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Interview: Matthew Armitage

Matthew Armitage at The Rails

The Rails | Friday 15 June | FREE

Tweed musician Matthew Armitage is a master of the blues and roots genre with his incredible new album New Tide out now.

You’re a great lover of nature and solitude. Why do you think this is such a significant part of you character?

Big question! Wow, I think that could come from my NZ background. Or just my personality. Both my parents are kinda quiet and reserved. I love getting away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and I think there is no better way than getting immersed in nature.

How do you think these aspects of your character have influenced your music?

Maybe a little bit. I do love to write music as a form of escape and self-reflection.

Some have said that your sound / style is reminiscent of the ‘traditional blues aesthetic’. Do you think that’s an accurate account of your music?

Yeah, sure. I’ve always loved the sound of blues and its variations and language… Basically it’s a 5-note scale with all kinds of variations and little deviations. You can express so much with it and go very complex yet it’s easy to get the basics. I love early acoustic guitar blues sounds of America, the electrified sound of post WWII; it’s part of so much popular music this last century but you can hear that 5-note scale in Asian and African styles from forever too.

You obviously have a great love for the blues legends and some have said that your new single Love From Afar has a subtleness in the lyrics and the groove not dissimilar of a 70s JJ Cale track. Did you grow up listening to classic blues artists like JJ?

I discovered him only recently actually. I was blown away! I think we might have a few other things in common too maybe. I grew up in middle-class NZ but my dad had Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton records. I devoured his unplugged album and learnt all the parts when I was 12 or something like that. There are all the legends’ songs on that album too, Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzey, Elmore James…

Can you name a couple of your blues B-side treasures that you’ve stumbled across and tell us what you love about them?

I love Magic Sam and his song Feel So Good; it really works! Another might be Drifting Blues by Snooks Eaglin – the singing style is similar to Ray Charles but he backs himself on guitar; the emotion is so deep and just gets me every time I listen.

People talk about your acoustic and amplified sound. What do you think that means and how did your unique sound evolve / come about?

When I really started focusing on how I could make my own sound I discovered that without a bass player I was free to change chords or musical gears whenever I liked. So I drew on my classical guitar training a bit. In classical guitar you are sometimes trying to play like a pianist, or even sometimes an orchestra – two or three parts at once…

I was lucky my parents arranged for lessons in that style and I loved hearing and playing that music. When I play now on both electric and acoustic I use those techniques and mix it up with blues, rock’n’roll or even psychedelic music and heavy rock.

Tell us about your new album. What was the main inspiration?

I was inspired to write the tunes from my new life in the northern rivers, love, travel, awakening experiences. But to actually record the tunes I was inspired my my recent failure to record some gentle acoustic guitar tunes for my mum for Christmas! I booked a day in the studio and before starting I told my engineer George Carpenter my plan and he suggested a way better use of my day was to record my original songs. I said ‘Yeah okay some demos would be cool…’ he said, ‘Nah, Man, let’s go for finished takes, not demos!’ When I heard the rough mixes a couple of days later I heard an album that just needed a few extra bells and whistles. It seemed like it came together very naturally and unconsciously at the beginning. I really like that.

You’ve worked with some well-known Byron artists – The Swamps and Chesta Hedron. What brought you together with these guys?

Matt Swan from The Swamps was a recommendation from my girlfriend Candi. I think he was the only musician she knew! Who knew that he and I would fit together so well and love the bluesy rock’n’roll sound. Eli Kalaitzides from Chesta Hedron was a friend of Candi’s workmates and funnily enough he had lived in Berlin at the same time as I and we actually had friends in common from that time too. As soon as we jammed I knew we had something special. He loves many different styles of world music, kraut rock, heavy psychedelic sounds and is a designer so his sense of style is really developed.

And where can we hear some of the music you guys created?

Chesta Hedron has an EP called Infinite Nought – it’s online in all the usual spots. The next full-length album is done and we are just now getting our release plan together for later in the year. The Swamps are best to listen to in our YouTube channel I think. We played a party at Clarkes Beach that was pretty rawkus; I put that on our Soundcloud.

What’s on the horizon for Mathew Armitage? Do you feel your music is headed in a particular direction

Yeah, some amazing things happening. I’m touring supporting Pete Murray in July / August and that’s going to be epic. I love this album New Tide but I’d really like to work out a band format next. Get a wild sound together like Buddy Guy mixed with John Lennon and Picasso. Also I’m conscious of wanting to write more universal love songs too. I can feel them coming.


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