Talking to Matthew Good can feel like being reprimanded by your high school history teacher. Opinionated, well-spoken and extremely blunt, Good never hesitates to delve into areas of interest not common to most singer-songwriters.
The guy just happens to be a damn fine songwriter as well. Whether fronting his own band, as he did from 1991 to 1995, or as a solo artist, Good's literate take on alternative rock has made him a star in his native Canada. Speaking from a tour stop in Phoenix in anticipation of tonight's gig at the House of Blues, Good shared the differences between Americans and Canadians and how if he wasn't making music, he'd be teaching history.
How's your new son? Isn't his first birthday this week? Yes, it is. Sadly, a week after I left for this tour he said his first word.
What did he say? He asked my wife for his bottle.
You've won a couple of Juno Awards, but you don't go for philosophical reasons. Isn't it reason enough that award shows just suck? Yes, true enough, but I like the scene in Canada. I think it's vibrant. I think my problem is that when it comes to the televised portion, they only hand out four or five awards. At least with the Grammys, you get a real show. The reality of the Juno Awards is that most of them are handed out the night before. And I don't think art should be made into a competition. That only happens in music. Can you imagine that happening in the fine arts? It just doesn't make any fucking sense.
Besides being a musician, you are often referred to as a political activist. Is that a fair assessment? Well, I wouldn't really describe myself as a political activist. I mean, I speak up. I'm just a guy who takes a bit of time to know what goes on in the world. I wouldn't call what I do being a political activist.
Would you ever consider running for office? I've thought about it and talked about it a bit in the press. I would probably rather work for someone who I believed would make a great Prime Minister, someone like Alexandre Trudeau. He is a lot like his father. But he might not even be interested. He'd rather go make documentaries.
Being a Canadian and visiting American often, you have a unique perspective. Why do you think Americans and Canadians see things so differently? I think the two countries have such different histories. How our countries grew was also very different. The population disparity has a great deal to play in it as well. I think that ultimately, the greater answer is the fact that the United States has totally ensconced itself in a militaristic mindset.
Do you think the healthcare system in Canada is better than what we have? Of course the healthcare system is better. Sure, of course it is.The United States is the only industrialized country not to have government-sponsored healthcare. That's something that surprises me, but again, you can talk about that from a cultural standpoint. Healthcare is a big lobby. We've just never had that problem. Like everything else, our system has its flaws.
Is it true that if you weren't a musician, you would be a history professor? Yes, I probably would. My background is in U.S. foreign policy history. One of my biggest areas of interest is history.
How about a music history question? You broke up your own band in 2002. What are the pros and cons of both being in a group and going solo? It didn't really matter because even when I was in a band, I pretty much wrote everything. I think the biggest difference was you had to gather everyone around and get their input on everything. Subsequently, a big argument would occur. The reality was that no one in the band really got along. When you are a solo artist, you get to pretty much do whatever you want. I do everything myself. You can concentrate on the songs rather than look for your identity within a musical conglomerate. Sometimes that works well and sometimes it doesn't.
Is it liberating going solo or do you miss the back and forth with other musicians? No, I like doing it by myself better.
Do you still see those T-shirts at your shows that say, "I Heard Matt Good is a Real Asshole"? Oh yes, some people have those from the old days.That was an interesting phenomenon. What happened was that I did an interview with this newspaper. In the interview, the guy said I was an asshole. I thought it was pretty funny. We were playing a show in Ontario and I asked my management if we could have a small order of T-shirts made up with that on them.They sold out in 15 minutes.Then it was made into a bumper sticker. It wasn't something that was planned. It was something that I wanted to do at a show 13 years ago. And it ended up sticking around.
I think your best solo effort is 2007's Hospital Music. You wrote those songs during a very difficult period in your life. Do you think your sadness at the time contributed to the poignancy of the music? I can't say that depression fuels creativity in all artists. Creativity is intrinsic in all artists. I think that in a lot of cases, artistic people can have a two-sided personality. All of my records reflect on periods of my life. I am into heavy self-examination.
Matthew Good performs with Emily Greene tonight at the House of Blues.
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