Matthew Good | Doing It His Way

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In a lot of ways it was a frustrating process because some of those songs could have been much more than they were.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew Good. He’s opinionated. Well informed. Political leaning (left, if you couldn’t tell). Talkative. Driven. Inspired.

He’s also one of the most brilliant musicians my ears have yet to happen upon, and for that, I’m extremely grateful. Over the last 13 years, Good’s delivered seven full-length albums, three EPs and a best-of collection…music to my ears, quite literally.

But one thing Good’s not done so much of is U.S. touring. You see, his now-former (with the release of last summer’s addictive Hospital Music) label Universal never really tried to push him south of the Canadian border. Now that he’s a free man, Good’s taking his touring into his own hands, venturing forth for an honest-to-goodness U.S. tour. Sure, he’ll be solo acoustic—but he’s Matthew Good, for God’s sake. He’s nothing short of amazing.
I spoke with Good recently about his forthcoming tour, especially his appearance at South by Southwest, where I’ll finally get to see him. As usual, he had plenty to say.

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Is this your first trip to South by Southwest?

No, I played in 1996.

This is your first time solo?

Yeah, yeah. I’m just playing acoustically.

What’s the difference in your opinion in the songs of Matthew Good and the songs of The Matthew Good Band?

That was largely finalization by committee, in a lot of ways. I mean, I wrote all of that material, basically even the songs. The records say that the songs were equally written between all four members; I would just do that on every record so that everyone would get publishing money. I would basically work 14-hour days writing music. It was very political; the band was extremely political in itself. It would go from back to, say, Dave [Genn] listening to something and going, "Well, you know, what if we…" — yes or yeah or no, then that kind of political element would begin. The song would be brought into the band and everyone would be worked up and then, ultimately, it would find its final form.

In a lot of ways it was a frustrating process because some of those songs could have been much more than they were. But they were limited by the reality that that’s the way they had to come about. In comparison to when I had been on my own, if I feel that a certain element within a song needs to be noticeably pronounced…I can’t even tell you the arguments that even brought up. As a songwriter, you serve songs far more then you serve parts, and people’s egos over what parts are featured and what parts aren’t, and whose little idea about something is prevalent in a certain section of a song. That’s just what the band was, literally, in a nutshell.

Lyrically it would have been the same material, just the music that changed?

Yeah, yeah. You’ve got to remember that I can play all those songs – well, some of them I can’t because of how they are arranged. But all of those songs were written on an acoustic guitar or piano: I wrote them, by myself. Something like "Load Me Up," which I’ll probably play in Chicago acoustically, I wrote beginning to end, really. The band breakup is one of the big things that a lot of people focused on. "Without the band, what will it be like?"

That’s not fun.

Never enjoyed a minute of it, really. I remember again when we were going out to do a signing on the release date for The Audio of Being in Canada; he wouldn’t even ride in the same car with us.

After that I just didn’t give a shit. I was like, "You know what? Fuck you." I’ve given far to much of myself physically, mentally, personally; I paid too high a price. Technically, the band as far as the press is concerned broke up in the early part of 2002, even though we had broken up in 2001.

I was flown to Toronto and yelled at in a room by my record company [for breaking up the band]. Yeah, yeah, they put it on me. Everybody else got to walk away, and I got to carry a million dollars’ worth of debt.

Which led to, what, you having to release four extra albums?

No, that was my contract. Which led to every advance and every record budget I had being slashed dramatically; for the money they contractually owed me, every option being negotiated down dramatically. My last option with the record label was with this record [Hospital Music]. I’ll walk away but, thankfully or thank God it’s over, because now I’ll walk away from that.

So basically all these years you haven’t been paid?

Oh, no way. The only money I make from records sales is off Underdogs and Last of the Ghetto Astronauts, which I own. They make all the money off of the rest, even this record.

prof_matt-good3.jpgWhat’s the difference between you in the Matthew Good Band and you now being solo?

It’s a night-and-day thing, right? In that situation, not only was I creative force behind the band, but I had to deal with manipulations that existed on multiple different levels. There would be inner band turmoil, but a lot of that was my management playing us, going to someone like Dave to then work at me to get something accomplished that maybe I’d be against. Now that just doesn’t occur. I don’t have to fucking worry about that. I basically do what I want to do and if I don’t like something then I don’t do it. But then again, since 2004, I’ve been with a completely different manager who’s actually a really decent guy. My old management was very much a part of the manipulation that I think significantly contributed to the demise of the band, too. It’s a lot different now. As a songwriter, now I do what it is I want to do to serve a certain purpose. Back then, I played the game of being on top. That’s a fucking bad game to play.

