A Day in the Life of a Musician
By: Nicole Roberge
Singer-Songwriter and Universal Recording artist Matt Nathanson has toured the country with his prolific assortment of candid songs and dynamic personality. He has visited St. A’s twice in the coffee shop and astounded students with his talent at songwriting and incredible stage presence. He recently recorded a cover of the James song “Laid” for the “American Wedding” Soundtrack, which also appeared in the beginning and credits in the movie. That was recorded with cellist Matt Fish, who is also his touring companion now, giving their music an innovative style and helping him to stand apart from the “typical” singer-songwriter. If you were not fortunate enough to catch Matt Nathanson’s show on campus, you may have seen him elsewhere on the road touring with John Mayer, Howie Day, O.A.R. or Train, to mention a few. He was signed to Universal Records last year and will release his debut album, “Beneath These Fireworks,” on October 14 of this year. Matt was kind enough to let me shadow him for the day on September 9, where he was playing a show at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts. Emm Gryner, who played here in the coffee shop on September 3, was opening the show. My quest to find out what a day in the life of a musician was like was fulfilled when I hopped on board with Matt Nathanson to see what his typical day involved, which included shoe shopping, getting lost, and putting on an amazing show.
- Slept in late
- Matt Fish (cellist, who I will now affectionately refer to as “Fish”, as to avoid any confusion with “Matt”) and Jeremy Young (tour manger) were in one hotel room. Watched videos of the twin towers on CBS.
- Matt Nathanson in another room. Watched Frasier Checked email.
- Went to “Whole Foods” for lunch. Matt and Fish had sushi, Jeremy had a salad.
- Harvard Square, Cambridge, Ma.
- Matt bought a sweater at Urban Outfitters.
- Came up with a tshirt idea: “El Musico de Mateo es Muy Caliente!” with a little man holding fire in the middle.
- “This is a Shopping Day”
- I arrive in Harvard Square
- Meet Jeremy outside of “Berk’s Shoes and Clothing”
- Matt and Fish are trying on sneakers and have a hard time deciding which to get. Matt comments, “Sneakers are so much cooler than shoes,” and really hopes to find a new pair. At first he has a pair of mustard Sacuony’s, but isn’t sure if he likes them. He asks me if I got John’s (Mayer) new cd. I tell him I did and he says he did also, along with Seal, but has not listened to either yet. He then finds a pair of black and red Saucony’s that he likes a lot. If they fit he says he will definitely get them.
- Only has seven minutes left to shop (must depart at 4:30). The store is busy and he has not been waited on yet. He finally gets his size and tries them on. He asks our opinion and then decides to get them. “These would be a new addition, and I’m not talking about Bobby Brown.” Matt buys the shoes and Fish and I wait for him inside while Jeremy goes outside. Matt wants to go to Starbucks. Knows that there is a Dunkin’ Donuts across the street though. Comments on how he loves donuts, but that it would be so much better if they had the nutrition of apples. Perhaps instead of spending money on sending people to space, we should find people to create a donut as healthy as apples. He decides to pursue it after music.
- Starbucks is on the way to the van, so Matt stops there first.
- Depart Harvard Square en route to Wentworth Institute of Technology. (Scheduled arrival time is 5 p.m.)
-I follow their white van (while realizing apparently everyone in Boston drives a white van.) I get a nice tour of Boston as we get lost, and almost get in a few accidents as well as almost getting hit by a train. He asks a few random people on the street how to get to the college. After many turns, and turnarounds, we get in the Wentworth vicinity and then I lose them. I call Jeremy and he tells me to park anywhere I can and then go to the Shell station. I park near Simmons College and then wait at the Shell Station. The venue is a block away.
- “We get lost, we get shoes, this is what we do.”-Matt
-They find the venue and park the van. Jeremy tells me that, “We decided in the van that your life is much more exciting than ours. We get lost, we drive around. Matt had it right when he said, ‘Nicole’s really getting a taste of what the touring life is really like…getting lost.’”
- Unload (2 guitars, 1 cello, stands, merch, bags, power strip, pedals, etc.)
