San Francisco rocker Matt Nathanson just couldn’t stay out of the studio. Over the course of three years he kept recording then returning, reworking and tinkering with tunes before heading out on tour. As soon as those tours ended, he’d be back in the studio reexamining his work, stripping it down and starting over. Finally, as the 36-month mark approached, his manager tried to intervene and break the cycle.
“By the end of it my manager was like, ‘Don’t go back. Trust me, it’s fine,’” Nathanson says. “I felt I had to get it right though. I’ve made probably six albums before this where I got near the end and then be like ‘That’s good enough. Let’s go.’ Or I would be extremely malleable to other people’s opinions and wrap things up. I had an inexhaustible need to get this record right.”
In Nathanson’s eyes, the persistence paid off and the final result, Some Mad Hope, which hit stores in mid-August of this year, is exactly what he wanted.
“When I was done, I felt that this was the best I could do. This is what all of my other records were trying to be,” he says. “I ended up in a stronger spot. I get it now. It’s like, if you exercise this muscle, it gets stronger. I can dig that.”
The finished product pulses with pop-rock tunes of the sort that populate TV series teasers and take flight to the peak of the Top 40. Nathanson’s songs buzz with well-mannered distortion and hum with harmony-laden choruses that often inspire an impulse to spread your arms wide and sing along.
The tone of those choruses is often a rejuvenating reversal from the songs’ surrounding parts. Time and again on Some Mad Hope, Nathanson leads the listener down a dimly lit path with woeful verses before lighting off with a buoyant and ebullient refrain. It’s a pattern that holds on lead track “Car Crash” and again on the similarly radio-ready tune “Gone.”
Nathanson didn’t have to look far for inspiration, basing the ballads-turned-rebirths off of his personal experiences.
“I’m not super good at the fiction writing,” says Nathanson. “Whatever your job is, it will mirror where you’re at in your life. When you’re writing a song from zero, your personal experience is totally influential. This is the last few years of my life put into album form.”
What is absent from the album is Nathanson’s charming sense of humor. That quality is apparent from the start of the interview when he discusses his recent education of Canadian Thanksgiving following a show in Toronto and continues when discussing his MySpace post hyping his band’s choreographed dance moves.
“We’ve been known to do The Caterpillar,” Nathanson says. “Sometimes in the middle of the set we’ll take a break, throw some linoleum down on the floor and just have a full on dance-off.”
While the dance moves may be a bit facetious, Nathanson does have a habit of flaunting his fun-loving side even more in concert. He’s been known to stray from his own songbook in the past and cover a Kiss tune or two, obtaining an appreciation for hair metal while growing up in Boston.
“I think there’s hair metal in the water in New England,” Nathanson says.
D.C. audiences get the opportunity to observe next Thursday, Oct. 18 when he plays an early show at 9:30 Club with Melee and Ingrid Michaelson.
Fans may want to pounce on this immediate opportunity to see him, given the length of time it took to kick out Some Mad Hope … and also because of his current idea for his next album.
“I’m thinking about taking it in a different direction,” he says, humorously. “I’m thinking about singing through a paper horn while kicking a cat.”
For the cat’s sake, hopefully that album won’t take three years to complete.
• For more on Matt Nathanson, visit www.mattnathanson.com. Tickets to Thursday’s show are $18 with doors opening at 5 p.m.