Interview with Australian blues musician MattyT Wall -- ignite his imagination and give power to his art

"Blues is really the strongest connection in music between black and white and goes to show that music does not discriminate, neither should we."

Matty T Wall: New Sound, Vintage Soul

The blues is music that traveled on trains and steamboats from the Mississippi Delta to the neon streets of Memphis, Chicago and St. Louis. For MattyTWall - a guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and bandleader – it is the supernatural sound that crossed the ocean to Perth, Australia to ignite his imagination and give power to his art. A young man with an old soul: Matty is connected to music with a wealth of history as he distills a diversity of genres into his own blues-influenced soul, jazz and rock signature. His points of references are wide; he has studied and played a spectrum of styles including flamenco, swing jazz and funk, and he attests to a love for “heavier things” in his youth, bands like Metallica and Sepultura among them. But he remembers how the musicians he admired would honor the blues masters who came before them. And following the trail of Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn backwards, he was hooked. “I discovered Robert Johnson and he made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” he remembers. “I got into the blues and have never gotten out of it.”

As a guitarist, Matty wrings raw emotions from single notes, stretching and bending the strings of a Les Paul into sounds both persuasive and human. While he is capable of blazingly fast leads, he also drives the beat with percussive punctuation and solid assurance. With his vocals, he coils along the lines of the guitar. “I enjoy using my voice as another instrument,” he avows. He says that his songs are primarily riff-driven, and he compiles his musical notations into a catalog of 50-100 concepts that he can call up when lyrical inspiration strikes. In performance, Matty fronts a band of seasoned pros to support his songs. His preferred configuration is a trio: where the guitar has plenty of air around it. While the music that Matty plays has roots in the past, he is a very much an artist in the present. Through his reverence for historic musical forms, he is not emulating, but redefining these sounds, as he introduces classic genres to new listeners and invests them with his own trademark. With plans to record in Australia and the U.S., and to hit the road touring, MattyTWall is headed toward the proverbial destination of the bluesmen: the crossroads. “I am like an elastic band pulled really tight, ready to go,” he says. “That’s how I feel about my music.” Debut album, Blue Skies (2016), recorded between two continents (in New York City and Perth, Australia), is an enjoyable modern take on traditional blues. His brand new album titled SIDEWINDER and will be released on July 2nd.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

What drew me to the blues was the emotion that can be felt from that ‘one’ note. Blues lovers know what I am talking about. What would be a lifetime pursuit for me would be to make all my notes feel this strong, there are few blues guitarists who can do this properly. Playing fast automatically stifles this idea, so I am constantly keeping a check on myself to slow down and feel. Blues to me is the most raw form of music, in that it is ALL about the emotional delivery.

How do you describe Matty T Wall sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Well, I have been through my heavy metal stages as a youngster, and will always be drawn to that level of intensity with my music, however my songs are getting far more sophisticated than straight blues, sorta like what Zep did to the blues. I do like soft parts juxtaposed against intense parts, to make each feel stronger. Dynamics. I also find it is vitally important to make sure that each song I write is a new sound for me with new influences, but they still end up having my sound. And my 1961 LP/SG Custom would have to be a BIG influence on my sound too. I have a debut album due to be released in the next six months that will show you all exactly where I am coming from, including a cover of the slow-blues Hendrix epic “Voodoo Chile” that was fortunately captured on tape in a very inspired moment! My music philosophy is that music is always moving forward. Robert Johnson and BB King were not copying music from decades before them, but blazing a new path. This is why I have more respect for artists like Gary Clark Jr and Joe Bonamassa, for stretching blues in new directions, despite what critics or ‘purists’ say. My father brought me up listening to his collection of Clapton, Zep and Knopfler (for songwiting) and Gary Moore and Hendrix (for playing). And my favourite personal influences that are, I suppose, ‘unique’ for a blues player include Django Reinhardt and funk jazzer, John Scofield!

How do you describe "Sidewinder" songbook and sound? Are there any memories from album's sessions which you’d like to share?

It's definitely a step up and a step forward from where I have been.  A bit more of a harder edge that showcases how I like to play my live shows.  But I really think it is starting to show a mixture of influences that have soaked through my ears and into my brain since I was a boy.  From blues to metal, rock, electronic beats and acoustic styles.  I had so much fun being creative with different tones and sounds. I welcomed our new drummer Ric, into the band not long ago, and he is an absolute machine in the studio - a real first-take magician.  That made things much more fluid and efficient.  We didn't spend too long in the studio with this album - pretty much in and out.  A lot of prep work went into getting the songs and tones dialed in before we even got to the studio though.