- The venue is an auditorium with a stage in the front and then folding chairs set up on the floor with a soundboard in back. Matt is on the phone discussing business regarding the website and release of the CD. Matt and Fish are taking their things out and setting them on the stage.
- Test lights, power.
- Microphone problem
- Matt sets up and his microphone and realizes, “This microphone smells like feet now that I washed it.” He talks to the sound guy and asks if he has any mouthwash. He says he can get some from a friend. Matt tells him if it’s a huge problem not to worry about it. The sound guy says it’s not far and he’d go get some for him. Matt tells me, “We get lost, we get shoes, this is what we do.”
- Discuss John Mayer’s new album, “Heavier Things.”
- Matt said they listened to the new Mayer album on the ride over and were a little surprised with it. They found that it sounds “older” and more Sting- like. Then they played the new Seal album and they sound exactly the same.
- John Mayer “Bigger Than My Body” Impressions
- Matt sings a little Mayer, doing some impressions with the new single. He then makes some phone calls and checks his voicemail. To his surprise, he has a message regarding the new album and finds out someone got an early release of the CD that shouldn’t have. He then has another voicemail where he finds out some disagreeable news regarding the show.
- Setup stage
- Talk about pulling fire alarm.
- Matt explains how when he was young, he was told if he pulled the fire alarm, then it would squirt red ink at him. Always wondered if he could still pull it but stand to the side so he wouldn’t get ink on him. Now he realizes, it was all a lie.
- A couple of fans come in and ask if the show is open to the public. Matt tells them to come anyway and puts them on his guest list.
- Equipment problems
- They begin to have problems with the cables causing the cello to have feedback. While they’re trying to figure out the sound, the guy shows up with the mouthwash for Matt. They realize the sound problems are stemming from Fish’s pickup in his cello. Matt calls the Music Emporium in Lexington for a new Fishman pickup. Since they have the day off tomorrow they could pick it up in the morning. The store tells them that the distributor is near by and they might be able to have one for them. The store opens at 11 a.m.
- “Let’s do sound check.”
- Emm Gryner, who is opening the show, arrives with Dana, the cello player who is accompanying her. Matt begins his sound check with the song “Church Clothes” and they have trouble again.
- A few students sneak in early to watch sound check.
- Matt continues sound checking while making up a song for Matt Fish. Jeremy comes up to the stage and Matt tells them that tomorrow will be an early, play it by ear sort of day. He then goes over all the music store info.
- Soundcheck is running late so Matt asks Jeremy when doors are. Jeremy tells him 7 and that the show is at 8 but they can push them back. Matt tells him not to push it back. Dana tells Fish she has a Fishman pickup that he can use.
- (doors supposed to open)
- Matt Fish gets situated, and then they sound check Matt and Fish together with “Lucky Boy.” They still aren’t sure if the sound is ok so they test only the monitors because they sound a little fuzzy.
- Matt switches guitars to sound check his 12-string while Fish stands in the audience to help him check.
- Matt finishses sound check and apologizes to everyone for it taking so long. He gets off stage and Fish checks his cello a little more. Dana comes on stage and Fish shows Dana his setup so she can use it.
- Matt goes to his dressing room upstairs and Emm beings her sound check.
- Dressing Room
- I go up to the dressing room (large room—couches, pool table, ping pong table, big screen tv, chairs, a table set up with food and drinks, desks, Boston and Fenway Posters), where Matt is having an interview with two Wentworth students. Matt talks about touring, 80’s music, Bon Jovi, his wife, how he worked for 8 years after college and couldn’t wait to tour— then realized once you’re on tour, you want to be home. You always want to be in the place you’re not. He told the interviewers that if he weren’t a musician, he’d be an English teacher, probably teaching literature because he loves short stories and poetry. Interviewer tells him that she thinks they are soul mates. She asks him what his favorite song to play is. He tells her that he has no favorite…he likes newer songs he hasn’t had much experience with or older songs he can pull out and surprise himself with.
- Fish enters the dressing room.
