ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 30, 1999
Matthew Good is doing pretty well for a guy who was lugging stuff around in the shipping-and-receiving department of Army & Navy six years ago. His band’s 1997 album, Underdogs, has gone way past platinum in Canada, having sold roughly 140,000 copies so far. And now the 28-year-old Coquitlam native is taking another shot at Canuck-rock glory with Beautiful Midnight, which entered the Georgia Straight Top 50 at No. 1 last week, showing bogus chart toppers like Ricky Martin and the Backstreet Boys who’s boss.
Like Good’s previous work, his latest music marries the jarring, in-your-face intensity that kids like with the melodic sensibilities and time-tested power riffs older guitar-rock devotees hold dear. In other words, it’s exhilarating music with the power to cross generational boundaries. That’s a good thing.
And did I mention the feedback?
Feedback is one thing you just don’t get enough of in mainstream rock these days, so the Matthew Good Band made it one of the first things you hear on Beautiful Midnight. Lead guitarist and keyboardist Dave Genn is the fleet-fingered fellow who brings the noise to the CD’s opening track, “Giant”, but it’s not the piercing wail of overdriven amplification that sounds so cool as much as its overlapping by a chorus of cheerleaders chanting “K-I-C-K-A-S-S: that’s the way we spell success!” When yours truly squeezes into a booth with Genn and Good at the funky but chic DeNiro’s in Yaletown, I’ve just gotta know whose bright idea it was to get the pom-pom pushers on tape.
“That’d be me,” says Good, reaching for a smoke from his ever-present pack. “When we demoed the song, I was playing it over my stereo at home one day, and I heard ’em in my head. I just thought, ‘We need cheerleaders there.’ And then I came up with the line, and I thought it would be, first of all, a great way to start a rock record, and, second of all, I really liked the kinda double meaning to it. People will be like, ‘Yeah, kick ass!’ whereas I’m just trying to be sarcastic about it.”
When it came time to recruit the cheerleaders for “Giant”, Good wasn’t concerned about scoring seasoned hotshots like the Vancouver Grizzlies’ or the B.C. Lions’ dance team. He made sure the teenage girls from his old high school, Centennial, had the opportunity to be immortalized on a rock record. “We brought them in and they went to work,” notes Good, a member of Centennial’s class of ’89. “It was just hilarious to watch our producer sit in a room and conduct these 16-year-old girls. We’ve got photos. It’s great.”
Although the combination of soaring feedback and chirpy chanting sets Beautiful Midnight off to a strong start, it’s on the next track, “Hello Time Bomb”, that the band really hits the mark. A totally infectious rave-up, it gets much of its bouncy appeal from Genn’s clever choice of keyboard sounds. “I got to get my old new-wave keyboards out and go back to my roots a little bit,” notes Genn, whose previous credits include the Art Bergmann band, Dead Surf Kiss, and New Waveaoke. “I went through a lot of my sounds from some of these keyboards that have been kicking around for 15 years, and I went, ‘Wow, we might be able to fit that in.’ ”
Genn used a Vox Jaguar keyboard to come up with the Cars-type sound that promises to make “Hello Time Bomb” a fixture on Canadian rock radio for some time to come. The tune was written very quickly, a couple of weeks into the Beautiful Midnight sessions, when Good was sitting around his apartment with a couple of buddies, including former Moev member Kelly Cook.
Because all his other instruments were at the studio, Good worked the song out on a “shitty acoustic” with two strings, and the next morning he put everything down on cassette. He played it for producer Warne Livesay in the car on the way to the studio, and the Brit knob-twiddler—whose impressive credits include Midnight Oil, Talk Talk, and The The—was blown away. “The reason we decided to release that first is because it’s strange,” informs Good. “It’s a lot stranger than anything we’ve ever done.”
“There was a little bit of a question at the label whether that should be the first single,” Genn interjects, “but we played it at the Barrie show on Edgefest, and we got a really fantastic reaction from the crowd. Our head of A&R was there, and after the show he was just like, ‘That’s a smash; that’s a smash!” ’cause he saw the kids jumping up and down to a song they’ve never heard before.”
Apart from the sheer pop-rock exhilaration squeezed into the sleek four-minute arrangement of “Hello Time Bomb”, some of the attraction of the song—and of much of Good’s music—lies in his vocal presentation. His rough-hewn singing style has the same blue-collar tinge that made Bryan Adams famous, but instead of applying it to obvious tunes about teenage love, Good takes the whacked-out–poet route favoured by the likes of Gordon Downie.
“If life’s for the livid,” sings Good in “Time Bomb”, “check me tomorrow/We’ll see if I’m emperor/My devil’s on sugar smacks down at the Radio Shack/We’re turning shit into solid gold/Solid gold!” Like in the best Tragically Hip tunes, you’re not quite sure what Good’s on about, but that’s half the fun of it. Even a potential radio hit like “Load Me Up” sports atypical rock lyrics. “Picture yourself sleeping on a plane,” croons Good as the tune unfolds. “There’s something ticking in the overhead, and inside your brains/There’s bodies in the water, and bodies in your basement/If heaven’s for clean people, it’s vacant.”
