Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Matt Nathanson left his accent in Boston

Despite having grown up in suburban Boston, Matt Nathanson doesn’t sound like he is from Massachusetts. However, Nathanson is touring behind his latest album, “Boston Accent.”

Perhaps the amiable singer-songwriter doesn’t drop his R’s since he left New England in 1991 for Southern California.

“I couldn’t wait to get away from where I grew up,” Nathanson said by phone from Houston. “That’s not uncommon. But for me, I had to get away.”

Nathanson, 49, left his accent in Boston and found his heart in San Francisco, where he has called home since 1995.

“What I love about San Francisco is that during the summer it feels like New England during autumn,” Nathanson said. “I love fall in New England. It feels like autumn for eight months out of the year in San Francisco and so I’m in heaven. I love the sadness of the fall.”

The City by the Bay’s weather connects with Nathanson’s comfort in the melancholy.

“That’s why I love the work of recording artists like the Red House Painters, American Music Club and early Chris Isaak. There’s something about those gloomy songs.”

Nathanson, who will perform Saturday at the Knitting Factory, can become gloomy as well and it’s all over his terrific 2018 break up album, “Sings His Sad Heart.” The moving “Mine” kicks off the heartbreak and is bookended by the aptly titled closing cut “Sadness.”

“There is nothing like love songs,” Nathanson said.

Nathanson grew up on such material during the ’80s and he took copious notes while as a teenager enamored of R.E.M. and U2.

“(REM vocalist) Michael Stipe almost never used the word ‘love’ in a song,” Nathanson said. “Yes, he used it in ‘The One I Love,’ which is one of the darkest love songs ever, but aside from that, he didn’t use the word ‘love’ in R.E.M. songs. A producer once told me that he suggested that Stipe use the word ‘love’ in a particular R.E.M. song since it fit perfectly but Stipe declined.”

U2, who Nathanson has experienced live more than 60 times, has become an obsession.

“My favorite love song from U2 is ‘Promenade,’ if that counts as a love song,” Nathanson said. “That feels like a love song to me. The lyrics Bono wrote for ‘Achtung Baby’ kill me. The lyrics from that album were honest in a Tom Waitsy sort of way.”

There is one necessary ingredient for Nathanson’s love songs.

“That’s honesty,” Nathanson said. “Melodies are so much fun. You can get caught up in chord changes when writing a song but they are secondary to honesty.”

There are so many love songs in Nathanson’s deep catalog but he might be shifting gears in terms of new content.

“I think I might be past the unrequited part of my life since I’m almost 50,” Nathanson said. “I’ve gone to therapy for a long time and my mother died and that was helpful, not her death but the therapy.”

Nathanson didn’t speak with his mother during the last dozen years of her life.

“My mother wasn’t very good with children, who became adults and had autonomy and were her equals,” Nathanson said. “But I’m at a point in which I’ve grown through therapy. I look at life differently now.

“There is beauty in everything. Every minute there’s something. I’ve learned to appreciate the chaos. I have a song called ‘Pictures’ and it’s about being older and wiser. I don’t want to close up. I want to keep growing and I want to continue to learn. I’ve learned a lot about myself through therapy.”

Nathanson’s therapy is touring. “It’s definitely helped me getting out and playing before crowds again. It’s not ideal right now where we are since ticket sales are a little wonky. Things are weird in my industry just like it is in any other business. We have too many people on the road with not enough resources. But it’s better than it was when we were in lock down.”

Nathanson wrote and recorded many songs while sequestered in 2020. “I have a backlog of new songs and covers I have to sift through and figure out what songs I’ll put into the world.”