- Matt continues interview. Talks about the “American Wedding” Soundtrack that he did a remake of the Jame’s song, “Laid,” for. He asks if they mind if he eats and then goes to the food table for snacks, though wonders how long the hummus has been left out. The interviewer tells him that every girl on campus wants to know how it feels to be the new “it” boy? He tells her, “I didn’t know I was the “it” boy. I’m flattered, but I don’t believe it.” She tells him that she searched for him on websites before the interview but couldn’t find any facts except how hot he was. She says it’s probably a lot of 12-year-old girls talking on the websites. He tells her that he wishes those girls were around when he was 12.
- She then asks where he was born. He tells her at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and that he grew up in Lexington. (He currently lives in San Francisco, California) “My Mom thought I was early menopause.”
- They each have a copy of his most recent CD and ask if he can sign in it. He signs the CD’s for them and then they take some pictures together.
- Interviewers leave
- Matt talks to Emm and they discuss the hotel situation. The college gives him 2 rooms and there was confusion as to whether Emm was staying with them or not. They don’t have as much room as she though so she decides to stay in Providence. She then begins to write her setlist.
- Emm is scheduled to be on stage. Pushed back to 8:15-8:45
- Matt begins to write his set list and Fish comes in. Matt sits for a while and has trouble writing his setlist. He tells Jeremy, “I want a set builder where I can just put all my songs in and it spits songs out.” Jeremy tells him that they have those and they arrange songs according to tempo and everything, but only on Macs.
- Students bring in juice and water and Matt continues to write his set list. Fish has some snacks and Jeremy setups up his computer. Matt is still having trouble writing his setlist and says he can’t ever remember what songs he played before or what songs he could play and how he hates it when your mind fails you.
- Matt sings Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” while contemplating the setlist. He then goes over the hotel situation again with Jeremy. Fish tells Matt, “This is going to be a Stillwater situation…with Nicole.” Matt says, “Yeah, she’s gonna write, “Life on the road with Matt Nathanson is total pain and suffering.”
- Matt and Fish then discuss “Universal” and the label situation, what they cover, what they don’t.
- Emm goes on stage
- Matt continues to write set list and Fish warms up his cello. Jeremy comes in; Matt asks how the crowd is. They then discuss when Matt will do his solo songs without Fish. Matt’s still worried about the hotel situation-“It’s just disappointing when you let people down, especially when you don’t mean to.”
- Jeremy asks how the interview went. He tells Matt all he heard was that he’s the new “It” boy. Matt tells him, “If I’m the new ‘it’ boy, that’s wrong.”
- Matt—downstairs to the bathroom and to get ready for the show.
- Continues writing set list—“This is the hardest part for some reason. I don’t want to bore them with the same songs every night. I try to mix it up, but then they’ll yell for the same songs I always play, so I have to change the setlist again (during the show). I give him some ideas, he moves stuff around, and then writes some new lyrics on his arm.
- Changes strings - does this every night
- Says that he’s played his 12 string enough so that tonight he’ll break a string. His nightly routine consists of soundcheck, writing the setlist (difficult), and changing strings. “Touring is a lot of the same thing all of the time…except we change our clothes.”
- Emm Gryner off stage.
- Matt discusses opening shows versus headlining shows. Opening shows, he says, are easier because they’re 30-45 minutes sets and you have to try to get the crowd on your side, but headlining shows are fun because everyone who is there usually knows your music.
- I head downstairs with Jeremy, and Matt stays in the dressing room. Jeremy goes on stage to make sure everything is set, and then Fish comes up and sets his stuff up on stage, hooks up his cello and leaves. I setup on the side of the stage, which gives a better view of their perspective of the show.
Showtime-“Welcome to the Church basement”
- Matt onstage- He opens by saying “Welcome to the Church Basement..good to be here, just you me and Jesus.” He first notices that one of the monitors was turned over. He flips it over and then realizes that it’s making noises and asks the sound guy, “Could I have less sex in my monitor. More celibacy. It’s shakin’ my nuts.”
- first song- “Miracles.”
- Monitor out again. “This is what happens when you rock so hard. That’s what Emm Gryner does to the equipment.”
