Canada’s Matt Andersen has one of the most extraordinarily soulful and powerful voices you’re ever likely to hear. It’s the kind of voice that hits you like a force 10 gale – once you’ve heard him sing you know you’ve witnessed something remarkable
Unsurprisingly he’s been building a global fan base on the strength of his live performances across North America, Europe and Australia for a number of years now. His latest album Honest Man was produced in New York with Commissioner Gordon (Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, Santana, Quincy Jones) with local fans getting their chance to hear the new songs live for the first time.
Trevor Jackson spoke to Matt on the eve of his latest Australian tour to discuss the new album.
Tell me about the title track from Honest Man, apparently inspired by a political cartoon. Can you describe what that cartoon was and how it relates to Honest Man?
It was a cartoon of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump giving a press conference with a tube going directly from Donald Trump’s mouth over Bernie’s head into the press. At that time there was a lot of talk about Bernie Sanders not getting much attention and that Trump was getting a lot of press and that the whole thing had become a circus because the press wasn’t focusing on policy or the real issues, just personality. That was pretty much the crux of it.
The song Let’s Get Back is a message to your fellow Canadians. The lyric includes the lines:
“We used to hold our heads up high
Always the first to get in line
Now we close our eyes and pretend we don’t see.”
The song suggests that Canadians need to take back their identity – from whom?
It’s not so much about taking their identity back from someone, but more getting back to being ourselves. We’re getting caught up in global politics like the refugee situation but we’re not being very compassionate about it. You know when I was growing up the prevailing attitude amongst Canadians was very much about being peaceful, being supportive, being open and being welcoming but a lot of people’s approach now doesn’t seem to be in that vein any more. I’d really like to see us think about it a little bit more and get back to that identity.
It’s interesting to hear you say that when Justin Trudeau is more in tune with humanity and the environment and is a very popular leader both within your country and around the world. So you’re suggesting that the seeds for this current Canadian identity were planted some time ago, say under Trudeau’s predecessor Stephen Harper, or even earlier than that?
Definitely. With that last election more so than any other before it people were ready for a change. We’d got to a point where people were scared about a lot of things and we were reacting in a bad way to fear, including the refugee situation, but we never used to be like that. Trudeau was a very popular candidate because he seemed very relaxed about things and there had been a lot of tension and angst in Canada prior to his election as Prime Minister. It’s still early days yet to see how the country will change under him, but so far it looks pretty good.
On the other hand you’ve written a number of very personal songs on the album, one of them being All The Way where you talk about committing to a relationship completely – you must be in a good space right now?
Yeah, I really am. You get to that point in a relationship where you’re no longer just friends and you need to commit to each other. You can kid yourself that it’s OK and it won’t go any further, but eventually you realise that if you don’t take the plunge then there’s nowhere left for you to go.
In the same vein you’ve also written I’m Giving In, which is a very candid and deeply personal song. It’s such a soulful vocal with just a piano accompanying you – it really is very moving. How did your partner react to that song?
Believe it or not I wasn’t actually there the first time she heard it, but I think she cried and that’s a nice feeling when someone cries for you in a good way (laughs). She knew that song was for her and she loved it, so it’s a special thing to share between each other.
I understand that it was the last song recorded for the album and that Alicia Keys was a fly in the ointment during its recording. What happened there?
It was my last night in Manhattan and the studio we were using was underneath a ballroom where Alicia Keys was rehearsing for a performance the next night. We managed to get the piano recorded in between the breaks of the rehearsal but had to skip the vocals. We went back to Gordon’s studio to listen back to the weeks’ work and enjoy a scotch when we decided to take a stab at recording the vocals. This was at 1am. It was a special way to wrap up the sessions.
In the clip for Honest Man we see a full band complete with a horn section that just sounds brilliant. Touring with that many people is a very expensive exercise, will we see you with a full band when you play here?
Unfortunately no. In fact my recent tour was with the band, but that’s the first time I’ve travelled with a band for 10 years and as you say it’s financially challenging to tour that way when you’re so far from home. Generally I travel solo for most of the year and that has its advantages from a live perspective because you connect more personally with the audience.
*Matt Andersen plays Brisbane’s Milk Factory Nov 17 and the Mullum Music Festival Nov 18, 19 & 20.