, is having your own sound and being beyond the instrument. Being a musician, not a guitarist. When BB King plays, you’re really not thinking about instruments and guitars, it’s just BB King, you know? And when Oscar Peterson plays piano, you’re just hearing Oscar Peterson, and the chosen medium happens to be piano. But he probably, if he’d have spent the same amount of time on any other instrument, he would’ve been a great guitarist, or saxophone player, or whatever. So it’s sort of just the musician first.
The Levity Ball: Do you ever feel any pressure when you’re compared to anyone or when they continuously bring up your influences that you can actually hear from your music? It’s like you’ve taken all these legendary sounds, and created something so new and so amazing…any pressure?
Matt Schofield: Well, yeah, I’m very proud of my influences, so I want you to be able to hear I’ve come from, that’s a very important thing, especially in blues guitar, for me, that rich history. But again, yeah, I really am always, I’m not deliberately going out of my way to be different though, or to be anything. I’m just really honestly doing what I do, and what comes out, it’s really genuine. And so I don’t fight that, to fit it into any parameters of anyone’s idea of what blues is, or, you know. It’s just, I just do what I do, and what I feel comes out. And hopefully you find like-minded souls. So no, I don’t really feel any pressure because I’m only concerned with being the best Matt Schofield. That’s my only concern. And then when you accept that, that you have something to offer as individual, then all that goes away. It’s really great. It took a long time to get there, because there’s safety in the familiarity of your heroes’ sounds, you know? Because you’ve been inspired by them and you love that sound, and you know it’s great, so you wanna, it’s sort of safety. But there’s also a ceiling on that, and then allowing yourself to just do what you do, and embrace that. It’s a bit scarier, actually, but much more rewarding. It’s a little tricky in blues today, because it can be a little bit myopic, the blues world, you know, like very much focused on what it’s familiar with. And it’s funny to me, because I’m not like radically out there or something. In my mind, it’s still very accessible music, and it all comes down to the feel of it for me. But sometimes even a little bit of a challenge, within the genre, to the norms is met with a little bit of resistance, you know.
The Levity Ball: So when I listen to you play, I often find myself thinking “How the Hell does he do that?” And emotionally, you know, I answer, “Well, he just simply does.” And in some metaphysical way that’s a good enough answer. So, as technically planned and precise as your music does sound sometimes, I believe that you just simply create it, and intellectually I can’t even imagine where it comes from. Where do you think your creativity does come from?
Matt Schofield: Honestly, I don’t know either. [laughter] But it certainly isn’t precise and planned. In fact I can’t, I can tell you my weakness, in a way, is that I can’t play the same thing twice in a row. So it made me a terrible session musician when I was a kid in London. I tried to do some, like, pop sessions, because you can make good money doing that rather than just playing blues, right? And I couldn’t do it, because I could only play what I felt at that very given moment, and that’s true, so I embraced that. And, again, it’s just kind of embracing– making your limitations your strength, really. But I don’t know, I mean I’ve worked hard at it; that’s something people often forget. But guitar was very easy for me. I was gigging within six months of really picking it up, and it sounded okay, you know. It came very easy, like some people can pick up a new language very quickly, that’s what it is to me. I can’t speak any other languages, and I mean I did French at school, and it’s like, I never could get it to stay in my head, you know. I’d learn the sentence, and it would be gone within two seconds. Whereas, the language of blues-based music just stayed in my head, and so I’d just soak it up. And so it is a language, so that was my other spoken language. So it is as simple as, essentially, the conversation we’re having now. Having said that, I’ve worked really hard for years and years, and things like singing and writing songs did not come easily to me. And I still work on those to this day, to try and bring them up to the level of guitar playing. But I do just, just do it. I just pick up a guitar and play it. And I’m not a believer in the supernatural in any way. [laughter] I’m a lover of science, you know. And there’s lots of, you know, interesting thoughts about that, but it seems that you do use the same part of your brain as we use for language for certain aspects of music. And then it’s putting that together with the subconscious mind, that’s how you tie your shoelaces, you don’t have to figure it out every time, you just, do it.
The Levity Ball: What you call improvisation, other guitarists would call mastery. And the emotion that emanates from your music, even when playing the blues, is strangely enough joy, not an anti-blues hope and happiness, but a joy to perform and create. How much fun are you having?
