Singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson’s eight studio album "Last of the Great Pretenders" debuted in July and has been racking up praise ever since. Nathanson is coming to Salt Lake City on Monday and in anticipation of the show he and I did a quick email interview about his latest work and what audiences can expect.
I’ve heard that "Last of the Great Pretenders" captures a particular period in your life. But I’m curious when the idea for the album started percolating in your mind. Was this album something that sprung into your thoughts in a kind of eureka moment, or did it gradually come into focus? Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you really began focusing in earnest on this album?
Last of the Great Pretenders tour
Who » Matt Nathanson headlines in support of his eighth studio album, Last of the Great Pretenders. Joshua Radin opens.
When » Monday, Oct. 7
Where » Murray Theater, 4961 S. State St., Murray.
Tickets » $24.50 + 50 cent facility fee + service charge. Available from Smith’s Tix.
Not really a eureka moment ... more like the slow light of dawn, ha ha. I finished the last album cycle, for "Modern Love," and started writing. I just started kicking ideas around in the summer, early in the process, and the song "Sky High Honey" showed up. I wrote it in a day with Mike Viola, who ended up co-producing the record. That song just felt like the starting point. It also was real specific and descriptive lyrically, and that inspired the rest of the songs. That idea of songs that paint a real time and place. I had avoided those kind of specifics in the past. Once "Sky High Honey" was written, the rest of the songs just started flowing. The whole writing process was fast for me, only took about 6 months.
I was told this album is a kind of "six month snapshot." Why that particular period? I’ve listened to the songs, but what specifically made that time poignant for you that I might not have already heard in the music itself?
The "six month snapshot" idea doesn’t specifically have to do with the stories the songs are telling, but it does have to do with the timeframe. I’m not sure that makes sense. A song like "Sky High Honey" takes place in the summer. I wrote it in July, so the song takes place in July.
But the story I’m telling is years old, it’s a piece from my past. I was revisiting it for that song. So, the time frames of the song are in real time, but the stories I am telling aren’t necessarily. Though some are. Does that make sense?
Were there any unique challenges while making this album?
This was the first record I have made completely out of my comfort zone in terms of collaborators. I had worked with the same songwriter — my friend from college, Mark Weinberg — for the last decade plus, and he and I pretty much produced my last bunch of albums. This was the first time I wanted to take myself out of the "alpha/listen to me" position, both in the writing of the songs and the making of the album.
I saw this record like a sports team. My job was very specific; I was the center, or whatever, and the team won the game, not the individual. So, I surrounded myself with a team of people who I respected but didn’t necessarily think like me. Mark and I think a lot like so I wanted to get away from that and be challenged by other people’s strengths that weren’t necessarily mine.
Listeners obviously have their own opinions, but for you what sets this album apart from your past work?
It’s tough for me. I always think the records get better. I think I get more natural in the process and it shows in the songs.
But really, the most obvious change for me is that lyrically, I stopped rounding the edges off the songs. I stopped pulling my punches and I just let the ugly parts of myself start to hang out. I stopped managing how I was presented.
That’s why we started the record with the lyric, "I’d kill anyone who’d treat you as bad as I do." The songs were about being honest, even if it made me look like a dick.
Relatedly, after many albums and many years in music, how do you continue coming up with fresh material? Do you do anything in particular to generate song ideas?
I am just such a super fan of music, a nerd for it. I am continually inspired. I’m so fortunate to be able to do what I love as a job that I am constantly digesting other people’s music and new records and it just lights me up. There’s nothing better.
In terms of generating songs, I just try to get out of the way. When they show up and start knocking, I have been trying not to tell them to come back later. I usually just stop what I’m doing and try to get them down on paper or into my recorder.
For people who may not have see you live, or for those who haven’t been in a while, what kind of show should they expect when you play in Utah?
If you’ve seen Siegfried and Roy, or any Vegas show with explosions and white Bengal tigers, that’s what to expect. Expect to be changed, from the inside. It’s like a petting zoo with fireworks, ha ha.
Seriously though, it’s a great show. The band is playing great and we’re invigorated by the new songs. And I love telling stories. The energy of the crowd always makes for a pretty amazing night.
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