RBC Ottawa Bluesfest: The ties that bind Matt Andersen

Matt Anderson plays RBC Ottawa Bluesfest on July 13.

Matt Andersen was in a minivan in Georgia headed to South Carolina with a couple of other road warriors.

The multiple Maple Blues Award winning singer-songwriter was talking about his new album, the title of which seemed kind of appropriate for a guy from the Maritimes who does about 200 dates a year. It’s his 10th and it’s called Halfway Home By Morning.

He’s become an expert on the road especially this summer doing dates with country legend Marty Stuart and the Steve Miller Band along with solo shows of his own and gigs with The Mellotones, his regular band at places such as RBC Ottawa Bluesfest on July 13.

“The (U.S.) south reminds me of the East Coast. It’s a very welcoming place. There are some history issues but otherwise it’s pretty great down here. I love their style of cooking and it’s pretty family oriented.”

As is Andersen. He remains close to his family and his roots. The new album, for example, features a song the speaks to both.

It’s called Quarter on the Ground (A Song for Uncle Joe).

“It’s something I wrote for my mom. That song is about my uncle, her brother, who passed away about three years ago. It was a little tribute to him.

“He was always checking in, always calling up, He was the one who always kept in touch with everybody. When he passed away, my mom said she wished she could talk to him on the phone one more time and that gave me the idea for the song.

“I wanted to have a nice version of it. Before we finished up in the studio I asked the McCrary Sisters to do one more version of it and we did it in one take and on one microphone. It got mixed in with all the other tunes and my manager heard it and said it should it be on the album and that was pretty much it.

“Sometimes simple is the way to go.”

Andersen is the kind of guy who still has an Atlantic Canada area code on his phone.

“I still have the 902 on my phone. I like to keep in touch, I want to be in contact with home, Anybody who is on the road wants to be in touch.”

Home today is Wolfville, Nova Scotia for this native New Brunswicker. It’s a place he loves because it’s “nice and quiet.” That’s important when you get a break from touring.

“I wouldn’t want to be in the city when I get off the road. I like that pace when I get back home.”

When it came to making his latest album he decided it should be recorded in Nashville. That’s where his producer (and guitar player) Steve Dawson has set up shop.

When it came to creating the record, Andersen said, “I never really try to write in any specific way. On this album all the songs were written with really good friends. We just hung out and did the work.

“We didn’t try to direct the people on the album. We just hired some great musicians and let it all happen pretty organically.

After making enough albums, Andersen said, “you get to the point where you realize that trying to make other people happy with what you are doing is not the way to do it.

“I wanted to shake that off and make something I was happy with and I was proud of.”

That laid back approach has Andersen writing right up to the time recording was to start.

“We figured we might as well keep writing because we might find something better.”

In studio, the idea was to let the musicians have their own input. The result, he said, was that most of the songs were ready to record after three or four takes.

“The musicians were good so there wasn’t a lot of head scratching.”

The result is 13 songs featuring a mix of styles from soul to rhythm and blues, folk, and Americana. Maybe the ghosts of the Southern Ground studio were helping him along. It’s a place where Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and Jerry Lee Lewis have recorded.

Going forward, Andersen just wants to continue getting better, drawing bigger crowds, staying on the road. “The basic idea is to not lose money.”

That’s getting trickier because the old days of CD stage sales are gone.

“You have to be on the road,” he said. That’s not a bad thing for Andersen.

“I love the road. I don’t know if it’s for everybody but I am one of the guys who love being on the road. Recording is all great but I wouldn’t be happy sitting. I’d want to be on the road playing.”

Matt Andersen and The Mellotones
Where: RBC Ottawa Bluesfest Videotron Stage
When: July 13 at 9:30 p.m.
Tickets and information: ottawabluesfest.ca

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.