Matt Nathanson isn't pretending anymore.
On previous albums, the singer-songwriter said he cut personal details from his songs, fearing they wouldn't be understood by a wide audience. But on his eighth studio effort, "The Last of the Great Pretenders," Nathanson isn't holding back.
"With past records I think I kind of rounded the edges off the songs, like references to places and bands and things that I love," Nathanson said. "With this record I kind of taped my inner creative assassin's mouth shut and shoved him in the trunk, so he couldn't get me off course."
It was an easier, more fun way to write, said Nathanson, who is well-known for his platinum hit, "Come On Get Higher."
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Catchy hooks and whimsical lyrics have earned Nathanson a label as the romantic guy with the guitar, something he said he was happy with until recently.
"'Last of The Great Pretenders' was kind of this idea that this is the beginning of me not trying to moderate how I was seen. In this record, it was the first time that I embraced that some songs are romantic and some songs are not," he said.
Nathanson will play at the Music Farm in Charleston on Oct. 22 on his "Last of the Great Pretenders" tour with Joshua Radin as the opening act.
And while Nathanson may no longer present himself as a romantic, "Pretenders," is still full of romance. The album resonates as a lyrical love letter to San Francisco, a place Nathanson adopted as his home in the mid-1990s.
Throughout the CD's relaxed, loose sounds, Nathanson pays homage to the artsy fog city, taking listeners on a walking tour and stopping on each track to show off his favorite haunts. He sings of reading books in a Berkeley basement, lying in the grass beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and riding cable cars out to the Sunset District.
His lyrics bring us Bay Area mornings laced with fog, clanging church bells at Mission Dolores and winks from boys in The Castro (the country's first gay neighborhood).
With bouncy energy, Nathanson peels back the layers of the eclectic city and embraces its openness and eccentricity. In his latest music video for the song "Kinks Shirt," for example, Nathanson entertains the idea of falling in love with a girl who turns out to be transgender.
"Can't stop thinking about the girl in the Kinks shirt/ Take me home, San Francisco," he sings.
"San Francisco is just ... inspiring by just existing," Nathanson said. "It's the most alive I've ever felt in an environment. San Francisco just entered into the creative part of (the CD) because it's just so wildly inspiring on its own. That's how the songs came about, just being so San Francisco-centric."
Nathanson said when he's not touring, he tries to stay at home as much as possible, preferring to spend his time walking, biking, wandering museums and drinking tea in cafes.
Those activities fueled his songwriting and culminated in "Pretenders," which he said has been well-received by fans so far.
"It's been super great. People have been singing all the songs back to us," he said. "And you never know until you're touring, because that's when you get great visual feedback. And that's been happening a ton, and it's been real gratifying."
Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.
OTHER INTERVIEWS BY ARTS & CULTURE REPORTER ERIN SHAW