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more... GuitaristsBluesSeptember 2011Matt Schofield

Matt Schofield: Blues Man With No Master Plan

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Matt Schofield: Blues Man With No Master Plan
Matt Schofield backstage before a show with his SVL 59,
which has three custom-wound Amalfitano pickups.
Photo by Ron Boudreau
It’s the hottest night of the year in New York City, and between the sticky heat and the occasional thunderstorms, many of the city’s typically insatiable scenesters are content to stay home and laze out in front of an air conditioner. But not at the swank Thompson Hotel on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. There, a crowd of beautiful people, journalists, and top-tier musicians are gathered on the roof for an invitation-only, post-gig party for blues phenom Matt Schofield.

Earlier in the evening, he had a CD-release show next door at the Rockwood Music Hall. While most blues aficionados would say exotic- sounding cocktails and high-maintenance blondes are about as far removed from the blues as you can get, there’s no questioning Schofield’s cred as a blues artist. For years, he’s been one of the most buzzed-about up-and-coming blues guitarists, and his last album, Heads, Tails & Aces, won a 2010 British Blues Award for both best British Blues Guitarist and best British Blues Album.

Schofield’s latest release, Anything But Time, marks several firsts for the young blues sensation: It’s the first album Schofield has recorded in the States, it’s the first album with his new band, and it’s his first album with an outside producer— blues legend John Porter. Having already amassed heaps of critical acclaim—including our 4.5-pick review [July 2011]—Anything But Time is poised to catapult Schofield into blues superstardom.

Tell us about the new album.

It was recorded in New Orleans and is the first album with this new lineup, which features Kevin Hayes on drums. He was with Robert Cray for 18 years, so I’d known his playing for a long time. We met at a festival he was playing with Robert in Holland a few years ago, and he gave me his card. So we came out here last year to start touring, and Kevin joined us then. What started as a few gigs with him evolved into this current band. Then we thought, “We need to make a CD of this.”

This is your first album with an outside producer. What was it like working with John Porter?

I grew up listening to records he made, and he’s made like 150—he did Buddy Guy and B.B. King and Otis Rush—so I could really trust him on it. We kind of have the same reference points, even though we’re from a different generation of music. I thought, “I’m just going to go with my ideas and he’s going to say if it’s good or not.” When we first met, he said something that stayed with me. He said, “I think we’d have a lot of fun making a record.” And I never had fun making a record—it’d always been really stressful.

Some guys are into putting a sonic signature on a record—that’s the way they produce. They give you their sound. John is quite the opposite. He’s very transparent, sound-wise. He gets in on the material and works on the arrangement with you—really trims the fat off the arrangements. I couldn’t have done it this time without him.

I’ve done all of my other records myself—I produced them and mixed them with an engineer. This time, I decided I was going to do the exact opposite and be totally hands-off. I was just going to play guitar and sing, and I was going to let John do his thing. So maybe next time I won’t be so hands off, but it was kind of like an experiment for me to see if I could.

Were you happy with the results?

Yeah.

What gear did you use on the album?

I used my old ’61 Strat and the new Daytona Blue SVL 61—which matches a late-’60s Ferrari Daytona—on about the same amount of tracks. I also used an ash-bodied hardtail SVL 59 with custom-wound Amalfitano pickups a little bit—I’m really getting into that now. I’m more familiar with the blue SVL 61—which is based on my original ’61 Strat and has an alder body, maple neck, Brazilian ’board, 6100 frets, and Suhr FL Classic pickups. The 59’s ash body has a slightly different sound. Simon [Law], who makes SVL guitars, was just trying to get as close to my old Strat as possible. He had some Brazilian fretboards—I don’t think you can get them anymore—and he used those because my old Strat’s got them.
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