Singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson says he believes dorks rule the world.
“It’s all about the dorks,” he said, “I think everybody I’ve ever met who’s cool, was never cool.”
While the term ‘dork’ is fairly subjective, there’s no doubt Nathanson is reaching out and appealing to a more educated crowd, lining up several tour dates at university campuses throughout the country.
“Especially on the East Coast, colleges have been really supportive,” he said. “It’s great because it’s the most concentrated group of passionate music listeners.”
On Saturday, GW will get an opportunity to hear Nathanson do what he does best when he performs at this year’s Fall Fest, a large, evening concert held annually on University Yard. While his music’s hummable, his storyteller quality does little to chart any unprecedented musical territory. The sensitive songster has built a name for himself with the unique rhythm of his live shows, weaving a relaxed, often outrageous sense of humor with intimate confessions over a strumming, 12-string guitar.
“To be able to bounce something off human beings makes it so easy,” he explains. “That’s sort of what I’m trying to do with the records.”
Nathanson, a former English major at Pitzer College in California, says he places significant value on a writer’s ability to cut loose. His website, which receives well over a million hits per month, contains multiple chat forums and a journal page that allows Nathanson to share his off-beat ruminations in a casual environment.
In his most recent post, Nathanson described years of his acknowledged uncoolness. “I was never as bad as the kid who ate paste,” he writes. However, in a later Hatchet interview, Nathanson admitted sampling other school supplies. “Maybe I’ve eaten a crayon,” he said. “But it’s much more acceptable to eat a crayon than it is to eat paste.”
The journal entry lists other behaviors to avoid if you want to be cool in college. “I felt like I was an expert in what not to do,” he said, laughing. Still, Nathanson defends without doubt that there are more worthwhile causes to which one should devote time and energy, rather than simply trying to be cool.
“Being cool in college is the worst thing you could be. In college, you just want to be you!” he exclaimed.
Describing an overall positive experience, he said, “College is a pretty kick-ass place. It’s the most concentrated time you get to indulge yourself in figuring out who you want to be and focus your attention on what you’re passionate about before you have to go and deal with things like paying your rent.”
In the exploration of his emotions, Nathanson admits his songs tend to gravitate towards a darker side.
“For some reason the baggage I have from my uncool high school years always seems to transform the songs so much. I don’t know why. But I think I’m attracted to the sadness of things because it’s a lot easier to delve into that feeling long enough to write a song about it,” he said.
Despite the candid nature of his writing, Nathanson later expressed concerns about the stifling power of his inhibitions, listing it as a common dilemma in the creative process.
“I’d like to get less caught up in the details and more caught up in the emotions. As someone who’s life it is to create, I’d love to get to the point where it’s like well-developed muscle, so that writing just comes out easy without so much self-consciousness,” he said.
His sixth and most recent release, Beneath the Fireworks, was produced through a concerted thread of simplicity, allowing Nathanson to cleanly reflect his past through honest words and a muted guitar. “This record was the best experience I’d had letting go and getting in touch with the artistic side of making a record. There’s a beauty in letting go and letting the music happen naturally. And I’m always trying to move closer and closer to that idea, whether it’s in the creation of the art, or the execution of it, making a record,” he said.
Preferring a rigorous, 10-month-a-year tour schedule to standard commercial promotion with past records, this is Nathanson’s first release on a major label.
“This was the first time the opportunity came up and I didn’t feel like I was going to lose out on anything,” he said. “I had enough leverage because I’d been touring independently for so long that I was just able to be like, ‘This is what I want to do’ and they were like, ‘Ok.”
In a live performance, Nathanson is known for his ability to neatly package his emotions within the context of each song and periodically shed his skin with hilarious anecdotes, ridiculous covers and ad hoc conversation. In some cases, such erratic behavior might warrant psychiatric counseling. However, for Nathanson, it’s all part of the act.