MATT NATHANSON

An interview with Matt Nathanson from 2005.
By Melody Alderman


PS: You've been doing so much press. Are you burned out yet?

MATT: No. It's awesome, are you kidding me? It's the best. So long with no love, I totally feel so validated. It's nice that people even call back.

PS: I actually heard your music for the first time about a week and a half ago. I was covering Howie Day's show in Portland and saw you perform. How has it been teaming up with Howie?

MATT: It's been really good because Howie's people like to come to the shows and they dig him. They have a really nice attention span. You know what I mean? They're receptive to new stuff. It's kind of the perfect audience to open for because they're not drunk. They're more people that listen to music. Howie's music kind of does things that doesn't give it away immediaetly. You know what I mean? It just unfolds in a nice way. So, it's a pleasure for us to play because I feel like we're getting to play for people who are attentive to us and want to have a good time. There's not a lot of resistance, so it makes it really easy. It makes me feel like I'm really good at what I do. (Laughs) So that's kick ass. Count me in.

PS: Do you have any plans of releasing a live record?

MATT: I would love to. I made a bunch of independent records and the plan was going to be that after this last record... I was just planning on going independent for the rest of my life before Universal came along... I was going to release a studio record as the last record independently and then do a live record after that. But now, since the label's gotten involved, I think that's been put on the back burner for a little bit but I'm sure as soon as I can I'm going to put one out. It would be really fun to get a good show with a good crowd and maybe sort of videotape it too like DVD style. That would be fun as shit. So I'm totally going to do it at some point, I just don't know when.

PS: Your new record was just released by Univeral, as you mentioned, on October 14th. You've had a decade of doing your own thing and not having anyone to answer to but yourself to now being on a major label. How does the process differ?

MATT: The thing is, it was pretty painless. You hear horror stories about how people make records for a major label and then everybody's getting involved. I kind of lucked out because the person who I signed with at Universal as an A&R person, shared a really similar vision. That was one of the reasons why I signed with her because I felt like out of everybody that I'd ever met, she was one of two people who I was like, 'Oh my God. You're the best. What are you doing in the music industry?' It's like, 'You have a passion for music and you think records should be made the way that I think records should be made. This is great.' So the process was actually ten times better than it was to make an independent record because there were these resources available that I didn't have before. I was able to get players that I'd always wanted and we took a month or a little bit more to make the record. To me, that was the longest ever, because when I make independent records there's the budget and the time constraints. Then, trying to organize the players was tough. I felt like I finally got to cook the stew long enough. Do you know what I mean? I feel like I'm always making stew when I make a record. This one finally got to cook right and if we put the wrong ingredient in then we could do it again. Then, having a producer there who could sort of be like, 'Well in my experience, if you season it with this...' Then I'd be like, 'Wow, I never thought of that.' I feel like every record I made independently I always kind of grew a little bit. I took a nice next step with this one. I felt like they kind of took me out of line and brought me six steps up. They took me to school. They taught me how to make records in a way that brought me closer to realizing a record that I wanted, than I've ever gotten before. It was cool. It was really cool. It was a killer process. It was really fun.

PS: You had some incredible artists who appeared on Beneath These Fireworks. Matt Chamberlain, who is a phenomenal drummer...

MATT: He's my boy. That guy's the best.

PS: David Garza...

. MATT: Yeah! I'm glad you noticed. That's what I mean. I got to pick my favorite people. I've always wanted David to play on a record. I've known him for just a little while, maybe two years and I always was like, 'He would be the best guitar player.' Then, every since I was in high school, I remember Matt Chamberlain was in Edie Brickell's band and I was like, 'That guy is the best drummer ever', and I followed his evolution. I was like, 'If I can ever get him to play on a record then I'll be finished. I won't ever need to make another record.' Then there was totally that moment where I was like, 'Fuck dude! I've got people who are interpreting these songs in a way that's just really pro, kick ass. They're emotional players. It was really great.

PS: It must have been surreal to sit in a room with them and watch them play your music.

MATT: Oh my God dude! Matt Chamberlain and I tracked a lot of the record together, so we'd just lock up and play. It was just he and I. It was the coolest to have a drummer who I had respected for so long, sitting there watching my right hand to figure out where I was going to put the accents on shit. It was really fun. It was cool.

PS: That's amazing. I also noticed one of my favorite artists appeared on your record, Glen Phillips. He sang back up on a couple of tracks. How did you connect with him?

