Exclusive Interview with Matt Blais

Matt Blais How did you discover the bluesharp ?
~ I was given my first harmonica by my grandparents for my 8th birthday. I didn't have any thoughts of being a musician then, but my favourite movie was "Free Willy" and in that movie, the boy plays a harmonica to the whale. I thought that was the greatest. It sat in a drawer for years until my teen years when I started playing guitar and got into Bob Dylan and played a lot of folky straight harp. As my music education continued I got more into blues players like Howlin' Wolf. The Rolling Stones have some great harp parts that I really connected with.

If everything would be possible (waking the dead included), which bluesharp player would you invite for a jam session?
~ Jason Ricci. He's by far my favourite player. He's so expressive. I'd want to pick his brain and have him teach me a few things.

What is your favorite blues harp brand / type and tell us why?
~ I play Seydel harps. Mainly the 1847 Silver or the Session Steel. I like the way they play, and their unique looks. I find they last longer than other brands.

What are the most important tips you can give to someone who wants to learn to play the bluesharp?
~ By no means am I an expert, so, I'd feel weird giving advice, but I try to view my harp playing as an extension of my voice. Be expressive and emotive.

Tongue blocking or lip pursing, what do you prefer and tell us why.
~ I'm a lip purser. It's the style I was naturally drawn to and I love the flow of it. Obviously, both have their place though.

Give us the 3 most important albums every (beginning) blues harp player must buy.
~ Do people still buy albums?! Haha. I'll choose 3 songs they should download.
How Many More Years - Howlin' Wolf
Mountain Cry - Blues Traveler
Midnight Rambler -- The Rolling Stones

How do you clean your harps?
~ I try to just keep 'em clean as I go by wiping them down after a show. Sometimes a lil wipe of vodka on them is nice.

What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ A lot of people ask what the best show was, or the most fun show. Noone's ever asked what the hardest show was. For me, it was when my uncle died. He was more like a brother to us kids and his death hit the family really hard. My granny asked me to perform at his funeral. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Every note had vibrato because I was shaking and I had to keep my eyes closed the whole time so as not to see my whole family in tears looking back at me. It meant a lot to me though and really taught me the power of music.

Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ I like a recording studio that feels comfortable. I'm not a gear-head. The consoles, or microphones or whatever, don't really interest me. Maybe that's blasphemous to say. But, I'm more interested in the history. Abbey Road, Sun Studio or FAME studio. I think great music can be made anywhere and I'd be more inspired by the stories than the location itself.

Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any "rituals" to calm you nerves?
~ It depends on the gig but I don't really get nervous right before the show. Maybe a bit the day before a big show when I'm running through it in my head. Before the show though, I just try to get in the zone and rust my instincts. The sign of a great show is if I don't remember any of it. That means I was "in the moment" the whole time and I let my brain shut off.

What was the most memorable day in your musical career?
~ I got to work in the studio with one of my heroes: Sam Roberts. That was amazing. He's not a harp player, but he's a really talented songwriter and performer that who was one of the reasons I started playing music in the first place. I learned a lot from him and he sings harmonies and plays guitar on my track "Fire From the Spark" Also, my album releases have always been really special to me. They stand out as the culmination of a lot of hard work and creativity that's supported by fans and friends. I feel pretty lucky to be a musician - I have a LOT of memorable days!

Matt Blais

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Answers given on January 7, 2017