Interview: on the road with Matt Woods

Matt Woods_Michelle Crosby
Photo: Michelle Crosby

In May of this year, Skin Back Alley had the pleasure of being knocked off our feet by the new album from Knoxville’s very own Matt Woods. With Love From Brushy Mountain is a stunning album: rich, warm and full aurally, aesthetically and emotionally. We were moved to note: “If there’s a finer example of a musician bleeding on to record, we’ve yet to hear it.”

So what does the man have to say about himself and his music? We were lucky enough to catch up with Woods recently as the months long first leg of his “Now With Drums!” tour was winding down. Woods was just as you might expect to find him; open and honest, shooting straight from the heart.

Skin Back Alley: For those who may not be familiar with you, particularly here in the UK, can you tell us a bit about Matt Woods and your music?

Matt Woods: Well, I was born and raised in East Tennessee and I think that shines through in the music. At least I hope that’s the case. As a kid, I spent a lot of time listening to my father’s records of the country greats like Haggard, Cash and Kristofferson. As my music matured, my writing started to lean more and more in that direction, while bringing along the rock and roll attitude that defined my teens and twenties.

SBA: I was really struck with how rich, warm and full the record sounds. Where and how did you record With Love From Brushy Mountain?

MW: I record in Knoxville at Shed 55 Studios with my long time pal Dave DeWitt. We have been making records together for years, now. The space is small and a very comfortable place to work. Dave has mastered his room and really knows how to capture the sounds we are looking to have on the records.

SBA: There’s some amazing musicianship on show. Who played with you on the record and how did you find them?

MW: I am thankful to have so many talented friends in the Knoxville area and across the south who have been willing to come into the studio and add themselves to the recordings. The album features some bass tracks from Fifth On The Floor bassist Jason Parsons, pedal steel from The Black Lillies very own Tom Pryor, and drums from Larry Fulford, who comes from Orlando, FL and has been playing and recording with me for a few years now.

The lovely female vocals came courtesy of Sarrenna Mcnulty who, along with her hubby, have a great band here in Knoxville called Guy Marshall. From Gainesville, FL came Michael Claytor and his banjo chops. Guitars on the album came from Andy Westcott of the band Homemade Wine, Greg Horne (who also played mandolin, fiddle, and lap steel), and Tim Lee. All of the guitar slingers are based here in Knoxville, as is the piano man, Ben Maney.

Matt Woods_Michelle Crosby 002
Photo: Michelle Crosby

SBA: You’ve been playing extensively across the USA recently on your “Now With Drums!” tour. How has the reception been for your shows?

MW: The shows were great! I was very happy to be able to take Larry along on drums for such a massive tour. He has toured with me some in the past, but this is by far the biggest tour we have done together. We started playing as a 2 piece whilst I was down in Florida after recording the last record, The Matt Woods Manifesto, back in 2010.

SBA: I can’t help but feel that your music would go down a storm here in the UK, on the Bob Harris Country show for example. Do you think you’ll make it over to the UK to perform in the future?

MW: I hope to make it over there whilst supporting this album. I have never toured in the UK or Europe, but it is certainly a huge goal of mine!

SBA: Have you always loved and been around music?

MW: Yeah. Music has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mother likes to tell stories of my dancing as a baby, even. There was a lot of music in our house as a child and I realised it was something powerful early on.

SBA: There seems to be a wide variety of influences in your music: country, rock and roll, blues, hints of psychedelia and that ‘cosmic American’ sound. Where have you drawn those influences from?

MW: I think it’s safe to say that I keep an open ear and could be influenced by any sort of music if it strikes me right (or wrong, in some cases, which may influence me to steer clear of a particular arrangement etc.) However, some of my favourites have been Kristofferson, Waylon, CCR, Tom Petty, Steve Earle and many of the Texas writers. It’s hard to narrow down. Larry can tell you how badly I suck at the old “if you were stuck on an island and could only have 5 records” game. I am a genuine fan of music.

