East Coast singer-songwriter Matt Andersen can belt out blues and soul numbers with the best of them. Yet on listening to his new album Halfway Home By Morning Andersen also let a lot of other musicians share the spotlight.
“I knew I want to do it live off the floor,” Andersen says regarding recording his new effort which comes out March 22. “I’ve always wanted to an album like that, you know, have the horn section and everything in there. I just wanted to have great musicians in there and just push record.
“It also puts a lot of pressure on the musicians, you can’t just go back and do things over and over and over again. You have to actually play it. It wasn’t an issue with the musicians we had but if you have people who are not up to the calibre it can be a bit of a challenge. You couldn’t do 15 takes and take the best parts of each one.”
Andersen also said the ambiance of the studio, Nashville’s famous Southern Ground, helped shape the sound and the vibe.
“There’s a lot of history and lots of master tapes from Kenny (Rogers) and Dolly (Parton) and Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, just all of that stuff in the room,” he says. “Downstairs in the basement was the lounge and the kitchen area, so we all ate there at the same time. Everybody just hung out all day, that kind of vibe. It was pretty great.”
The musician wrote roughly two dozen songs for the album so unlike the previous album he had a bevy of options. The actual recording was also quite old-school in terms of time as 12 songs were cut over a four-day period. He also said working with producer Steve Dawson was a memorable experience.
“He’s really relaxed and open to new ideas,” Andersen says. “He’s not a ‘my way or the highway’ kind of guy. It was really great and thought out but also we were able to go in any direction whenever the mood took us.”
Halfway Home By Morning opens with a solid soul-filled number called “Mamma Say” which the guitarist says came from watching tragedies fueled by racism unfold in America.
“It was (written) right around when all of that (unrest) in Carolina and there was a lot of racial tension,” Andersen says regarding the Charlottesville protests in August, 2017 which left one woman dead. “Well, there’s always racial tension there but a lot more of it popped out, people with the torches and all that kind of stuff.
“People were saying just real miserable and hurtful things. I always thought, ‘What would your momma say if she heard you talking like that?’ So that was an expression from around home so that’s where that one came from.”
Other songs were fully fleshed out thanks to horns as well as the backing vocals of the McCrary Sisters, a group who previously worked with Andersen.
“We got them in the studio and they were just fantastic, I love working with them and they’re just an absolute joy,” he says. “The talent and the experience they bring to it is pretty stunning. They’ve been singing together for years and it’s so ingrained in them that it’s pretty amazing to watch them do their thing.”
Andersen is antsy to get back on the road touring behind the new material. A European trek hitting Germany, England and Italy is set for late March. From there a proper Canadian tour begins on the West Coast in April, one which sees a May 10 stop at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall before wrapping up with Maritime dates in June.
“I’m looking forward to getting back out on the road and get back into some hotel rooms,” he says. “I’m pretty used to it. It’s a little weird being in the same time zone for a long time.”
Probably the biggest question facing Andersen is whether or not he’s taking a new guitar on the road with him. Last November he tweeted about receiving a custom made “cigar box guitar” with the body resembling an old New Brunswick license plate, one Andersen knew growing up as a kid.
“I don’t think they changed them until 1978,” he says of the green coloured plate made by a Nova Scotian guitar maker. “I was born in 1980 so that covered that span. That was the license plate I remember when I first popped into the world. We found it (the license plate) online and he came through with a guitar for me.”
So will he tour with it?
“I’m not sure yet. It would be hard to find another one if I lost it. I’m not sure if I’ll take it out or not.”