Irrepressible singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson doesn't just own the stage. He makes it his bitch. Acerbic, self-aware and irreverent, Nathanson sings beautifully cathartic songs that threaten to break your heart and then, just when you need it most, says something so wholly inappropriate, or recounts a hilarious story (often one that inspired a song) with such detail and candor, that you can't help but fall in love.
"The way that I joke with people onstage is the way I establish a connection," the Massachusetts-born, San Francisco-based musician explains. "It's like introducing yourself if you're hanging out with someone at a party. You want to talk to them and break the ice so you can have a dialogue and interaction."
Armed with a 12 -string guitar, an arsenal of confessional songs, a cello player named Matt Fish, and the dictum, "It's one thing to be depressed, quite another to be depressing," Nathanson has channeled his self-professed need to be the center of attention into an impressive career as an independent artist. Not content to wait around to be discovered, he self-released and toured in support of five acclaimed albums: Please, 1993; Ernst, 1997; Not Colored Too Perfect, 1998; Still Waiting for Spring, 1999; and When Everything Meant Everything, 2002.
Matt NathansonThanks to a wildfire word of mouth buzz, Nathanson has built a loyal and impassioned grassroots following that drives countless miles to see him play, tapes his live shows, keeps track of his witty bon mots on fan sites and debates the meaning of his poetic lyrics. His website logs well over a million hits a month.
In the past two years alone, Nathanson's played over 250 live shows, selling out rooms across the country and good-naturedly stealing audiences out from under such heavy hitters as John Mayer, Train, Howie Day, OAR, Maroon 5, Guster, and Five for Fighting. His music has been featured in â€œRoad Rules,â€? â€œDawson's Creekâ€? and â€œSmallvilleâ€? and he recorded a version of James' song "Laid" for the American Wedding Soundtrack.
Beneath These Fireworks, recorded in Los Angeles in February and March of 2003, is Nathanson's stunning major label debut. Produced by Ron Aniello (Lifehouse, Barenaked Ladies, Guster) and mixed by Mark Endert (Fiona Apple, Gavin DeGraw, Vertical Horizon) the poignant album explores the dark existential themes of loss, longing and self-destruction. "I hang on to stuff and push it down," Nathanson admits. "It's safe to say, most of the time, it's the darker parts of me that inspire the songs.â€?
By turns gentle, summery, hummable, big, groove-laden and rocking, Nathanson's music expresses a strength that belies the urgency of his lyrics. Songs like "Angel" ("Angel you sing about beautiful things/And all I want to do is believe"), "Sad Songs" ("I'm so tired of singing all the sad songs in my head"), "Pretty The World" ("Show me how pretty the world is/ 'Cause I envy the way that you move") and "Weight of It All" ("Show me where the sun comes through the sky/ I'll show you where the rain gets in") reveal a broken-hearted desire to transcend one's own baggage. Angrier songs like "Bent" ("You're so sorry about it all/ Now that it's over/ Should I thank you for that dear?"), "Lucky Boy" ("I played support system/You played victim") and "Bare" ("The smell of your body/ And the seconds that it kept me warm") pivot on the realization that someone isn't whom you'd built them up to be. The album is not without its positive moments. "Little Victories" ("No more bailing boats for me") shows a determined and honest strength of spirit while "Suspended" ("All I want to be is the minute that you hold me in") articulates a fleeting sense of contentment.
For Beneath These Fireworks, Nathanson pulled together a dream team of musicians to flesh out his songs. He chose drummer Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos, Fiona Apple), bassist Sergio Andrade (Lifehouse), guitarist David Garza (Dah-veed, Juliana Hatfield), keyboard player Jamie Muhoberac (Seal, Audiovent ), and cellist Matt Fish. Vocalist Emm Gryner lent backing vocals to a few songs , while Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) sang on "Sad Songs" and "Pretty the World."
Instead of using digital effects and studio tricks, producer Ron Aniello insisted on getting a live feel by letting the songs breathe. "We did everything by feel as opposed to messing with it in Pro Tools," recalls Nathanson. "It was a great way to make a record. It was relaxing and fun because I felt like I could just be myself."
Since performing U2 and Police covers with his first band in 7th grade, Matt Nathanson has considered music to be his one saving grace. "To be able to translate feelings and emotions to words, to pull things out of the air and create something and do it in a way that turns me on is such an amazing feeling," he gushes. "It's so much better than any other feeling in the world."