Matt Andersen
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Matt Andersen

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He won Australian fans performing alongside Jeff Lang and Mia Dyson at the 2014/15 Woodford Folk Festival, and now, for those who missed his last two-month wander through the country, you have the chance to experience him firsthand.

“I’ll be playing solo, which is what I’ve mostly done for years,” Andersen says. “This year I also did a band tour, wandering around with a four-piece, and it was great to reproduce the sounds we had on the album. It takes all the pressure off having to carry the whole show by yourself. But it’s also fun to see these songs stand on their own. Usually it’s just me and a guitar, so it’s fun to see these songs take on a different world, you know? I like the challenge of making them work with the full band, but at the same time I also like the challenge of finding how to bring those band songs to just me and that guitar.”

Given the strengths of his latest batch of songs – this year’s Honest Man, which includes the eponymous single and the sublime One Good Song – the prospect of seeing them stripped back to their unadorned core is an enticing one. Andersen has long been a journeyman of reinvention, as evidenced by his history of energetic covers including I’m On Fire, Take Me Home, Country Roads and the ubiquitous Wagon Wheel – each a classic he endeavours not to mimic, but honour.

“I’ve always liked a variety of music, so I think that’s a big part of that. For a long time, before I had much of a catalogue, I had to learn a lot of covers to kind of fill in the holes in my set. If I needed a fast or slow song there, I’d pick something that would suit. I’ve never been one to learn covers note for note, though. I’ve never thought that was necessary. I think the best version is usually the original version, and I don’t want to try and copy that. You’ve got to just try and do it your own way, find that spot between inspiration and originality.”

Andersen is now seven studio albums into a career that has seen a tremendous amount of vitality and evolution, which is as much by design as it is the natural growth of a performer. Some years back, Andersen remarked how fortunate he was to have friends who could help with writing, given the real dangers of being left alone to endlessly cycle the same old sounds. More than ever, he says, the need for collaboration and the encouragement to break from routines is key.

“Oh, absolutely. It’s something I’ve really come to appreciate in writing and working with other people. It’s where you can really start to feel free. I know if I’m working on my own too much I’ll start to rip off the same ideas. And you can hear that in certain artists. When things start to sound the same, it’s going to be boring for the artist, and I’m sure it is for the audience, too. You want to hear something new.

“I find I do my best work when I’m challenged, and so working with a producer on this last album certainly pushed me in a direction I wouldn’t have gone on my own. It got me out of my comfort zone a bit. I think it’s easy that, before you know it, you’ve gotten lazy, so it’s nice to get out of that. Your best work is when you’re challenged and you find yourself putting more effort into it.”

It’s a fine lesson for artists of every calibre, but it also suggests quite a clear connection with the past. Andersen is a man in demand these days, but at the risk of sounding trite, you need to feel quite secure of the shape of your past if you want to tread new ground in the future. To that end, Andersen still keeps one ear on his past recordings – but even then, if there is any revisiting to be done, it’s with a mind for change.

“You know, there is a conscious effort to avoid [repetition]. You don’t want to do what you’ve already done before. I think I want to do a live recording like I did with Coal Mining Blues and bring in a lot of different musicians and have a completely different-sounding album than when I went in the first time. I’m singing and playing different than I did then, I have a new approach now. I like to think I’ve improved as a singer and performer and all of that, so it’s cool to see that progression.

“There’s nothing wrong with getting better at what you know. As long as it is getting better,” he says. “You listen to someone like Tom Petty, who continues to be great every album. There’s never any drastic changes to his sound, but it’s always amazing. I’d like to do that.”

By Adam Norris