To say that musician Matt Steady is merely a folk and blues artist would be an understatement. After listening to his latest album, Blood is Thicker than Gold, you likely will agree that Steady’s music runs deeper than most. For instance, the title track from Matt’s current collection explores the loss of a family member. It is clear that Steady creates songs from things that are closest to him in life. Perhaps that is why his melodies possess such a distinct quality.
Steady’s repertoire of work can be described as having Celtic and American flavors, spiked with an Appalachian authenticity. The Leicester, England-based singer-songwriter mixed and performed all of the songs on Blood Is Thicker Than Gold. He wrote each of the tunes except “Blackbirds,” by Gretchen Peters and Ben Glover and the bonus cuts, “Time” and “Easy on Me,” from Jeff Black. Steady also enlisted the help of his talented daughter, Indigo, who sings the lead on “Passion For Pinecones.” The gift of making music clearly runs in the Steady family.
Available on Amazon, Bandcamp and mattsteady.com, Blood Is Thicker Than Gold contains several compelling tracks. Right off the bat, the opening cut, “The Roamer,” will grab you with its cranked out Strat-sounding guitar riff, while Matt’s vocals are up front and center in another gem, “Jack O’kent.” “Blackbirds” is also a standout. Since the release of “Blood” in September, Steady, a multi-instrumentalist, has been busy with other projects, including the dirge-like but beautifully fiddle-driven, “Zakara’s Lament” and the newly released “Steel and Rust,” both from a forthcoming album.
Interview with Matt Steady
Musicinterviewmagazine.com recently caught up with Matt Steady, when the artist talked about Blood Is Thicker Than Gold, family, guitars, his music and much more.
What was the inspiration behind Blood Is Thicker Than Gold? How about the title?
I’ve been playing music ever since I was a small boy in various guises, but it took me until the age of 40 to get to the point where I could actually write songs that weren’t excruciating to listen to. At that point, a huge backlog of thoughts, emotions and sounds started to be let loose and as I started recording some of the tracks, I realized that it would be worth putting them together on a coherent album rather than just a collection of individual songs. Blood Is Thicker Than Gold is named after one of the songs on the album, a deeply personal track, written after we lost a very precious member of our family. It is basically me trying to make some sense of a long journey I had to make, expressly to inform various people of the loss. In a time like that, it was beautiful to see our family rally around and support each other, so the song is about the importance of family. The song starts off slow and thoughtful, but ends up hopeful and triumphant.
You produced, mixed, performed and wrote almost all of the songs on the album. Did you favor one task over the others?
The way I’ve been working is not very traditional. Normally you’d write a song, practice it to death with a band, then go to the studio and record it. After that, the mixing and mastering are separate processes. I’ve got a home studio which has led to me having a rather different approach. On occasion, I’ll write a song just with a guitar and then head to record it, but this is rare. Usually, while I record instruments and bits of vocals as I write the song, I’m already piecing together where the track is heading though the song isn’t really finished. The instrumentation and rhythms feed back into and inspire the song-writing process itself. I’ve often got most of the tracks recorded before I’ve finalized some of the lyrics. For instance, I might put down rough electronic drums as I go along, or with a Cajon or something similar.
When I know I’ve got the final structure down pat, I’ll send it all to my good friend, Niklas J. Blixt, in Sweden, where he records some amazing drums and then sends them back to me by way of Internet. I often need to go back and re-record vocals and instruments over the rougher versions that I’ve laid down. All the time though, the mix itself is evolving. I’m changing levels and effects and EQs as I go along, so wherever I am, I can really feel where we’re heading and what the sound is going to be. Obviously, there is a finalizing process where I polish it up but even at that stage, if I hear something is wonky, I can re-record, or add a shaky egg, or whatever is calling out.
Clearly, you are a gifted multi-instrumentalist. For instance, “Zakara’s Lament” features smooth flowing fiddle work. Can we ask how many instruments you play and what are they?
“Zakara’s Lament” is actually a preview track from the album I’m currently working on. I played classical violin and piano from a very early age, right through my teens, until I went to university, so the basic skills comes from that. I didn’t really touch either for nearly 20 years. But I’ve recently resurrected them both and I’m now playing in a much looser style. Don’t get me wrong, I love classical music. But it has been so freeing going off-road and playing what I want rather than being constricted by the notes on the page. I absolutely love playing violin now. My piano work is not quite as good, but it is good enough to play and record what I need at the moment. I did get a session player to do the wonderful piano solo on “Blood Is Thicker Than Gold.” I know my limits. Similarly, the flugelhorn on “Funny Old World”; I don’t play any brass- yet. I play various guitars including electric, acoustic, fretted and fretless bass and mandolin.
