Sixteen years ago this month, I was unpacking boxes in my dorm room on the first day of college when a guy with long hair in a ponytail appeared in my doorway to chat. He was very friendly and funny, and my polar opposite – a boarding school kid from the East Coast. Although he started out as my next-door neighbor, we wound up living together for most of the next three years. Long story short, he began to date my roommate almost immediately. They have been together ever since.
His name is Matt Nathanson. And outside of family, he has been the most influential person in my life for the past 16 years. Immensely talented and musically gifted, Matt has been an inspiration to be around, as well as a very good friend. Throughout my many professional and personal endeavors, he has encouraged me to set my sights high and follow through with what I aspire to be and do. Truthfully, Matt is the reason I began to blog, and his ongoing music education has contributed to the success I’ve had at my current job.
And now Matt has graciously provided me with the opportunity to officially interview him for this Blog, as he celebrates the release of his new album.
If you haven’t heard of Matt Nathanson yet, you will soon enough. His new CD, Some Mad Hope, is out TODAY on Vanguard Records, available in stores, online and on iTunes. Matt will be embarking on a national fall tour in support of the new album beginning next month.
Before we get started with the interview, here are the essentials for you to read and watch:
Born and raised in Lexington, MA. Went to Proctor Academy in New Hampshire. Graduated from Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. Currently resides in San Francisco with his wife and cat.
1993 – Please
1997 – Ernst
1998 – Not Colored Too Perfect
2001 – Still Waiting for Spring
2002 – When Everything Meant Everything (EP)
2003 – Beneath These Fireworks
2006 – At the Point
2007 – Some Mad Hope
LISTEN ONLINE NOW ON VH1.COM
ORDER THE NEW CD
BEHIND-THE-SCENES VIDEO: THE MAKING OF SOME MAD HOPE
OTHER ESSENTIAL VIDEOS
Appearance on CBS’ The Saturday Early Show
Live version of All We Are
Live version of Car Crash
Singing ‘Kid Fears’ live with the Indigo Girls
TOUR DATES & MORE INFORMATION
And now, on to the interview…
Jo: How old were you when you received or bought you first guitar? What was its life span?
Matt: I was in 5th grade. My mother bought me a K-shaped, candy apple red Ibanez guitar. I had it until senior year in college, when I sold it to buy a Telecaster. I’ve regretted it every day since.
Jo: Where/when was the very first time you took the stage to perform?
Matt: I had been in school plays since I was a wee lad. But the first time I ever really performed was in 6th grade, at a talent show called ‘The Big Event.’ I had a band called ‘One Way Out’ and we played a Police song and a Beatles song.
Jo: How old were you when you wrote your first song? What was it called?
Matt: I was in 7th grade. The song was called “It Was Only a Dream,” and it was awful. I played it at ‘The Big Event II.’
Jo: What was the first concert you attended?
Matt: J. Geils Band at the Boston Garden. I was in 3rd grade, and went with my student teacher, who I was totally in love with. It was unrequited.
Jo: What is the story behind the title Some Mad Hope?
Matt: I was watching the movie 300 and the main character said it as he led his troops to their death. I though it fit my life perfectly.
Jo: How long, from start to finish, did it take you to complete Some Mad Hope?
Matt: I think just over 3 years. We (co-writer Mark and I) wrote the first version of ‘Come On Get Higher’ in 2004.
Jo: How did you wind up with Vanguard as your new record label?
Matt: I was really wary of signing with another major label after my stint on Universal. Vanguard were just hands down the best indie option I had. They are super enthusiastic, music nerds…and I felt an immediate kinship.
Jo: At what point did you decide that the album cover/art work wouldn’t feature photos of you?
Matt: I have never really been into the idea of having my picture on the cover. I feel like an album cover should help tell the story, help set the mood. I’m still a huge believer in a record being a whole experience, not just a collection of songs. And the cover is crucial to that experience.
Jo: From the cover art to the lyrics, this album seems more personal and exposes a darker perspective/outlook than albums past. Would you agree?
Matt: Maybe. The songs on this record follow me through a pretty serious realization that I had in my personal life. And it was pretty heavy shit…so yeah, I guess it’s heavy, but not necessarily darker.
Jo: Will ‘Car Crash’ be your first mainstream music video? Do you have an idea when it will debut, and if it will be on iTunes and/or MTV?
