Virtuoso WA blues singer/guitarist, Matty T Wall, recently wrapped up an East Coast tour in support of his newly-released second album, Sidewinder.
It was a return to cities and country towns that have embraced his music after a steady diet of life performances of venue gigs and appearances on the blues (and roots) festival circuit.
“We’ve been doing it both ways,” Wall notes. “We started from local shows, working towards the festivals and doing the festivals and working towards the local shows. I’ve found – and from speaking to booking agents – working from Perth is really difficult because if you’ve got to fly a band over it’s $2500-3000 and you’ve really got to step it up, otherwise you’re on the same level as all those other bands who are charging local rates for festivals. So you have to be top notch. You have to be mainstage, headline act material to make it over there.
“Generally, what I’ve found coming from Perth is that you’ve got to get on the festivals there and that’s how you get your exposure and then you start doing more local shows. The other way around is a slower and far more expensive way for Perth bands to it. So for Perth bands to get on festivals over there, that’s the ticket.”
Wall has always been a big-picture thinker about his band - featuring drummer, Ric Whittle and bassist, Stephen Walker - and its potential place in the scheme of things. Though they’ve not played overseas (“yet!”, he emphasises) Wall has thrown the band’s keys in the international bowl. As they say in the US, he’s been working towards the ‘big show’, knowing that other WA blues and rock acts have gotten there by virtue of dreaming big and being open and flexible to opportunity.
“Something like what happened to Dave Hole is a big inspiration,” Wall says. “Perth has had some amazing bands, so that gives you inspiration to step up. You’ve got Tame Impala, John Butler and going back there’s so many… Bon Scott, INXS. But you’ve got to be that next-level; you’ve got to be world-class to do it from Perth, otherwise you have to move cities.
“For me, thinking about the music industry now, really you can do it from anywhere, but, unfortunately, the way to make a living out of music is playing live. Which means if I’m going to base myself in Perth I need a day job, but I’m still going to promote myself overseas and eventually I’ll get there.”
Wall is working with an agent in the Netherlands to put together a Northern European tour, hopefully for 2019. It’s an expensive exercise, and while touring with a European pick-up band is a less pricey option, Wall naturally wants to tour with his own.
“I’d prefer to take the band,” he states. “I’ve done shows where I’ve had a ring-in hired band and it doesn’t really do it for me. With the music that I’ve grown up listening to it’s really tight, sharp metal. Really punchy. That only happens when you’ve got a band who plays and rehearses constantly. I can’t really put on the same confident show without that well-honed band behind me.
“Unfortunately that would mean I’d have to wear the cost the band flying over, but that’s fine. That’s how the show comes together. It’s meant to be a really tight, blues-rock kind of thing, so I’m gonna go with that.”
Wall’s new album, Sidewinder, recorded in Perth at RADA Studios and mixed by the incomparable Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, The Pretenders, INXS, The Church and many more), continues in a blues tradition, but with its genre-open approach one doesn’t have to be a blues aficionado in order to appreciate it.
“When you put yourself out there as kind of a blues artist in the blues genre that’s a bit of a risk,” Wall considers. “And the same goes for any musician in any genre that’s trying to push things a little bit. There’s a lot more soul on this album; there’s a lot more rock on this album. There’s a bit of electronic sampling. So there’s a lot of different things, but at the moment what I’m trying to do is find my sound.
“There was a Living Blues magazine review that came in today that was saying that same sort of thing - ‘a new artist looking for his sound’. And that’s sort of what I’m trying to do – trying to explore different genres and see what works well. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. Actually, I’m really happy with the way this album turned out. More so than the last one, even that has so far done really well.”
Unlike many blues players, Wall didn’t grow up under the roof of the blues. He’s multi-genre in background, and a card-carrying metalhead.
“I came into blues after a lifetime of playing in lots of different bands of different genres,” he says. “Working, having kids and whatever, so I come from a different perspective and I’m a lot more confident and open to playing what I feel like playing and not really giving a shit (laughs). That’s the most succinct way I could put it.”
The album kicks off with Slideride, bursting at the seams like a statement of intent.
It is. And it’s one of several tracks – the others being Shake It and Can’t Stop Thinking - that were close to seeing the recorded-light-of-day previously, but perhaps just had to wait for their moment.
“That’s been in my setlist for years,” Wall says of Slideride. “There’s actually a few songs on this album that we recorded for the last album that didn’t quite fit for it. I’ve been playing that one for a long time as an opener at shows and it does that job really well. Having Ric Whittle (the iconic WA drummer who joined after the first album was recorded) on board now has really made those three songs come alive.”
Having known Wall for several years, I wonder if Wall had to have to think long and hard - from his own compositions to the covers he selected - about what would make the album, or did he have a fairly innate sense of what should be?
“I tend to favour albums that take the listener on a journey,” Wall responds. “So albums like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, that goes through so many sounds, or a Led Zeppelin album that goes through so many styles, that’s the sort of thing I prefer. I do love listening to an AC/DC album, for example, but I like variation on an album. As long as the songs are placed in an order that takes you on that journey. Unfortunately, people don’t listen to albums like that anymore. People are more about listening to the song on streaming. It’s a little bit of a lost cause (laughs), but that’s how I grew up, listening to albums like that, on cassette tapes and stuff. That’s where I come from.”
The title track of Sidewinder smacks and smokes of old school Angels/AC/DC riffage. Kind of, as it turns out…
“The inspiration was more Van Halen-esque,” Wall clarifies with a laugh, “but one of the guitars I tracked with in the studio was a Gibson SG. So it just came out a little bit AC/DC-sounding and so be it; it came out like that and Bob Clearmountain mixed it like that.
“Sidewinder was one of those interesting things… and this has never happened to me before. Usually I come up with a guitar riff that I think is cool I’ll record it and put it on my mobile phone. With that song I pressed record and started playing the riff and I stopped four minutes later and I’d just played the entire song. It was incredible, and it’s never happened to me before, but Sidewinder is the most organic-written song I’ve ever done.”
The album also features several astutely-chosen covers, perhaps hallmarked by Wall’s version of Sam Cooke’s Change Is Gonna Come.
“That one was a bit of a risk for the USA,” Wall notes, “because of the tensions there, in regards to race and how they see songs like that. That hasn’t gone down so well in some of the Southern states with DJs, but in the time that we’re living in, right now, that song is really still current as a topic and where it came from. I thought it was right to do that song. It’s got to be done very respectfully as well. I think that was Bob Clearmountain’s favourite track on the album, and it just came together so well with the strings.”
Wall’s gig dance-card is looking pretty full with shows coming up in Perth and Fremantle, October’s Marysville Jazz & Blues Festival (VIC) and a to-be-announced appearance at a festival in the South-West in November.
And then there’s 2019…
“There’s a whole lot happening,” Wall says, enthusiastically. “Stephen and Ric are just playing beautifully right now, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
For a full rundown of Matty T Wall’s upcoming show head to www.mattytwall.com/news-events.