- “Church Clothes”
- Matt Fish comes on stage
- Matt asks Fish if he wants to test first. Fish plays one note and says he’s good. Matt calls him bionic, and has a little banter on the bionic woman and hearing porpoises in one ear but not the other.
- Matt tells audience, “I’m slowly massaging you into rock fever. This is what’s before the group explosion—the big O.”
- Gives an intro to the next song. Tells them it’s a lie because he’s sick of telling the truth. When he was younger he was every girls best friend. Gave someone friendship beads one and she threw them out. Now she’s jealous because he’s playing here in the church basement.
- “In this song the girl is complete except she can’t have me sexually in her life.”
- Monitor still messing up: “It’s because of the Jesus Joke. You’re my man JC…Get shit working.”
- Matt plays with some of the cables. The technician comes up—“He’s like MacGyver, ‘I’ve got chewing gum and a paper plate, I can totally make this work.’”
- Tells audience it’s a submerged sound, like they’re underwater. “Which is cool…if you’re SpongeBob Square Pants.”
- “Sad Songs”
- Fish comments on how he is cold. Matt says he is hot, and sweating like a crack whore. Intros the next song as one “about a girl who was sorry about something after the fact.”
- Lost Myself In Search of You
- Matt tells Fish they’re playing “Laid.” Matt asks the audience if they’ve seen “American Wedding.” He tells them how they recorded a cover of the James song “Laid” in a day for the soundtrack and it also ended up on the movie. Matt tells them that the song includes his favorite third line ever. “Rarely is there a third line that stands on its own like it could be in a billboard or a bumper sticker—it never gets old.”
- Matt comments on how, “My pants are coming down.” Some girls scream. “No, no, it’s because there’s no ass. Just my legs coming together.”
- At the third line, “She only comes when she’s on top,” everyone applauds. .
- Fish leaves stage so Matt can do a couple by himself.
- Matt talks about how everyone’s always upset when Fish leaves the stage.
- Asks if there are any songs anyone wants to hear. People yell songs out and Matt tells them they are the jury and should tell him what to do. They decide to do a quiet song and then rock. Matt puts the capo on the the 7th fret and then says, “Tell me what key this is in, jury.” Someone yells “6th.” Matt says, “I think you’re right.” And moves the capo to the 6th fret. He dubs the next song as his anal retentive anthem.
- “Then I’ll Be Smiling”
- “Wide Eyed and Full”
- A string breaks right at the end of the song. Fish comes back on stage and Matt changes to his 12-string guitar. He asks the audience if they want to do a sing along. He tells them it’s a Prince song-“Starfish and Coffee.” Also comments on how Prince is a little man, elfish, like a Keebler Elf. “Starfish and Coffee,” he says, is the chant the elves do when they make the cookies.
- Matt then starts playing Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Asks the audience what the first line is. He goes up to the front of the stage, plays the music, and has a girl in the audience sing it. “You don’t know the funk, we’ll make funk up.” He then goes back and sings the chorus and then does an Eminem banter/impression.
- Starfish and Coffee(Prince) > Stayin’ Alive(Bee Gees) > Starfish and Coffee
- Matt tells audience they’ll do a couple more. People begin to yell for songs. Matt asks them if he can tell them something. First, he tells them the story of the fire alarms and how they don’t really squirt red ink. “Has anyone else ever heard the myth? There’s no Santa, no tooth fairy, ask your Moms and Dads. It’s some weird kid stealing your teeth.”
“Ok, the second thing. Yesterday we had a show at Endicott College. I have these unique shoes that are green and orange. I went to do a #2. I thought it was a private bathroom. And #2 is a moment where things could get a little weird. You don’t want to know who did it. A kid came in to pee, with brown shoes. He pees and runs. Doesn’t wash his hands. After the show I look at everyone’s feet. The last kid to come up to me was the one who put the show on. Our eyes meet then go down to each other’s feet and we realize what’s going on. He just says, ‘Can I get you anything else.’ I’m totally shitting in the hotel from now on.”
