by john oates | January 23, 2012 | People
Matt Nathanson’s single “Come on Get Higher” has recently topped the charts
Matt Nathanson, who has been touring his new album Modern Love with Train and Maroon 5, takes time to talk with John Oates about the Aspen Song Writers Festival, structuring a classic song, and social media.
JOHN OATES: Tell me about the state of pop music today.
MATT NATHANSON: There used to be a balance between entertainment and art. Lately there’s an imbalance, with a few exceptions like Adele or Mumford & Sons. I remember being in college and seeing U2 and ’N Sync, it was a total cross section. But now entertainment has flooded pop music and cannibalized the space. It feels unbalanced.
JO: It seems like pop music has been reduced to a series of jingles, tied together by clever pro-tools production.
MN: The best example of this is Katy Perry. You see Katy Perry’s name on the same line [in terms of albums sold] as Michael Jackson’s, but that can’t be… Thriller, those songs, the performances, the craft that went into that? Music is about the collision of human beings capturing moments. Now everybody is relating via text and Twitter and Facebook, and becoming more insular. Music being played on pop radio is mirroring that.
JO: You have an old soul, though you’re totally contemporary. When you came up to the Aspen Songwriters Festival you got on stage with just an acoustic guitar and made those songs entertain, communicate, and resonate. That’s old-school. I think you’ve got a foot in both worlds.
MN: That’s the way songs should be. If songs can’t hold up by themselves, then they’re not worth doing. I always feel like I’m one step away from having to rent a car and tour coffee houses.
JO: Over the years Daryl [Hall] and I have gone back and stripped a lot of our big pop songs down, and then we go out and play them on acoustic guitar and they still work. It’s the litmus test of a song.
MN: You guys are a great example: Impeccably structured songs are timeless and when they’re built lyrically and melodically, they’re built to last.
JO: What qualities make a song do that?
MN: I have no idea. If I did I’d be sitting here trying to write timeless songs. I don’t know what makes [The Temptations’] “My Girl” or [Procol Harum’s] “Whiter Shade of Pale” work.
JO: Did you always want to be a pop star?
MN: I always wanted to play music. Most of my life was spent listening to heavy metal, but then there was a switch to new folk, like Tracy Chapman. Suddenly I started to understand that there was more to lyrics than “Like gasoline you want to pump me” and it became intimate.
JO: Tell me about your experience at the Aspen Songwriters Festival.
MN: I regret not coming earlier. I got here, walked over to the venue, read the wall of people, and thought, Why didn’t I come here three days ago, camp out, and go to every one of these shows? What you’re bringing to Aspen is the antithesis of what we’re dealing with in pop music, it’s the antidote.
JO: People have been saying they’ve never experienced anything like your show with Donovan. We’d love to have you back this March.
MN: I would love to come back. Aspen is special.
photography by Myriam Santos