Matt Schofield: Well, when it gets to that place, you know, whatever that place is, in the moment, truly, it’s as good as it gets. And for a personal experience for me, you know. So yeah, I love it, I love it. And you get spoiled, you get spoiled by having– in some ways, I can kind of understand, luckily never been susceptible to it myself, how often musicians seek to find that outside of the performance in drugs or get into trouble with that, trying to find that solace that it can provide when you have a really focused performance. So I can see how that could happen, you know, because sometimes it’s really, you know, you get those couple hours and the other twenty-two hours on tour, often not nearly as glamorous as people would think they might be, you know. It’s just a lot of crap to go through to get those two hours. You have to keep them precious, so you do, you get spoiled. So now I don’t even really enjoy playing unless the band is great, and you know, what you need to get to that place. Just like anything, you know? It becomes more and more specific, so if something’s wrong with the band, that, you know. That can really annoy me. [laughter] Or just, if the sound is in the way, you know. I want the only thing to determine how good my gig is to be me. I wanna be the weakest link, if you know what I mean, in terms of what we provide. That determines how good it is. I don’t want to be a malfunctioning PA system, or that kind of thing. So you do get, you get spoiled. But it’s because you’ve got to that place and you need to get back there. That’s my drug.
The Levity Ball: This month you’re releasing “Far As I Can See,” and I’ve been graced with an early demo, and of course it is amazing. What did you love about making this album?
Matt Schofield: It was very genuine, a very collaborative effort from all those involved, and it’s a really honest performance. I had started before I’d signed the new record deal with Mascot/Provogue, who I’m delighted to be with. So I was kind of like, you know, I’m just gonna do something with some people I wanna do something– whatever it becomes, you know. So I had the frameworks of the songs, kind of took them in as a framework and I allowed everybody’s ideas, so it was just a good experience in that regard, just an inspiring a time of creativity.
The Levity Ball: When I search you on the internet, the things that pop up are British Blues Award Hall of Fame, numerous Guitarist and Album of the Year awards, the UK has produced the best blues guitarist of any country in decades, Top Ten British Blues Guitarists of All Time, and the UK’s most exciting blues guitar player.
Matt Schofield: [laughter] Sounds good when you put it like that!
The Levity Ball: There seems to be a strange musical separation from UK to US. Looking at it from your perspective what do you think causes that disconnect and what do you think it’s gonna take to push through it?
Matt Schofield: Absolutely! I don’t know, and I just had this conversation on a previous interview. It’s interesting because it’s not something that’s come up from people before, and now it’s coming up all the time, and it’s fascinating to me. Because I feel like my career really started in 2010, when I finally started coming to the US, you know? Name any guitarist from the UK playing blues since the late 60’s when all the original guys of British blues came out, that’s actually made any kind of proper contribution to it. I know great players, but it’s very isolated now. And, I can’t really think of anyone who’s truly got to a sort of level of notoriety within the US. It’s very hard to come to the US and play music though, just from a legal point of view. Like, to get a visa, a lot of Americans don’t realize this, you have to really, really want to do it, with the bureaucracy involved. And it’s very, very expensive, and you actually can’t get the certain kind of visa until you have prior achievements, and you have to petition for the visa on the strength of your… my visa is actually called and “alien of exceptional ability,” or ”outstanding ability”. [laughter] So you already have to be recognized in you field in order to get a visa to do it in the US. So that kept me out for a long time.
The Levity Ball: Even your visa is a compliment!