Matt: We are shooting a video for ‘Car Crash’ at the end of August. It’s being shot by Justin Francis – he is a total bad ass and did the new Modest Mouse video for ‘Little Motel.’ The treatment for our video is pretty rad. Not sure if it will be on MTV – do they even show videos anymore? It will definitely be on iTunes and everywhere else…
Jo: Your songs have appeared on popular television series’ like Scrubs and Men in Trees. Are there any shows you hope to add to that list with songs from the new album, or is it out of your hands when and what is submitted?
Matt: I would love to have a song on Family Guy, but I’m pretty sure they don’t do that kind of stuff.
Jo: Who or what influences your music?
Matt: My life pretty much influences my music. I’m not super good at the whole fictional storytelling stuff. My songs come from my own shit, for better or worse. And in terms of who…I’m wide open. I can be influenced from any direction. I’m pretty malleable that way.
Jo: How would you describe your fan base?
Matt: Kick ass! Truly. I am not really a fan of this word…but I am totally blessed. The folks that come to my shows are amazing. And passionate. And total freaks. And I love it!
Jo: What is the most unique thing a fan has ever said or given to you?
Matt: For a while, I was getting statues of religious figures. Like Jesus, the action figure. And Moses. I actually got a disturbing sculpture of Jesus teaching a boy to swing a baseball bat. And I’m not religious at all, so that was a pretty strange gifting period.
Jo: Have you performed in all 50 states? Anywhere outside of the US? Any plans to?
Matt: I think I’m still a few states short of 50. Definitely haven’t played Hawaii or Alaska yet. And I think the Dakotas are on that list as well. I’ve never really toured outside of the states, though that plan is starting to come together nicely…
Jo: You are an unusually gregarious performer at your live shows, with a penchant for language unsuitable for the under PG-13 crowd. Is language ever an issue – do certain venues forbid or discourage it?
Matt: Sometimes I’ll play a college where they have a swear/don’t get paid policy. I can totally refrain from swearing if I have to, but it feels like I’m playing the show with my hands tied behind my back, and use of only about half my brain. I LOVE me the swears!
Jo: Would you recommend MySpace to other musicians as way to market yourself and reach out to the fans?
Matt: It is crucial. It’s the perfect forum for spreading the word.
Jo: Do you take the time to read comments and blogs about you and your music?
Matt: If I’m feeling particularly shitty about myself, I have been known to Google my name in hopes of finding kindness from others on the world wide web. Yes, but I’m not in the habit of it…
Jo: At last count, there were over 500 clips of you on YouTube, with everything from Prison Break scenes set to ‘Laid’ and guys in front of web cams singing songs from your new album. Flattered or frightened?
Matt: Totally flattering…and hilarious.
Jo: You’ve covered songs by James (Laid on the American Wedding soundtrack), Cat Stevens (The Wind on Wake Up Everybody) and Prince (Starfish and Coffee on For The Kids Too!). Were you asked to do so, and did you have to seek permission from the original artists to perform each?
Matt: Fuck no. It’s totally legal to cover other people’s songs. Probably not legal to cover as many Journey songs as I do, but I’m in the clear on James and Prince.
Jo: When you’re on tour and have some down time, what do you like to do? Do you ever actually explore the cities you’re visiting?
Matt: I spend a lot of time exploring a 4-block radius of whatever club/theater we are playing. A lot of the time, that isn’t so spectacular. And I’m always on the lookout for a Whole Foods. If there is a Whole Foods in your town, you can pretty much count on finding me there!
Jo: What is your guilty pleasure television show? Movie?
Matt: I don’t really have guilty pleasures. I’m pretty open about my love of stuff that other people think is terrible. I have been known to watch an entire Olsen twin’s movie when it comes on cable. And I guess I’m not super proud of that.
Jo: What is on heavy rotation in your iPod right now? Who are your favorite artists of the moment?
Matt: The new National record. Tegan and Sara’s new one, The Con. Cansei De Ser Sexy. M.I.A. Lily Allen. Kiss – “The Destroyer.”
Jo: Do you have a favorite song from the new album? Is there a song from any of your previous albums that you still love to perform live?
Matt: My favorite song from the new record is definitely ‘Falling Apart.’ It just sort of sprawls out and soars in a cool way. I never get tired of listening to it. As far as older songs, I don’t really get tired of playing ‘Suspended’ or ‘I Saw.’ Those are always fun.
(Photo: Matt and I at the Mandalay Bay Beach in Las Vegas, where he opened for Pink in June of 2006.)