On his latest album, July’s “Last of the Great Pretenders,” singer Matt Nathanson opens with the lyric, “I’d kill anyone who’d treat you as bad as I do.” With it, the 40-year-old artist announces his eighth full-length record is clearly different than the others.
With songs that take place chronologically from mid-summer to New Year’s Eve, “Pretenders” feels like a page from Nathanson’s personal journal. Through complex lyrics, the album engages emotionally and brings to light Nathanson’s grittier, deeper side. He sings about everything in his life, from the beauty of San Francisco to the ugliness of people he has hurt.
Before his sold-out Rams Head Live concert on Friday, Nathanson discussed the new album, staying honest and the waitress who inspired the song “Kinks Shirt.”
With the success of your 2011 album “Modern Love,” did you feel a sense of pressure when creating this album?
I’ve made eight or nine records, and for some reason it finally clicked that any anxiety and pressure that I put on myself just really didn’t help the process. Even if it was a subconscious pressure with this record, I worked really hard with the idea of not getting in the way of the creative process, and not trying to make the songs be anything other than what they were. So it was kind of freeing. … I tried real hard with this record to just stay in my gut. I like to call it the “inner creative assassin” that lives in my head, and I pretty much Duct-taped his mouth and stuck him in the trunk of the car.
This is your eighth album. Has anything about songwriting process changed over they ears?
I like to think I’m getting better at it, but I have no idea. Some of my early records make me want to shoot myself in the eyes and ears when I hear them, like physically make me want to remove my ears from my head when I listen to some of my old records. And the last couple records, I can listen to all the way through. So at least, I feel like I’m becoming more tolerant of myself as a songwriter.
On a few of the new songs, you talk about the repercussions of pushing the people you love away and keeping everyone at arm’s length. What’s changed in your life that helped you start letting those people in?
I have a daughter. She’s 3, and that kind of changed the game. I hate when people are like, “I had kids, and I realized what always was,” but you totally … it changed my perception of what’s important. So, I think that having my daughter was like, a huge, huge part of that.
You wrote “Kinks Shirt” about a waitress you fell in love with in your head, without ever telling her how you felt. Have you spoken to the girl who inspired “Kinks Shirt” since?
No, but a fan of mine did a San Francisco tour using my record as a map. She would go to all the places in the songs that I talked about specifically. … I did an interview in USA Today, and I might have given the address and the name of the coffee shop where [the waitress] works, and so this woman ended her tour in San Francisco – she would send me pictures on Twitter, that’s how I know she was doing it – and in the final picture, she was like, “Look who I found!” And I was like, “Oh [expletive].” My life went into slow motion. I was like, “Oh no,” and I clicked on it, and it was this fan and the beautiful waitress, so apparently now she knows that the song’s about her, and I can never go back. New coffee shop time!
In the past you’ve been known to add comedy into your shows. Where does your sense of humor come from, and can we expect any of that at Rams Head Live?
I like to think of my shows as I’m throwing a big party at my house, and everybody comes, and so it’s all about telling funny stories, and making people laugh because that just puts me at ease, to sort of have a rapport with the audience. It feels less like, “Watch me play music for you” and more like, “What’s up friends, let me tell you this funny story that happened today. I went to the bathroom in the ladies room in the supermarket and the manager followed me out.” It’s fun to relate parts of my [life], and on tour lots of crazy stuff happens, so there’s always stories to tell every night.
Plus, it makes it easier to ride the white Bengal tiger out in my loincloth, too, because it can really scare people when you ride a live animal out. And I also have a cannon that I wear around my waist that shoots fire, so you know, I can’t just come out and do that. I gotta break the fourth wall. I don’t want to singe people’s hair and scare them. I feel like I should try to one-up Kate Perry with those whipped-cream bras, so I’m going with a jock strap that shoots fire.
INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED.
If you go
Matt Nathanson performs Friday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plane Live. Joshua Radin will also perform. The show is sold out.