Matt Roberts’ Rebirth on the Road
by Devon Wendell
I recently had a candid phone interview with 3 Doors Down’s lead guitarist, Matt Roberts. Matt was at his home in Nashville, on a rare day off from the road. After four critically acclaimed albums and hits like “Kryptonite,” “Loser,” “Duck and Run,” “Here Without You” and “When I’m Gone,” this chart-topping, multi- platinum, award winning rock/alternative group (Brad Arnold, vocals; Matt Roberts, lead guitar; Todd Harrel, bass; Chris Henderson, rhythm guitar; and Greg Upchurch, drums) from Escatawpa, Mississippi embarked on their latest U.S tour in March, a tour which will carry them through the summer.
DW: Most of the guys in 3 Doors Down have known each other since grade school. What has held you together for so many years?
MR: Being pragmatic and having to meet obligations to our fans and the core foundation — looking outside of ourselves.
DW: In what ways do you feel the band has changed since the early days?
MR: We’re still the same group of guys, but with a lot more life experience. Most people who just stay at home may not understand that.
DW: You started out as a rock band in a small town in Mississippi. How would you categorize the band’s music today?
MR: We still just like to think of ourselves as a rock band. I don’t see us doing any other thing.
DW: Did you ever imagine, when you guys first started jamming in Escatawpa, that you would reach such a high level of success and fame?
MR: Oh, no, of course not. I can’t say I did. It’s been a process over the last ten years. At first it was a shock, but today it’s just amazing to have a career — so I see it from a different perspective now.
DW: Let’s talk about your role in the band, as lead guitarist. There’s such a rich heritage of amazing guitar players from your home state of Mississippi, especially stemming from the blues. Did any of that rub off on you growing up?
MR: Well, it’s something that’s always been there, and B.B King’s playing and story has definitely influenced me as a player, and Muddy Waters, who, of course, left Mississippi. Yeah, but it’s only in the back of my mind and not the first thing I think of. But there is something special there.
DW: But your first major influence actually came from somewhere else, didn’t i?
MR: Definitely. Jimmy Page. When I first heard him it was like, “ Wow that’s really different.”
DW: It’s interesting that the band recently recorded a rendition of Blind Faith’s “Presence Of The Lord” with the Soul Children Of Chicago on the compilation Oh Happy Day (EMI Gospel). Given who the guitar player was on the original version – Eric Clapton — did this have any special significance for you as a player?
MR: Yeah, it was an honor, and great to go back and capture that vintage sound and those riffs. We tried to be true to the original and really listened to that record.
DW: Which of the band’s tracks do you feel displays your best guitar work?
MR: Well, I’d have to say “Dangerous Game” from the album Away From the Sun (Universal 2002), because it’s an elaborate piece and rhythmically well structured, though it’s not one of my overall favorite tracks that we’ve done.
DW: So many lead rock guitarists are very dominating. Have you ever found it difficult to play a more subordinate or subtle role in the group?
MR: I have an overall engaging presence and play a proud dominating role, not just as a guitar player but as a composer, working on the tracks from the ground up with the band.
DW: Do you remember the first guitar you ever owned?
MR: Sure. A Harmony electric from Service Merchandise, which was like a Sears store. It was a real cheapy guitar, and I was 9 years old.
DW: So you started collecting early. Are you still collecting?
MR: I have a pretty nice collection — a ’57 custom Les Paul and some others worth a few coins, but without going too overboard.
DW: And on the gig — what do you play now? What’s your set-up?
MR: All Ibanez guitars — who I’m endorsed by. I go for just a big modern heavy sound. My clean channel is great and non-brittle. I use Genz Benz amps, which supports both clean and heavy tones.
DW: What about other influences? Who do you listen to?
MR: Pretty much just guitars, though I do love all instruments. Guitar is my main thing. But I feel that there’s not that many guitar-oriented bands today like there once were. As far as virtuosos, Joe Satriani is definitely one I listen to.
DW: The band’s been together nearly 15 years now, and you guys are true road warriors, traveling a lot. Do you still enjoy life on the road?
MR: Yeah, but sometimes you’d like to just go home for a few days.
DW: Do you have time to listen to music – other than your own?
MR: I usually don’t listen to much music on the road because of the hectic schedule. It’s constant get up and go, so there’s not a lot of time. But at home I try to play catch up and listen to stuff like Derek & The Dominoes, and Zeppelin – a lot of classic rock.
DW: Do you ever get the feelings of homesickness on the road that are so well depicted on your tune, “Here Without You”?
MR: It does get tough and grueling after so many years, but the realization of “Wow I’m still doing this?” is like a rebirth.
DW: Thank you so much, Matt. Enjoy your day off and the best of luck on the rest of the tour.