Q&A with Iowa-based Matt Woods, has developed a distinct style while staying true to his love of traditional American music

"I don’t miss music from the past, I listen to it every day!! I don't have any understanding of modern music. I do wish sometimes that more of an emphasis on the cultural significance of traditional music was present in the modern world, but hopefully that will come back around."

Matt Woods: Roots Music with Love

Matt Woods is both a native of Iowa, and a longstanding purveyor of its diverse music scene. As a seasoned performer of many local, regional and national venues, Matt has developed a distinct style while staying true to his love of traditional American music. Woods is well versed in the many shapes this music can take; from traditional delta, hill country and urban electric blues, to gospel, country and folk music. In addition to performing 100+ shows per year as a solo act, playing with several roots oriented bands and backing up some of the finest songwriters in the Midwest, Matt can often be found in the studio, adding guitar parts to a diverse array of recordings. Over the course of his career, Matt has shared the stage with many notable acts, including; Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Louisiana Red, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, John Primer, Rj Mischo, James Harman, Nathan James, Delbert McClinton, The Arc Angels, Dr. John, Kelly Hunt, Joe Price and many more. In 2010, Matt Woods and The Thunderbolts opened for Pat Benetar and REO Speedwagon at the famed Iowa State Fair Grandstand. As a point of pride, Matt Woods and The Thunderbolts are the only local band, before or since, to play the Iowa State Fair Grandstand.

(Matt Woods / Photo by Jen Taylor)

Almost Made It (2022), the new album from Matt Woods, takes new turns down familiar roads. Leading his band through a mostly instrumental set that takes inspiration from the three Kings, T-Bone Walker and more, he keeps it exiting and unexpected at every turn with layers of New Orleans jangle, Chicago smoke, some Latin grooves and even a bit of a rag. The songs on Almost Made It further that goal with a natural flow and ease that showcase Woods' songwriting chops as well as his command of tone. "I wasn't really thinking about the way the songs came together, I was just trying to express myself. I had all these ideas I wanted to get out there, but there was no real conscious effort to try to cover a bunch of styles." Despite the unexpected combination of seven instrumentals and just one vocal track, there's serious method behind the madness.

Interview by Michael Limnios              Special Thanks: Larry Kay / Night Train PR 

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

Traditional American music has been hugely influential in who I am as a person. Not only helping me consider the conditions and circumstances from which this music came, but it has led me to travel extensively and meet many different types of people. It's helped me understand that we are all people with much more in common than we have differences.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

I think my sound is heavily influenced by the music I love, but I have always tried to develop as an individual. I believe it is vitally important for a musician to express themselves. Not just spit out licks they have learned from other musicians. Of course, that is easier said than done. It takes a lifetime, but that is the ultimate goal. For me, learning any technique is just a doorway to being able to express yourself fully. As an artist, soul is paramount, but a certain amount of technique is required to get there.

"Traditional American music has been hugely influential in who I am as a person. Not only helping me consider the conditions and circumstances from which this music came, but it has led me to travel extensively and meet many different types of people. It's helped me understand that we are all people with much more in common than we have differences." (Matt Woods / Photo by Scott Allen)

Are there any specific memories or highlights of your career that you would like to tell us about?!

There are many highlights...and lowlights! The highlights are nice, but I don't like to hang my hat on those. I have been fortunate enough to meet, play and become friends with many of my biggest heroes, but the lowlights are what make a musician who they are. The thousands of gigs, far away from home, that no one is interested in. That is what has made me who I am as a musician and has taught me how to handle and perform in nearly any difficult situation. Its also made me a stronger, smarter and more kind person than what I would have become otherwise.

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

I don’t miss music from the past, I listen to it every day!! I don't have any understanding of modern music. I do wish sometimes that more of an emphasis on the cultural significance of traditional music was present in the modern world, but hopefully that will come back around. 

What is the impact of the Blues and Jazz on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

I don't really think I'm in a position to speak on that. I will leave that to the philosophers, activists and poets... My job (and passion) is expressing myself through music and hoping that it affects someone in a positive way.

What would you say characterizes Iowa blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Iowa has a rich and often overlooked musical tradition. The scene in central Iowa (where I'm from) is very positive. Musicians are always open to working with, or helping one another. We lift each other up and support each other. I think that is pretty unique compared to many other music scenes around the country. We are relatively small in population, but some of the greatest musicians I've ever been around come from Iowa. I thank my lucky stars every day that this is where I'm from.

"I think my sound is heavily influenced by the music I love, but I have always tried to develop as an individual. I believe it is vitally important for a musician to express themselves." (Matt Woods / Photo by Scott Allen)

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

My life in music has taught me to be a resilient person. How to deal with adversity and how to be a good business person. Being able to perform in all types of situations especially through adverse situations, and learning how to manage a small business has been very valuable outside of music, and in life in general! Also, learning how to work and deal with all types of people has provided me with some very important life lessons.

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

I'm comfortable saying I don't understand it at all! I'm just trying to find my place in this world and express myself the best I know how.

Matt Woods - Home

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