What has made you laugh from studio and what touched (emotionally) you from Bob Clearmountain's work?

Hearing Bob's mixes for the first time after only hearing the rough tracking in the studio was a revelation.  They seemed to just reach down into your soul and pull you into the song.  He mixes so simply, but with these nuances that just come along at the right time - every freakin time.  He is the king for sure and this was a big lesson in how to carve out the song and take it to an even better place.  As far as fun in the studio, I'm pretty serious in the studio - I save the fun crazy stuff for on the road!  Where you aren't paying per hour, ha ha.

How has the Blues and Rock counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Well, the popular music of the world is definitely in a strange place at the moment.  The way it is consumed, produced, marketed etc.  But there always seems to be a yearning for emotionally driven performances and storytelling, which to me all comes back to the blues.  As far as current day blues rock goes, Gary Clark Jr's Black and Blu album really turned my head and pulled me out of 'traditional' thinking.  You have to be prepared to move forward and take risks in order to be truly happy and to be your honest self.  At least, that is what I am starting to discover.

Where does your creative drive come from? What would you say characterizes your work in comparison to other musicians?

I get motivated by people thinking that some things can only be done in a certain way, the only way.  We all know those people.  Well, I'm gonna do things my way - we all should, don't you think?  But my kids are really my true motivation.  I always dreamed of being on stage rockin out playing guitar when I was younger, and I want to show my kids that you can achieve anything if you work hard, believe in your purpose and make sacrifices. It aint an easy world we live in.  As far as what sets me apart - most reviewers seem to notice that my background in heavy metal bands when I was younger brings something a bit different to my sound and performances.  I still love listening to Metallica and Pantera and reliving my youth!

How do you describe your previous album 'Blue Skies' sound and songbook?

It is a very modern take on blues music, but still takes the listener through a sonic and emotional journey. The songs show my background in more heavier types of music, whilst sticking to the feeling of genuine blues music.

What touched (emotionally) you from the album BLUE SKIES?

I wrote the song "Blue Skies" for a person very close to me who had suffered a particularly bad relationship breakdown, and that was my way to make her feel that everything was going to be alright.

Are there any memories from 'Blue Skies' studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

A fun memory was having a Marshall Plexi cranked through a particularly loud speaker cabinet to record the guitar riff for "Broken Heart Tattoo" - very loud, and very awesome!

"Blues to be appreciated and played in the mainstream would be the ultimate. We need more breakthough artists like Gary Clark Jr to launch on to the scene."

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Robert Johnson with Hendrix and continue to Keb Mo’ and MattyT.?

All of those three artists were true to the way they played blues, but it came across in their own style and sound. Those 3 covers that I decided to do on the album are some of my favourite blues songs. There is a connection with "Hellhound On My Trail" and "Voodoo Chile" as it takes the everyday blues into new and uncharted supernatural territory.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues, Rock and Jazz researches and experiments?

Gary Moore’s “Still Got The Blues” album changed my life in music as a youngster. The guitar tone and emotion in his playing floored me. Since then I have always loved the blues, and listening to BB King and Robert Johnson brought me closer to the source. However it wasn’t until recently that the penny dropped, and I decided to dedicate my life to the music I love to play - the blues. This was after many years of playing Heavy Metal, Rock, Acoustic Folk/Roots, Solo Jazz and Flamenco styles. So clearly, anything I did would have to be unique!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

I remember reading an interview of the awesome Albert Collins where he was asked about his unique sound. He had very strong convictions about making sure he was unique and true to himself, rather than following trends. This is GREAT advice for any musician - being true to yourself ensures you write, sing and play music that is truly authentic. When it is truly authentic, the delivery is straight from the heart, not from someone else’s.

"I think Australia has a very strong blues scene and following, however in Perth, Western Australia, one of the most isolated capital cities in the world, we are separated by great distances from major touring destinations." (Photo: Matty, JazzMiller on drums and Stephen Walker on bass)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Speaking of jams, recently I supported the fantastic blues harmonica maestro Joe Filisko, and asked him on stage for an impromptu jam. His playing was so incredible and unique that I had to change the way I thought when trading solos, to the point where he was sounding Hendrix on the harmonica! So I had to up the ante with my playing... It brought us both to a very creative place and I’m very grateful he gave me the opportunity to share the stage with him and be part of that moment we created. The crowd loved it!