MATT: I've known Glen for probably ten years since back in the Toad days. I was a huge Toad fan. So I became friendly with him and we played a few shows together and we've just been in touch for years. I see him probably every six months. It was one of those things where I was like, 'Did Glen just sing on these?' He would sing the shit out of them and singing on "Sad Songs" was fun. It was rad to get him. I would have loved for him to play guitar actually because, as you know, he's a sick guitar player but we only had him in just for a day. It was fun.

PS: Okay. Now Matt, I have to seriously speak with you about something. I have a bone to pick with you. When I was prepping for the interview, I was reading your online journal...

MATT: Uh-oh.

PS: There was an entry from last February when you were working on the record. You said that the new material would have a Rick Springfield influence to it. Well, I've heard Beneath These Fireworks and there is not even a hint of Mr. Springfield on the entire record. I was incredibly disappointed by the absence of one of music's greatest pop icons. What a tease.

MATT: It's so funny that you say that because seriously, I was at Universal yesterday and this guy... we were talking about Rick Springfield and we were talking about the 80's because he's a huge fanatic. A Rick Springfield fanatic. He brings me into his office and he plays me the new Rick Springfield record that's coming out at like the 1st of the year. It sounded like Godsmack meets Rick Springfield. It was hilarious but it was actually good. It was catchy Rick Springfield. So I would like to think of myself as having a subtle Rick Springfield influence. A little bit of Working Class Dog but just a little bit because now he's such a chameleon with his new record coming out and he's a little bit heavier. You can't really pin him down. So the emotion of Rick Springfield is what I've got kind of like Hard To Hold. Remember that movie?

PS: Do I remember that movie? Are you kidding me? It shaped my young womanhood. I can honestly say that the Ricker was my first official crush. I couldn't wait to see Hard To Hold. But then, when I saw it, they showed a slow, close up of his bare ass. It still saddens me today to admit how completely turned off I was by his flat, pasty butt.

MATT: No! It wasn't attractive?

PS: I remember knowing, even at the age of nine or whatever I was, that it was not an attractive bum. It was way too thin or emaciated looking or something.

MATT: Oh no! Poor Rick. His ass turned you off. I don't remember that scene. Maybe I blocked it out. I'd probably be a lawyer now if I remembered that scene.

PS: Yeah, and I wouldn't suffer from a major anxiety attack whenever a man's pants drop to the ground. I mean, if it could happen to the Ricker, it could happen to anybody. Seriously though, what are the chances of Rick Springfield being brought up in your life two days in a row?

MATT: I'm telling you there's a synergy. The world, we're inner connected and it's all through Rick Springfield. That's what I'm saying. His influence is... it's like Jesus. It's like you can't quite put your finger on it but you know he spiritually fulfills it. So that's how the record... it does have Rick Springfield actually now that I think about it.

PS: I've decided how you can make up for it. I think that at your next show, you should perform Working Class Dog from beginning to end, completely acapella style; no guitar, no sound engineer. Just you and a mic.

MATT: (Laughs and begins singing a stellar version of the Rick Springfield classic "Love Somebody.") Oh my God! I'm at Tower Records on Sunset and I think I'm going to go buy that.

PS: Speaking of which, what are a couple of songs that you have on your iPod that are completely not cool?

MATT: I don't think I have a cool song on there. I've got Cyndi Lauper's Greatest Hits.

PS: But see, that's cool. Maybe I'm just saying that because I own that record myself, but to me that's not that bad.

MATT: Maybe my stuff's so... wait, I have Winger's Greatest Hits.

PS: Now see, I can appreciate that as well.

MATT: I'm trying to think of what else. Winger... Warrant, White Snake, all the W's.

PS: Those are great though.

MATT: Yeah dude! I don't know... I have Enrique Iglesias.

PS: Okay. Yeah, that would be it I think. That's not enjoyable music.

MATT: Yeah, that's a good one. I've got him on there for sure and I've got Shakira.

PS: Especially if you've got Hero.

MATT: I've got Hero and Escape. Are you serious?

PS: I'll admit that Escape is a damn catchy song but you lost me at Hero. Okay, no you didn't. I'm just trying to sound cool.

MATT: (Laughs) Damn! That's awesome and I've got Shakira; Shakira the goat singer. I've got Latin cheese.

PS: Yeah. You've got Latin cheese and 80's hair bands.