I love learning new instruments. I’m currently learning Uilleann Pipes. This is the hardest thing I’ve played to date. It’s a bit like wrestling with a small toddler while trying to paint something. Brilliant fun though and they are a joy to record. Is MIDI an instrument? If I don’t have, for instance, a grand piano or an accordion, I’ll play it on the keyboard with MIDI instruments. Other instruments that I’ve got my eye on are the banjo and the cittern. Anyone want to buy me a Christmas present? Perhaps a whistle would be good as well, to compliment the pipes.
We have to ask, what type of guitars do you play on the album?
My main electric guitar is a Strat-style guitar hand-built by an amateur luthier in Newcastle. I’m still embarrassed by how cheap it was, but it is a beautiful instrument with remarkable sustain. I recently put some Blake Wright custom pickups in it and they’ve improved it nicely, too. My acoustic guitar is a Yairi WY1 that I bought maybe 12 years ago. It’s absolutely superb, one of the few guitars that sounds great both when I finger pick and when I’m giving it a darn good thrashing. It needed some maintenance work last year and I took it back to Sheehan’s, the local music center in Leicester. I asked what make, model and price guitar that I would need to replace it with, in case the work was going to be too expensive. They won my respect by telling me in no uncertain terms to stick with it, because to buy anything as good would cost a small fortunate. What kind of shop tells you not to buy an instrument from them? I’ll be going back there, that’s for sure. I was lucky buying it in the first place. The exchange rates now mean they aren’t very easy to get ahold of.
I also have a Line-6 Variax guitar, which digitally models different sounds. It’s a great sound, but not the nicest instrument to actually play. I do use it occasionally for the banjo sound on it, which comes in useful. At some point I’ll get a proper banjo; but for now, it fills the gap. In terms of basses, I have two six strings; one cheap fretted and one beautiful Sandberg fretless. To be honest, I very rarely ever use the fretted one. I suspect it’s my violin background, but the fretless bass feels so much more natural. When I started playing bass on a six string, I was blown away by how much easier it is to pick up fretboard patterns that it is on a guitar. That’s due to the tuning.
At times, your music reveals Celtic as well as American flavors. Is that by design?
I don’t really design my music. If I have a theme for a song, I’ll play in a certain style that I think suits it. Other times, I just fancy playing in a certain style and then write a song to fit. Before writing my own music, I’ve had decades of listening drilled into me. The music you listen to comes out when you play. I listen to a wide variety of genres and I think that’s shown on the album. It isn’t usual to have such a range and it certainly doesn’t make marketing very easy, but at the end of the day, I have to write what comes out of me. I have to be true to myself and play and write naturally rather than try and focus down on just one narrow style of music. Although there is a wide range, it’s all roots at the end of the day. Blues, folk, Celtic, Americana-they’re all roots from different places.
Your talented daughter, Indigo, also sings on the album. How did that come about?
She was 14 at the time. She’s sung ever since she was little. In fact, when she was still a small baby, we would hear her making noises trying to mimic the singing on background music. She’s always had music played all about her, even before she was born. I guess she just fell in to it. We’ve been performing together at small acoustic events since she was about 11, I think. At 15, she’s now quite a seasoned performer and has a lovely voice. She also brings a lightness and sparkle to gigs, which is super. It’s such a privilege to be able to perform with her. She’ll soon be off to Uni and a job and moving forward with her life, so I’m making the most of it while I can.
What are your plans for the future?
Continue to enjoy making music. I love writing songs, recording and performing, so I’ll definitely be doing all of those things. However, with a full-time job, training, kids and family commitments, I do feel like I’m shoe-horning it in. Ideally, I’d like to get to the point where my music can start bringing in some income so I can reduce the amount I’m working, to give me more time to put into the music. I love playing my acoustic gigs, but it would be wonderful to do some exceptional live performances touring with a full band. I also need to bear in mind that my kids are growing up fast and won’t be kids for much longer, so I have to be conscious that music is still secondary to making sure the family has what it needs and we’re spending time together. Time is a precious commodity, isn’t it?