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
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.
Thanks 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
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 “Road Rules,”
“Dawson's Creak” and “Smallville” 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.”
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."