- “Lucky Boy”
- Matt asks audience if they want to do another sing along. Everyone cheers and he tells them that he loves the enthusiasm. A kid gets up and leaves and Matt says, “oh thanks, leave when we’re doing a sing along…He probably has to pee.” Someone in the audience yells, “or #2!”
- The sing along is to his own song, “Answering Machine.” He tells them that they don’t make sense but were written when he thought it would be rock and roll and now, “we spoon in a Courtyard by the Marriott watching the ”Ya Ya Sisterhood.” He tells them the lyrics and the audience sings. He calls them his “Angels of Boston.” “I sing the counter harmony and it’s like we’re having sex. If you want to do it PG—it’s like we’re having ice cream together…naked.”
- “Answering Machine”
-During the song, Matt tells Fish that it’s a little out of tune.
- Matt thanks everyone for coming out. Thanks Emm Gryner for opening, supports buying her cd at the merch table. Thanks them again and leaves stage. The audience gives him a standing ovation. Matt heads up to the dressing room while downstairs the audience hangs around. Some go to the merch table and other’s hang around waiting to see Matt and already have things ready for Matt to sign
- Fish, Emm and Dana have dinner in the dressing room
- Matt goes downstairs to sign things, take pictures, chat with fans. People talk about shows they have seen him at or upcoming shows they are going to. Many people get CD’s signed. One student takes down a big poster that was used to advertise the show, in which Matt has to lay it out on the ground and sign it. The student whose mouthwash Matt used for the microphone comes up to him with the mouthwash bottle and has him sign it. Matt hangs around until he’s had a chance to talk to every single fan.
- Emm unloads and Matt helps her take stuff out. There are still some students and fans just hanging around.
- Emm says she’s leaving and Matt begins to unload. Some students help take out the merch and Jeremy beings to load up the van.
- Matt says goodbye to Emm.
- They finish loading the van and Matt eats dinner with the students. He then talks with the students and fans about when he booked shows in college—they had Soundgarden, Rage, and Ani Difranco, all of which had small turnouts. Ani played for only 15 people. They then talk about how the show went. The girl who put on the show thanks him and tells him it’s the best turnout they’ve had for a show and how many people have been telling her to book him. He then discusses his new shoes and tells them—“I have my new shoes on that I…that ‘we’ bought today. They’re comfortable. I thought I’d bounce right over the mic.”
- Matt and Fish joke around with the students and then start to do yoga poses. Fish drops his food on the ground, and Matt tells him it looks like a nut—“How do those nuts taste? Damn, I love testicles.”
- Matt goes upstairs to get his things from the dressing room and then comes back down and takes some pictures with the programming board.
- Students remain inside to clean up etc. while Matt, Fish, Jeremy and I depart
- Matt, Fish and Jeremy put the rest of their stuff in the van and depart for the hotel.
From my “day in the life of a musician,” I realized that it’s not just as simple as hopping on stage and playing a few songs. Though Matt & co. claimed it’s boring, I found that it’s a lot more stressful that I thought and a lot more goes into the day than just arriving at the venue and playing the show. There are also things to be done before the show—dealing with the schools, management, labels etc. It’s not all just shoe shopping and getting lost, and I was glad to see that they were able to have a little relaxation earlier in the day. When I arrived back at St. A’s, I was exhausted. I can’t imagine how Matt Nathanson, a touring musician, can do that night after night and still have the energy and enthusiasm that he possesses on stage, and still put on an incredible show musically. To be away from home for that long, tour night after night, and still stick around to say hi to every single fan, sign something, or take pictures with them shows a huge amount of dedication and that he really is the “It” boy. A big thank you to Matt Nathanson, Matt Fish and Jeremy Young for putting up with me for the day and allowing me to see what life is like in their (new) shoes. I must give them a lot of credit for what they are doing, especially because they do it so well. Thank you also to Zeitgeist Artist Management, as well as Cat Manning for her help.
If you are not familiar with Matt Nathanson’s music, please visit www.mattnathanson.com. One would be hard pressed to find a musician as talented and endearing as he is. He is a true gem in today’s mix of music and will not disappoint you.