Do you find making music these days more fun or more fulfilling? You mentioned you were just so driven to do it you felt like you didn’t have a choice and it doesn’t sound you had any enjoyment in it.

Yeah, that’s the thing the shitty thing about that situation. I mean, from the standpoint of being an artist, I loved making music, but at the same time I hated the situation I was in, and that was amplified all the more if there wasn’t going to be any money for anybody. Then all the people you of course had the deep, fucking, meaningful midnight conversations with are all pointless because they could give a fuck less.

It definitely has become far more enjoyable for me. Records are purposes; this is the difference in making records. It’s that bands are constantly caught in a cycle of trying to very much outdo themselves, or stay within a certain boundary that ultimately got them their popularity. I think that’s a dangerous thing. Not that it has only existed recently — it’s obviously been prevalent throughout music history. But records are records, and they define a point in time; they define an idea you wanted to do at the time. For me, an example of that would be White Light Rock & Roll Review. I wanted to make a record that was live off the floor. I’d been listening to a lot of Buddy Holly and a lot of bands from an era that didn’t’ have the luxury of multi-tracking and I wanted to write a record and record a record that basically limited what they had to endure. I made that record and a lot of people didn’t like it because it stayed away from the lush normality of Avalanche, but ultimately that’s a decision that you make as an artist. You make those decisions, and I wanted to do it so that at least one time in my life I made a record like that. That’s what records are for, man. They’re out there to be in a career of an artist, to be diverse, to allow fans and listeners to enjoy diverse experiences from record to record.

So, was last year’s Hospital Music the first U.S. release since 2001’s Beautiful Midnight?

It wasn’t released by a label; I just released it through iTunes.

I wasn’t sure if Universal had a hand in that.

No, they had nothing to do with it. Dave and Ryan of Apple in San Francisco are just fans of mine. They emailed me in June and said, "Hey Matt, why don’t we put a weekend release in the store." And I said, "Guys, let’s fucking do it." So I basically went and got my own independent in the middle, because you have to basically have an in-between man. It was entirely Apple’s, if anyone should get credit for it.

So is that what kind of led to the U.S. tour? The fact that you released it down here?

Kind of, yeah. You know I’m no spring chicken; I’ll be 37 this year. It’s more that I’ve been playing acoustically by myself for two years now and we were just like, "What the fuck." I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m under no illusions that something is going to happen. I know in some places I’m going to play it’s going to be a full house, and in other places there’s going to be people wishing I’d get the fuck off the stage.

What do you hope for?

That it just be fun. Go play some music, you know.

But is it something where, if you’re very well received, you’d come back and do a longer tour?

I’m sure I’ll probably go down there sometime, maybe in the fall with a band. I would think yeah. Ultimately a lot of it comes to revenues and if I can float it. I obviously don’t have the track record or record sales that I’ve had down there, and that being the case as long as I can break even. As long as it doesn’t cost me any money, then I don’t care.

Do you consider yourself foremost a musician or blogger?

Oh, musician, definitely. When I write stuff for my website I don’t spend six hours working on it. I do a lot of reading, obviously, at night and in the morning and stuff, but after I’ve done that. I’ll just post about something and maybe throw some links in it. I do that and then get to demoing and or get to recording at home. Which I do most of the day. | Laura Hamlett

Check out Matthew Good’s website and blog

Matthew Good Spring ’08 U.S. Tour Dates

03.07 | Tractor Tavern, Seattle
03.08 | Lola’s, Portland
03.09 | Café du Nord, San Francisco
03.11 | The Hotel Café, Los Angeles
03.12 | Belly Up Tavern, San Diego
03.15 | Momo’s @ SXSW, Austin
03.17 | Double Door, Chicago
03.18 | Magic Stick, Detroit
03.20 | Cambridge Room House of Blues, Cleveland
03.21 The Club at Water Sdiveet Music Hall, Rochester
03.22 | Higher Ground, S. Burlington
03.23 | Middle East Café, Cambridge
03.25 | Highline Ballroom, New York City
03.26 | Tin Angel, Philadelphia
03.27 | Iota Café, Arlington
03.29 | Club Infinity, Buffalo


About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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