Matt Schofield: Well I mean, it is, actually. Yes. All those articles you just mentioned? That’s what my immigration lawyer had to put together in a package and send it to the Department of Homeland Security. So, that essentially, that did keep me away for a long time, because it’s very expensive, and so unless you know that people are going to come out and see you, you can’t. Having said that, the audiences in America since I’ve started playing there have been so much more embracing to what I do than they have been in Europe. So for a long time, in Europe, you know, people were kind of like “Well this is too jazzy,” or, you know. [laughter] or kind of slow road, with critical acclaim, but a slow build in terms of actual, I suppose, public recognition. So within a short time playing the record we’re doing so much better as people are much more open to what we do, for whatever reason. And I’m increasingly, increasingly there, and enjoying it. The music I grew up on was American blues more than the British blues, they were more my influences. I never really got into British blues. So maybe there’s an element of that, maybe we kind of sound at home there, as well. And of course I’d love to go back to Europe, and I’d love nothing more than to be welcomed with open arms in my country of birth, but I don’t feel like that at the moment, you know? Even though the critical acclaim is great, and there’s been lots of it… The British Blues Awards thing that I won, I think only really worked out in my favor because voting was open worldwide, you just had to be a British born artist and I got a lot of votes from the US. And Canada, as well, I’ve got to give a shout-out to my Canadian brethren. But, yeah, it’s just a lot more open, still. And it’s a much narrower idea of what blues is, in the UK and Europe. You know, so we had the organ trio for a long time, the new act was a four-piece, but the organ trio was, you know. People in Europe would go, “Why don’t you have a real bass player?” Even though Jonny’s playing killer bass lines on the B3. Come to the US, people go, “Man, that dude on the B3 organ is just killing it! Those are amazing bass lines!” But that’s, in a nutshell, in terms of how open people are. So, make of that what you will, and I don’t wanna sound like I’m talking bad about the UK and Europe because we have great, great fans as well, but certainly I’ve seen much more progress in coming to the US. And it might be one of those things where you have to go away to come back to Europe. So, I just go where people want to hear me. It’s as simple as that for me. [laughter]If I get lots of bookings in the US, that’s where I’ll be playing.
The Levity Ball: Favorite venue you’ve ever performed at?
Matt Schofield: My favorite venue. Well, favorite overall gig, Montreal Jazz Festival, in Canada. It’s not so much the venue as the entire event, but that still immediately pops into my head.
The Levity Ball: New artists that impress you?
Matt Schofield: There are guys, my friends, who’re just straight-up guitar playing like Kirk Fletcher and Josh Smith, friends of mine out in LA. My friend Tomo Fujita in Massachusetts, who’s a great guitarist, he teaches at Berkelee that more people should know about. Hamilton Loomis, a dude from Texas, another friend of mine, he’s a great musician. Yeah, those are the guys that really spring to mind, but they’re all like the same age as me, so none of us are really young. But, I think, you know, you gotta get some years on you.
The Levity Ball: Artists you’d like to work with, but you haven’t yet?
Matt Schofield: Well, just to play even one note next to BB King on stage, you know, would be the thing for me. The fact that we’ve still got him, and he started right there at the start and we’ve still got him there. Just to have one moment, you know, I’ve got to sit down and talk with him, but to share the actual stage with him would be, would be that. But you know there’s dozens of other great guys, particularly in, like, rhythm sections and things like that. I’d love to do a record with Steve Jordan, you know. The drummer, and have him produce something one day, and you know, that kind of thing. Actually, most of the guys I really love, that I haven’t done something with even slightly, they’re dead. [laughter] So then it becomes, it’s like, rhythm sections and other musicians to work with like that.
The Levity Ball: How do you feel about performing with The Allman Brothers Band again at the Wanee Music Festival in what will be their last?
Matt Schofield: Well it’s great, it’s great. We did it a couple of years ago and it was an amazing festival, and so I’m actually hoping to be able to hang out and see them that night. Often you don’t get to see anybody, you know, at the festival you’re playing at; you’re in and out. Yeah, it’s great. When I heard Derek and Warren we’re leaving, I thought, man that’s kind of the last incarnation I think, and sure enough I was, right. You’re not gonna get another Derek and Warren, so. Yeah, it’s good to be a part of it, and I suppose it’s what you call bittersweet, isn’t it. So we’re looking forward to it. We’ve done quite a few of the Allman Brothers kind of based festivals, and they’re always, it’s a real certain kind of vibe to it. The people bring real community, right.
The Levity Ball: Looking at your schedule, you’re playing Plains, Pennsylvania on March 21st, which I’ll be at. I’m actually really impressed that you’ll be performing at a venue that’s, you know, off the beaten path from the typical North American tour, which will really allow people to get to know you in our little area here.
Matt Schofield: Yes, it’s a bit of a trek apparently, that one, up from where we are on either side of it. But my booking agent said it’s a good one, so we’re, as I said, we’re happy to go anywhere people want to hear us. I’m glad we can get there, yeah. Excellent, we’re looking forward to it.
The Levity Ball: Matt, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you so much and I will see you in March!
Matt Schofield: Alright, thanks man. Cheers!