SBA: George Jones, and Ben Nichols and the crew from Lucero obviously get name checks in the album lyrics. I presume you like what they did/do in their respective musical lives?

MW: Certainly! I always travel with some George and some Lucero. I regret never getting to see George Jones before he passed.

SBA: Your online persona uses the word “real” extensively. Are notions of the real and authenticity important in your work?

MW: For sure. I try to be honest in my writing despite how unfortunate or ugly that may be. I think it is important to be honest and paint an accurate picture.

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Photo: Michelle Crosby

SBA: What do you think makes “real” music?

MW: I think as long as it rings true and means something to you as the writer as well as the folks listening, you’re heading in the right direction.

SBA: You’re from Knoxville, Tennessee. Do you think that as places that they have fed into your music?

MW: Absolutely. I am who I am in large part because of my environment. I find this area fascinating too, and want to share some of that with the world.

SBA: The video for “Deadman’s Blues” is quite the emotional suckerpunch. How did the video come about and who made it with you?

MW: The song itself means a lot to me and I wanted to make sure the video was shot accordingly. I’m really proud of it. I am very new to the whole shooting a music video thing. It was a lot of fun to shoot! I did that with Loch & Key Productions which is also based here in Knoxville and has produced videos for other bands locally.

SBA: We loved With Love From Brushy Mountain here at Skin Back Alley. Does it bother you at all that – compared with some other artists working in a similar musical vein – you remain more unknown or low key at the moment?

MW: I can’t worry about things like that. All I know to do is make the best music I know how and do all I can to get it heard. For me that means a life spent mostly on the road. I am flattered, however, to sometimes draw comparisons to Jason Isbell or Sturgill Simpson (who is now gathering quite a bit of attention). Maybe I’ll get the opportunity to tour with one of those guys someday.

SBA: What would success look like for you now that …Brushy Mountain has been released?

MW: I hope to reach more and more folks. I have plans for another US tour this Fall and am working on trying to figure out how to get over the Atlantic as well as into Canada. This year has brought me more festival dates than ever before. I hope to keep and grow the festival appearances. I am also trying to get added to some larger tours as a support act in hopes of reaching new music fans who may like what I have going on.

SBA: And what’s next on the Matt Woods schedule?

MW: Another string of months on the road, followed by the shooting of another music video, and plenty of writing for the 3rd album!

You can watch the official video for Matt Woods’ song “Deadman’s Blues” below:

Matt Woods - Brushy Full SizeWith Love From Brushy Mountain is out now.

Read Skin Back Alley’s five star review of the album here.

Find out more about Matt and order your copy of With Love From Brushy Mountain at therealmattwoods.com


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Album Review: Matt Woods | With Love From Brushy Mountain

Matt Woods - Brushy Full SizeOur Verdict: 5/5
Release date: May 13th 2014
Find it at: Matt Woods’ official site

“Perfectly balanced moments of tone and texture that build to make a sum much greater than than the album’s parts…If there’s a finer example of a musician bleeding on to record, we’ve yet to hear it.”

Without wishing to sound too much like a college professor, postmodern cultural theory has it that we are so far removed from authentic experience these days, that our lives have broken down into a series of increasingly meaningless signs and signifiers that relate – only in some distant way – to a reality that no longer exists.

Heavy, right? Particularly now that ‘authenticity’ and ‘reality’ are such fluid concepts. What the hell does ‘real’ mean anymore anyway?

It’s possible to argue – especially outside of the United States where listeners are one step removed again – that country and country-inflected music, Americana if you will, has been subject to this kind of breakdown of meaning more than most. Country music is at once instantly recognisable in its sound, and yet seems to be easily overlooked or mocked by many for an old-fashioned philosophy; a way of living and being and experiencing the world that seems outdated or irrelevant.

It seems entirely appropriate, then, that the word ‘real’ crops up all over the place when it comes to this Tennessee troubadour.

Be it his website, his Twitter feed, his Facebook page or, most importantly, his music, here he is: The Real Matt Woods.