MATT: And I've got a couple of good things thrown in like ACDC and Afghan Wigs. But mostly, mostly cheese. You don't want to be seen with this stuff and the iPod's so covert that you can get away with it. Like if friends go, 'Oh what CD's do you have on the road? Hat Full Of Stars? Cyndi Lauper's Greatest Hits? What's your problem?'

PS: Right, because ordinarily they can look at the actual CD and see it but with the iPod your dark secrets can be tucked away deep in the memory folder of a computer chip.

MATT: Totally. I'm going to start putting 38 Special and Kansas on there. I'm totally down. I'm going to fill my iPod with cheese.

PS: Survivor...

MATT: The Search Is Over...

PS: Easily one of the greatest songs of the 80's.

MATT: That song is the shit! The lyrics...

PS: If that song doesn't bring a tear to your eye...

MATT: Then you're dead inside.

PS: You have chosen some pretty interesting songs to cover.

MATT: Yeah, it's usually sort of whatever we've been listening to like that R Kelly record. I don't know if we did Ignition or not but Ignition or Brian McKnight we've been busting out. So it just kind of depends on the cheesy moment. Kind of reaching around through the... I have an inexhaustible well of cheesy songs.

PS: You've played with some of my favorite artists including Dar Williams and David Gray. What have you learned through those experiences and artists?

MATT: I've learned from a lot of folks. I toured with this guy John Doe for a long time and John used to be in this band called X and X, a pretty influential punk band in the 80's... 70's and 80's. He continually teaches me shit and tells me... kind of schools me on how to be better. So, those kind of things. Then there's been moments opening for people who I think are just geniuses and I've been able to sit... like I played with Jeff Tweedy from Wilco. I did a show in Chicago and we were sitting downstairs in the dressing room with one big room. He and I were like chilling and he was playing songs on his guitar and hanging out and talking. We were just hanging out. I was like, 'Oh my God dude. This is one of those times when you're like pinch me. I have the best job in the world.'

PS: An out of body experience.

MATT: Totally. I was fucking sitting across from Jeff Tweedy. He was in a band called Uncle Tupelo and I was a humungous Uncle Tupelo fan and since then, I've become a huge Wilco fan. I was just like, 'This is kick ass.'

PS: Isn't that the most incredible experience? When I interviewed Glen Phillips a few months ago, I'd actually met him a few times over the past couple of years, but when we were sitting there talking I had so many moments where I thought, 'Oh my God. I've been listening to you since I was twelve years old. Your music has meant so much to me and here we are. We're sitting here having a conversation.' I'm pretty sure I made an ass of myself because I kept losing my train of thought.

MATT: He's the best guy to do that with though because he's the most humble. He's rad. I remember meeting him for the first time and just shitting my pants the first couple of times. I was like, 'Oh my God. I know Glen Phillips.' He even hung out with me in Boston a couple days. He stayed on my dorm room floor with his wife and there were these moments in college where I was just like, 'Nothing's going to get better than this.'

PS: Flash to years later when you're in a room watching Matt Chamberlain play drums on your song.

MATT: I know and it keeps getting better than that. I'm going to see a secret REM show in Los Angeles and I'm a huge REM fan. I'm going to go see them and it's like ninety minutes. I got in through a friend of mine at Warner Brothers so that's going to be stupid. I'm going to be crying. (Laughs)

PS: You're going to be weeping in the audience.

MATT: Totally. They'll be like 'Who's the freak crying?' I'll be like, 'I love REM!' (Matt yells this in a high pitched girly voice).

PS: Well I'll let you go prepare for your top secret REM show. Sounds like you need it. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

MATT: You're awesome Melody. Thank you so much for doing this.

TANGLED UP IN THE WEB
LYRICS TO LIVE BY
"I remember you best
Hating all the boys who got to you
And all the things they took
That you'd kept for yourself
Every car crash, every misstep, word
You're so sorry about it all
Now that it's over..
Should I thank you for that dear?
You're so sorry about it all...
And I hope you'll always be

Song * Bent
Album * Beneath These Fireworks
"Lost, sweetest things get lost
In the static far away
Painted pictures of you

I fold

Don't want to be holy then
Don't want to be sold again
The way I was with you"

Song * Gone
Album * Some Mad Hope
"Shooting stars,
Falling leaves
The more things change,
the more I sleep
I took her heart,
I licked her wounds
And when morning came,
it felt like truth"

Song * Kept
Album * Modern Love
SEEING IS BELIEVING