Matt Nathanson | Less Drowning, More Land

“Music to me is the most important thing in the world, and so to be able to make it for a living, and make a living playing music and writing music, is an honor. I take it so seriously that I feel it’s important to get as tapped into who you are as you can.”

 

 

“It’s about letting what’s in me out.”

It is not often I go into an interview feeling star struck, but in the minutes before speaking with Matt Nathanson by phone, I suddenly was overcome by the fact that I was getting ready to talk to my favorite musician. I was both giddy and terrified. I’d met him before, and even had a few short conversations with him, but this was different. He had, essentially, volunteered to answer any questions I might have. So when the phone rang, I answered it with a bit of a racing mind and an intense desire to not come across as a silly fan girl who had somehow managed to get herself on his interview schedule.

I did not, thankfully, embarrass myself. While it was an interview—and Nathanson was forthcoming and congenial—it felt more like a conversation. He loves his job and he loves talking about it. (He even called the press grind “energizing.”) Considering he had two radio spots, two interviews, and a concert on the day I spoke with him, the fact that he maintains the buoyancy confirms that he is in a good place right now. As he put it, when speaking of the album Modern Love that was released in June of this year, “There’s a lot more joy on this record than on any of my previous records.” This is true from the listening standpoint—the new album is much more upbeat than his previous release, Some Mad Hope—but it’s nice to know that it’s coming from an actual feeling of peace that Nathanson himself now possesses.

One of the major things that he talked about was, indeed, the idea of music coming from a very real, pure place. I asked him if he ever felt the need to sanitize—he uses certain words liberally and many of his songs contain sexual references, veiled or not—and he said no, though he said he does allow exceptions for places like Catholic colleges where he’s told he’s not allowed to swear. He goes beyond that, though, and explains, “The goal is to continue to get as close to ‘me’ as I can. The songs need to come directly from you without any censorship.” The earnestness that is present in so much of his music shines through here, and it’s obvious that when he talks about music, he doesn’t take on the task of creation with a haphazard attitude. As he tells me, and it seems to sum up his ethos with regard to his music, “Music to me is the most important thing in the world, and so to be able to make it for a living, and make a living playing music and writing music, is an honor. I take it so seriously that I feel it’s important to get as tapped into who you are as you can.”

There are times during the conversation where it is clear that Nathanson is, in some ways, still the college sophomore releasing his first album of songs written in high school and his first year of college. The excitement at being on the road is still there. He talked about how he’d played The Pageant before, but in an opening slot. He and the guys in the band would discuss how it would be amazing to headline there, and to be able to do it feels like a huge accomplishment. That said, he is different now than he was even during the recording for the last album, and for those before it. “My other records were all so much about yearning. I made record after record about yearning and fucking needing and missing. This is the first record I’ve made where it feels like there’s no yearning in it.” He seems to consider what he’s saying and adds, “It’s not the same kind of yearning, you know? There’s a togetherness in this record.”

The togetherness is obviously something he wants his fans to feel. Several years ago, Nathanson made it clear he’d never have anything to do with Twitter, and he now posts to it several times a day. I mentioned this and he said, almost resignedly, “I know.” He explains that the way it was originally explained sounded silly—celebrities tweeting their dinners and things like that—but once he realized it was more than that, he relented and joined, and he enjoys it now. “It’s kind of like when you meet somebody and you’re like, ‘That person’s a dick,’ and then you get to know them and the person’s awesome and you want to marry them.”

That all aside, there’s no dichotomy here. Whether he’s discussing Bono (he says he has a doctorate in U2), almost being run over on his bike in Buffalo, or how things are different playing the songs from Modern Love as opposed to Some Mad Hope, there’s an incredible energy to him. He laughs easily and is self-assured, though not to the point of being immodest. He seems comfortable in his skin now, at the age of 38, almost 20 years since his first release. He credits fans of his music for some of this, and he thinks he has a healthy relationship with them. “I feel like the energy I get is mostly, is pretty exclusively, from people who like the music and feel the songs in themselves and have taken the songs on to be their songs.” He says there’s never been a point—yet—where things have gotten weird or out of hand. People have been respectful when asking about his personal life, but at the same time, he doesn’t really see his personal life as something separate. “There’s no schism between going on tour and interacting with folks from the stage or off stage to like going home and taking the garbage out. To me it has to all feel like it’s part of the same thing or I’d go fucking insane.” | Teresa Montgomery

Matt Nathanson plays The Pageant Tuesday, October 18, with ScarsOn45 opening. Doors are at 7 p.m. with the show starting at 8. Tickets are $20 in advance, $23 day of show.

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