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I think that the blues scene today misses great performers like BB King and Freddie King who had GIGANTIC voices and incredible energy and dynamics in their delivery. Stevie Ray is in that camp too. There are some killer blues artists on the scene right now, but we are yet to find another like these three for the modern times. I am sure they are out there though… We need to find them and support them.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in the blues circuits?

I suppose it is easy to be jealous of bands and players that are doing well, it is something that you need to be careful of.  Ego can make you drift from your path, not a good thing.  You have to watch what they do, learn what works, adapt the things you like into your style and most importantly, be comfortable that you are different.  Be proud of your differences and make them your own.  Don't lose your confidence - so many bands and artists seem to drop out of the scene thinking that they'll never make it.  Well, it's a long game.  Strap yourself in, cause the ride will be bumpy, I guess you just need to keep your cool and remember why you are truly doing it. And it better not be for fame and money!

Make an account of the case of the blues in Australia. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

I think Australia has a very strong blues scene and following, however in Perth, Western Australia, one of the most isolated capital cities in the world, we are separated by great distances from major touring destinations. This means we need to be more creative and compelling to engage our audiences over and over again. There are tons of Blues Festivals in Australia though, and I am very thankful for that and for the passionate fans down here. Slide guitarist Dave Hole’s signing to Alligator Records was probably the most interesting moment though for my part of the world though…

"This is GREAT advice for any musician - being true to yourself ensures you write, sing and play music that is truly authentic. When it is truly authentic, the delivery is straight from the heart, not from someone else’s."

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from United States and UK to Australia?

Australia has had a bunch of breakthrough blues artists, from The Bondi Cigars to Chain, but for me, the most authentic link was the success of Dave Hole. Also from Perth, but born in the UK, he was the first international artist in history to be signed to the most famous blues record label in the world – Alligator Records. He is my inspiration in that anything is possible, and blues is alive and well in Australia. That and Rick Steele’s Perth Blues Club have been instrumental in my confidence to contribute to a future of blues in Australia.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Well, my kids make me laugh every day, and I am so grateful to be blessed with them. My boy is only 6, but he should be a comedian, he cracks me up all the time. What has touched me emotionally from the local music scene would be the authenticity of solo blues artist Moondog J, great voice, great blues harp player, transports listeners back in time – and does it so well.

What is the Impact of the Blues, Soul, Jazz and Rock music on the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Great question! Where would we be without Elvis Presley and later on, Eric Clapton introducing the soulful and strongly personal music of African-Americans to the rest of the world through the success they achieved. Blues is really the strongest connection in music between black and white and goes to show that music does not discriminate, neither should we.

"What drew me to the blues was the emotion that can be felt from that ‘one’ note. Blues lovers know what I am talking about. What would be a lifetime pursuit for me would be to make all my notes feel this strong, there are few blues guitarists who can do this properly." 

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Major Record labels to choose artists they work with judged by creativity and general awesomeness, not banal pop music that is chosen as a "low-risk" business decision. Despite the power if the internet, the majors are still the gate keepers to the industry.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in Aussie new generation?

In Australia, the idea of the "common man/woman" is very strong. So any music that deals with everyday problems that everyone can relate to is appreciated and championed. Blues music cuts through to everyone. Aussies are also very raw, upfront and honest, so blues is a great fit with our culture.

What is your BLUES DREAM? What is the biggest revolution which can be realized today in the Blues industry?

Blues to be appreciated and played in the mainstream would be the ultimate. We need more breakthough artists like Gary Clark Jr to launch on to the scene.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Well, we are going to go TWO places – sorry... First, we are going to the US in 1967 to see Hendrix’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival – just to see the look on everyone’s faces! And California at that time would have been an incredibly exciting place to be, seeing the emergence of the youth culture reaching the height of creativity. Then after that, we will be going back in time to Paris, 1934, to see the breakthrough performance of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s quintet – there is next to no footage of these performances, and who wouldn’t want to spend a day in Paris in the thirties? – another mecca of cultural creativity and freedom. Seriously though, there are too many places and performances I would want to see – I might have to steal your time machine. Off to see Robert Johnson next…

Matty T Wall - official website

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