In the nearly 19 years since Matt Nathanson released his debut album, Please, in 1993, he has built quite the reputation as a strong songwriter and an even more engaging performer. Although he has toured with a band for years, he's probably better known for his acoustic shows and more intimate, singer/songwriter material.
With the release of his latest CD, Modern Love, Nathanson made a concentrated effort to grow his sound, however. Lyrically, Nathanson's more reflective singer/songwriter persona is still intact, but sonically, the album stretches out and just feels larger. It's obvious that he approached the whole process differently this time around.
When asked about the new record last week, Nathanson shared that "I kind of feel like I've already done the whole idea of the singer/songwriter. When we started making this record, I was going through a revival of the '80s and listening to bands like Depeche Mode, INXS and Echo and the Bunnymen. I didn't want to be hemmed into being the singer who plays guitar and has a band with me."
In response to that, Nathanson went into the studio with his band and recorded the basic tracks live, then took the album "back to the lab" to add the layers and production.
"I wanted it to be more of an experimental record," he explained, "where the production speaks and is just as important as the songs -- a lot like those records from the '80s that I had been listening to."
The end result finds a solid balance between Nathanson's songwriting and a more expanded, fully produced sound. Fans embraced the album immediately as it debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard album charts (the highest debut of his career) and landed at No. 1 on the iTunes Pop Album chart.
Evolution of Sound.
When asked about his response to the immediate reception, Nathanson admitted that he didn't think about it much. "I'm always really proud and excited when I finish a record, but I kind of felt like I was psyched no matter what happened with it. When you finish a record, you're so excited and exhausted by it at the same time. You put all this effort into it, but by the time you get to the end, the record kind of finishes itself and decides what it wants to be."
"Putting it out is kind of like sending kids off to school," he said. "It's sort of like you raise them the way you think is best and let them go."
Ultimately, Nathanson concluded "It's all about the evolution -- for all of us, but as an artist, you've got these watermark points with your albums that mark where you were.
"That's what's great as an artist," he continued. "You're marking these moments in your life with recorded music that show what and who you are at that point in time."
When addressing how he has grown as an artist over the years, Nathanson reflected that "My evolution? I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's just to make the kind of records that I like. I'm such a fan, I feel like I'm a servant of the music, so musically it's just learning to do that. As a person, it's just about growing. That's why a Tom Waits record is significantly different now than he would have made in his '20s."
Following the June release of Modern Love, Nathanson hit the road once again, beginning with a run of acoustic dates opening for his friends in Sugarland and following it with A summer tour with Train and Maroon 5 which brought Nathanson to Oklahoma City's Zoo Amphitheater in September. A sold-out headline tour of theaters followed in the fall to wrap up the year.
Not one to sit still for long, Nathanson kicked off the 2012 opening for Kelly Clarkson's arena tour, taking him across the country yet again. "We got the Kelly tour and we've got a lot of days off in between, so we decided to go the places we hadn't hit in the fall. So far, it's been a lot of fun."
Those augmenting dates between shows on the Kelly Clarkson tour bring Nathanson to Tulsa for a show at Cain's Ballroom this Sunday night, Feb. 12. When asked what to expect from the current tour, he shared that "It's really diverse. There are so many different records and songs that it changes every night.
"I'll write a set list every night, right before the show," he said. "I write it from scratch, whatever I feel like playing that night, but it inevitably changes as people call songs out and make requests. Like last night, we played in Charlotte (NC) and there were a lot of fans of the older stuff, so we played a lot of that.
"To me, it's kind of like throwing a party. People all bring their own stuff to the party, but you get to orchestrate. It's like 'Put the bean dip over there and the drinks here. Let's put this album on -- this is what we'll listen to next.'
"Our show isn't about people coming to watch and listen and be on the outside," Nathanson explained. "It's all about the human collision -- interacting and the moment where people are all communicating. We can't transcend as a band without everyone's energy, so we try to make sure everyone feels like they're part of it."
That's exactly what has built Nathanson's career and reputation as a great live performer. More than just someone on stage with a guitar singing songs, he consistently engages the audience to make the live show and interactive experience, giving every show a personalized touch, whether it's in a coffeehouse, a theater, an arena or a room like Cain's Ballroom.
In the end, Nathanson referred back to our discussion of evolving as an artist. "I just want to be as honest as possible and hopefully people will identify with that," he said. So far, that's exactly what has happened, as more and more people identify with Nathanson's songs, allowing him to continue grow as an artist and tour continually.
Don't miss your chance to be a part of that human collision that Nathanson referenced when he arrives at Cain's Ballroom with his full band this Sunday night, Feb. 12. Tickets are still available for $28 and Rachel Platten will open the show at 8pm.
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