Published Feb 06, 2014With the release of Weightless, his eighth full length, Matt Andersen's bluesy folk songs have stretched beyond the parameters they've previously existed in. He's employed a pop sensibility rarely heard in previous releases; by bringing in friends including Joel Plaskett and Dave Gunning to co-write rich, fully-formed tracks, Andersen's trademark howl has more than enough room to move.
This is your first album with a full, label-backed international release. Would you say Weightless is the culmination of career as a songwriter?
It's a great representation of where I'm at right now: my singing, my playing. It's all come together on this album; (Producer Steve Berlin) did a great job with the songs he was given. All the songs were co-written with friends of mine. I did that consciously because I wanted to make sure I didn't sound like myself too much. It's a danger, I think. People hear one album and they assume that's how all your albums sound. I looked at people that I had a lot of respect for as musicians and as friends and these collaborations definitely kept things interesting.
How did working with Steve come about?
I knew Steve's name but I didn't know a lot of what he'd done. I then realized I had about twenty albums of his.
Phantom Power, the Tragically Hip album he produced is a great, crisp record.
Phantom Power was a selling point. Some producers you sound like a guest on their album and I wanted to avoid that. Steve treated each song as if it was its own separate entity.
You've said that none of your albums are blues albums. But there's evidence of pain and redemption on Weightless, two common themes of the blues. What emotions were present in writing process?
"My Last Day" is one that hits close to home. The East Coast went through a rough stretch when we lost a lot of great musicians, we lost Stompin' Tom, Rita MacNeil, Raylene Rankin who we all lost way too close to each other. There were a lot of feelings about one's mortality that were present. Everyone I wrote with has a connection to the song they co-wrote.
There are a lot of songs about problems faced in small Canadian towns on Weightless, including "Alberta Gold" and "City of Dreams." Tell me about the relationship you have with New Brunswick and how the extensive touring you've done influences your songwriting.
Whenever you go anywhere, you look for pieces of home. And I find that the more you travel, there are no experiences that are yours and yours alone. There's always something that someone else can be attached to as well. "City of Dreams" is actually about Detroit and how it went bankrupt, but the same thing is happening at home. The landscape or the idea of home being a dreamland is getting torn apart.
Were you trying to write songs that more people could relate to?
A lot of my songs, before (2011's Coal Mining Blues) I use the word "I" a lot which was great. It's how a lot of people write when they start writing songs as these songs come from a place you know. But I've become more aware of, not necessarily making the songs more accessible, but moving away from a 'Me, me, me' vibe and trying to bring in a global feel to the songs; songs that people can relate to.
You're close to selling out Toronto's Massey Hall, a venue normally reserved for household names. Are you hoping Weightless brings you mainstream appeal?
We're hoping to reach more people. It wasn't a goal in writing it but with the new management and record label I have, it's become something we're talking about more and more. (Joel Plaskett), who I wrote with, is always thinking hooks and bridges and I definitely don't think like that. Writing with (Dave Gunning), he's always writing "Story" songs, which isn't something I do a lot of, myself. Both of the tunes I wrote with him, "The Fight" and "Alberta Gold," both have that Dave Gunning storytelling vibe to them. It was a marriage of our two styles. And I think I got better songs out of writing with someone else; I can feed off other people really well. I do better when I have that back-and-forth.
When you're writing, are you thinking about how it's going to be brought to life in a live setting? Your live show features a lot of solos, but you're not nearly as indulgent on record.
Sometimes. Songs will constantly evolve. These songs were written very close to recording, which is usually the way I do it. But the songs will always evolve onstage. It's always in the back of my head. Even if the songs get big on the record, they're always written originally on an acoustic guitar so it all comes back to that.