Matt Andersen has become a road warrior. At 36 years old, he’s been working as a professional musician for about 15 years, traveling everywhere from his native Canada to Australia to Europe while gaining new fans with his blues-leaning guitar chops and a powerful voice that fits well next to any blue-eyed-soul stalwart of the modern day. He’ll be taking the Weinberg Center stage Thursday as part of the Tivoli Discovery Series, and we recently caught up with him to talk about how he got into the business, what it’s like playing at a prison, and his connection with the late, great Bo Diddley.
How did you get involved with music in the first place?
Up on the east coast of Canada here, music is a big part of the culture, for sure. My grandfather played fiddle, my mother played piano. Every time there were friends over, there was music. I never really put much thought into being a musician. I was just kind of getting in it to get along. I played tuba, trumpet and drums for school, and then bass in high school. I picked up guitar when I was about 14. When I went to university, I got into playing bars quite a bit and I had enough of that, so I decided to go full-time and started writing music.
Did you finish university?
I shouldn’t have called it that; it was recording school — just working in recording studios and that kind of stuff. I really wanted to be in the music industry somehow, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that. I never thought it would be through playing. I took a course and then I came back to start paying my student loans — got a day job while playing on the weekends and then I quit my day job and just played music full-time.
At what point did you decide you wanted to make music your life?
As soon as I could [laughs]. I was working five, six days a week and playing three, four nights a week. I had to quit one of those because I was runnin’ ragged. So I quit the day job. It was a pretty easy decision, really. I was about 21, 22 when I did that.
That’s tough. That’s usually where a lot of people don’t want to take that leap because it’s a really hard thing to accomplish as a full-time gig. What advice would you give to people for when you get to 21, 22 years old and you decide you want to give the music thing a shot?
For me, that’s the time to try it. Before you get settled in too much. I was working a factory job, nothing my heart was really into. I felt like if I was going to try it, that was the time to do it. I had already been playing three, four nights a week, so I felt like I could at least keep that up.
How old are you now?
So you’ve been doing this professionally for almost 15 years now. Was there ever a time you doubted it?
There’s been times when there’s a very small number in the bank account [laughs]. You only get paid for when you work, which is why you have to stay on the road. There are times when I scratched my head, especially when I was younger. You compare yourself to other people, see their success, and wonder why you don’t have it. Eventually, I learned to be happy with where I’m at.
Starting out, who were some of your biggest influences?
For me, lots of classic rock guys. John Fogerty has always been a big one for me. Lots of stuff my brothers had in their tape collection. Lots of Eric Clapton — his “Unplugged” album is a big one for me, too. Stan Rogers, a Canadian folk singer. Gordon Lightfoot. Jim Croce. Really, I latched on to anything. I made myself a bit of a sponge.
Is there anybody contemporary that you really like today?
Tedeschi Trucks Band is probably one of the most amazing live shows I’ve ever seen. It’s great. There’s so much great music out there — that’s one of the plusses of the festival season. You’re hearing all kinds of new music.
You’re associated with blues music more than you are with other music. The blues scene is an interesting one in the modern day because I don’t think it gets the credit it sometimes deserves. What do you think is the current state of blues music?
When I was younger, people had an image of someone with sunglasses sitting in a smokey bar, playing guitar and singing sad songs. Twenty years later, that image is still there for blues music, but you also have Tedeschi Trucks Band and Gary Clark Jr. who are bringing a whole new approach. It’s growing, spreading out itself. There’s a wider audience now than there used to be. The blues scene in Canada is great. I think the audience is there. I think there’s more to blues than three chords and being sad.
How often to get down to the States? Do you get down here a lot?
I’m starting to over the last two or three years. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great opening shows. I’ve done some work with Tedeschi Trucks, and I opened for Buddy Guy quite a bit. Beth Heart. I’ve done some shows with Los Lobos. I’ve been really fortunate that way, piggybacking and getting some great crowds that way. I think last year, we did probably 60, 70 shows in the States.
I read that you shared a stage with Bo Diddley?
Yeah, I shared a stage with him a couple times up in Canada.
How was that?
It was great. That guy’s in every rock and roll history book, and usually in the first pages. He was in his 80s when I opened for him and he was still loving it, still all smiles, really cool backstage. I was pretty young, so it was pretty neat seeing a guy of that age showing up and still loving playing.
Do you have a favorite memory of your time on the road?
For me, I got to play in a prison once, which was a pretty intense show. It was part of a community outreach program. It was the first time they had music in there in a long time, so this was the first time a lot of those guys had heard music their whole lives — the last time they had heard music was like 30 years ago. It was a medium to maximum security prison, and I played to about 250 inmates. It was pretty cool, one of the most positive things I’ve ever been able to do with music, and probably one of the most personally fulfilling. It wasn’t about me playing and people clapping — it was a lot more than that and it was pretty special.
We’re relatively early in the year. What does the rest of 2017 look like for you?
Touring’s going to kick off pretty quick. Run to the States and then back into Canada again. Middle of May, I go to Europe and the UK for three or four weeks, and then summer festivals start. In the fall, we’re looking to record again. In the new year, we’ll be looking to hit the road again with a new album release. It’s all loosely laid out.
And everything always goes according to plan, right?
[Laughs.] Not really. But everything happens, that’s for sure.