The first slab of concrete reality that hits you when listening to With Love From Brushy Mountain, is the indisputable warmth of its sound. There’s a fullness – a depth – to this record; something that seems increasingly rare in recording today. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to picture Woods cutting this album directly to acetate before shipping it off for pressing and distribution. Old fashioned? Perhaps. But it would certainly be tangible; real; present.

It’s perfect, too, that opening track ‘Ain’t No Living’ seems to be suggesting that it’s nigh on impossible to earn a crust writing, recording and touring roots music in this way today; and yet it also explicitly acknowledges that it’s the only thing that Woods knows how, or wants, to do. “It ain’t no living, it’s my life.” It’s nigh on impossible then, but here he is doing it anyway. Postmodern? Following his dream? Plain ol’ hardheadedness? We’ll let you decide.

Maybe it’s why he’s “…drinking to forget how drunk I got last night…” in ‘Drinking To Forget’. A traditional country-inflected lament for sure, but one somehow brought kicking and screaming into the present with the oh-so-Generation-X acknowledgement that “…we got the rest of our lives to wonder whether how we’re living right now is right.” For the moment it’s naught but another whisky, and alcohol-induced oblivion, on the horizon.

But for all this heart, …Brushy Mountain comes with a healthy and acerbic dose of humour, too. Take the verse of the blustery ‘West Texas Wind’ for example. “Well the man on the record was a son of a bitch,” opines Woods, “to make me believe in this rambling shit.” Ironic then that the brilliance of Woods’ music may well inspire some other lonesome buck to do just the same.

And what brilliance there is in the music. There’s nothing brazen or flashy about the instrumentation or arrangements here, but there is quality by the bucket-load. Every note, every melody, serves nothing but the song that it’s a part of. Listen to the rollicking banjo and piano in the up-tempo honky-tonk of ‘Snack Bar Mary and the Ten Pin Priest’, or the gritty rock-tinged guitar in ‘Tiny Anchors’ or the title track. They’re all perfectly balanced moments of tone and texture that build to make a sum much greater than than the album’s parts. Even the one moment of stand-alone instrumetal mastery – a soaring electric guitar solo in the latter part of closing track ‘Liberty Bell’ – feels like an integral sonic necessity, rather than an egocentric indulgence.

‘Deadman’s Blues’ is something of a centrepiece for the LP. As the first single released late last year, it’s an astounding showcase for the delights that …Brushy Mountain has to offer. All strummed guitar and ghostly lap steel in it’s opening bars, it builds piece by piece, layer by layer, until a stunning and dynamic breakdown when all instrumentation drops away, and Woods fires his heart out through his chest, voice barely able to contain the strength of feeling: “…fumbling ’round without a thing to loose, like I don’t want it all, hell I don’t want it all!” If there’s a finer example of a musician bleeding on to record, we’ve yet to hear it.

All of which makes it even more dumbfounding that Woods seems to be all but unknown outside of select circles of musicians, and already dedicated, die-hard converts to his cause. How could an artist of such skill, such depth, such integrity and intent – an artist who seems so REAL – remain so low key?

Well, you’ve got us beat; it’s a mystery. “I write what is ready to come out and try to be as honest as I can about it,” says Woods of his songs. “A lot of my songs are very much based in classic Country music while others are grounded in straight forward and greasy rock’n’roll.” Indeed, and even in this postmodern world, they seem more authentic – more relevant – than ever.

Find out more about Matt Woods by visiting his official website.

You can watch the offical video for album track, ‘Deadman’s Blues’, below:

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The Playlist: 26th March 2014

Here’s what’s funking up the office stereo here at Skin Back Alley right now!

Click on the album covers below for more information:

Police Bastard - Confined Matt Woods - Dead Mans Blues The Pretty Reckless - Going To Hell Snarky Puppy - Ground Up

The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams Turbid North - Orogeny Nils Frahm - Spaces Demon Hunter - True Defiance

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