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How Matt Andersen changed his approach to writing for the Big Bottle of Joy

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Matt Andersen is one of those artists who’s able to fill a room, no matter the size, with just his voice and acoustic guitar. Earlier this year, he was able to blow the roof off many venues with the eight-piece band The Big Bottle Of Joy,” a collection of friends he’s always wanted to tour with. The original concept came from a plan to record a live acoustic album with about 30 people in a recording studio. Pandemic lockdowns put a kibosh to that idea but the opportunity arose to do some shows in Halifax. So Matt gathered together his gifted musical friends to add to his regular show.

“As soon as we did the first night I knew it was something I wanted to chase,” he said at this year’s Summerfolk Festival in Owen Sound. “It’s a bunch of musicians I love to play with but rarely are they all home at the same time.”

The award-winning blues singer-songwriter’s usual method of putting an album together was to write the songs, find a producer, hire the musicians and then hit the studio. For the album Matt Andersen And The Big Bottle Of Joy, Matt wrote the songs keeping in mind the talents of the musicians he was going to work with.

“This is the first time I’ve written an album where I didn’t make my guitar or my performance be the center of it,” he said. “Those songs were written for this band, and the best way they work is with this band.”

Having many voices to work with helped Matt expand what he might usually write stylistically. Over the years, Matt has worked with Kim Dunn and Chris Kirby so he knew their talents on a variety of keyboards. He looked at singers Hailey, Micah and Reeny Smith as his horn section. Rounding out the band were Geoff Arsenault on drums, Mike Farrington Jr. on bass and Cory Tetford on guitars. Seeing this show at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener and at this summer’s Mariposa Folk Festival, I noted that Matt was more the conductor shining a light on each performer rather than being the center of attention.

“I let them do their thing,” he said. “My approach was, ‘Do what you want until you do something I don’t like, and then we’ll figure it out from there.’ In my head I knew if I recorded with this band, I wanted to take them on the road.”

Matt and The Big Bottle Of Joy toured across Canada doing about 37 shows, and by the end of it all, the songs had evolved from their original arrangements, just from everyone adding extra musical ideas into each performance.

“People just threw stuff and sometimes it works so you keep it, and if it doesn’t work you don’t do it next time.”

An added bonus to touring with these friends was hearing their musical influences coming out.

“Some of the guys are pretty heavy jazz players, and that’s a world I’m not used to,” Matt said. “So when they throw these ideas in, it’s stuff I wish I could think of. So I make a point to work with people who are significantly better than me. That’s the way to make yourself better, that’s for sure!”

While some artists might want to take a break after all that touring with a 13-person crew, Matt hit the road a week later doing his solo material. A quick look at his touring schedule for the rest of the year sees him going to the U.K., Europe and both coasts of the United States. When he finally gets home at the end of November it’ll be time to re-charge and look towards the next possible project.

“I might go to a more acoustic album with a full band,” he said. “I’ve never really done that. Perhaps a couple of guitars and an upright bass and keeping it pretty chill, which would be pretty fun.”

For more on Matt Andersen and The Big Bottle Of Joy, go to stubbyfingers.ca.

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