Good’s winning combination of sharp riffs, catchy melodies, and off-kilter lyrics first caught people’s attention in the form of “Alabama Motel Room”, the propellent single off his 1995 debut, Last of the Ghetto Astronauts. That disc went on to sell 25,000 copies in Canada, an impressive number for an indie, and it was followed in May of ’97 by the Raygun EP, which found more acceptance with its raucous title track.
Then in October of that year, Underdogs—which would spawn three heavily played singles and draw four Juno nominations—took the band to a new level of success. It was recorded in two months with producer Livesay, while the band spent twice that long making Beautiful Midnight at “the House of Brucifer” (Bruce Levens’s Greenhouse Studios in Burnaby). When asked to describe how the new album differs musically from the last, Good waves off the query (“I’m not good at those”) and passes it to his right-hand man.
“It’s a little tough to have perspective on your own work sometimes,” Genn ponders with a shrug, “but we knew we wanted to make a darker record, and one that sounded a bit more ‘outside’. For the most part, we’re better players now, and, more importantly, we’re better at playing with each other. We toured Underdogs for what seems like an eternity and really—personally and musically—got to know each other a lot better. You have to remember that when this band came together four years ago, none of us knew each other. We basically came in cold and got to know each other as we made music together. So I think we’ve got a better grasp of dynamics now and a clearer picture of where we want to take it.”
“Well,” adds Good, now ready to comment, “I’d have to say that after reading the Edgefest review in the Straight, we sound better but I still look like shit.”
Matthew Good has never paid much heed to the image aspects of the music biz; when seen on-stage or in a video, he generally looks in need of a hot shower and a change of clothes. A copy of the stylish British rock mag Q lies on the table beside Genn, who admits he’d love to be written up in it (“Just the photo captions are worth the $10 you have to pay for it”), but he’s not expecting the group’s fearless leader to switch hairstyles just for that. Good’s lack of fashion savvy hasn’t hurt the band in the eyes of corporations like Pepsi-Cola, which signed the MGB—and fellow Canuck rockers Big Sugar and the Tea Party—to tour the country as part of its heavily promoted Pepsi Taste Tour. The tour includes 15 stops in Canada, and eight hours after our meeting at DeNiro’s, Good and Genn are scheduled to play the Rage for a full house of contest winners.
“We’ve been gettin’ a lotta heat about this,” Good explains. “A lot of people have been, like, ‘corporate sellout’. But when it comes to things like that, is it a case of them usin’ you or you using them? It’s a great way for us to practise songs from the new record for when we go on tour; it’s a great way to just get everything tight in front of 400 people instead of steppin’ in front of 3,000. And there’s also lots of all-ages shows on the tour, so you can play for the kids who can’t get into bars.
“So if you can do all that, and the tour’ll be subsidized, then it’s serving our purposes just as much as it is serving their purposes. And it’s not like I’m gonna be wearin’ fuckin’ Pepsi T-shirts on-stage. I’m not gonna be praisin’ the accolades of the Pepsi-Cola company. I don’t really give a shit. I drink milk; it’s my favourite drink in the frickin’ world.”
Maybe so, but at the Rage that night, Pepsi’s corporate presence is most evident. As the place fills up and the anticipation level rises, two soda-pop pushers in Pepsi Taste Tour T-shirts stroll out on-stage and use several packages of licorice Twizzlers as incentive to get half of the floor crowd to chant “Pep-!” and the other half to follow with “-si!” The crowd plays along in hopes of a bright-red snack, so 30 minutes later, the cola dealers are at it again. Only this time, they get a few Twizzler packs tossed right back at them.
Just before the band takes the stage in front of a packed house, there’s more promotional flogging. “Tonight, the Fox doesn’t present the Matthew Good Band,” announces CFOX DJ Jeff O’Neil. “Tonight, the Fox presents the Matthew Great Band.” Then a tape of the cheerleader intro from “Giant” is played over the PA, and while Genn conjures the feedback and drummer Ian Browne slams home the beat, an intense Good—wearing a T-shirt denoting him as an “Alien Sex Experiment Survivor”—slashes out the tune’s chords. It’s the first time the band has played the song live, but by the time it ends in a crescendo of feedback and Centennial high-schoolers, the crowd’s been won over.
“That was pretty good,” Genn announces, sounding a bit surprised. “We just made that up!” Good lies.
It’s no wonder the band sounds impressive, having recently honed its live show as part of the whirlwind Edgefest tour, which saw it playing eight shows across Canada before crowds of upward of 30,000. “Edgefest is amazing,” Genn claims, “because it’s like a big musicians’ summer camp. You have all this time to stand around and talk to other musicians about guitars and amps and girls. And for us to get to know—and get drunk with—people like Big Wreck or Moist is a really healthy thing, because a lotta the time, labels pit you against another band that happens to have a release around the same time as you and is expecting similar sales. Now, you might have sold six records, and they might have sold seven, but the label’s telling you about these differentials in your sales. In actual fact, when you get out there and respect another band as people and as musicians, it doesn’t matter.”
After hanging out with the MGB principals in their smoky Yaletown haze, the impression you’re left with is that they’re loyal friends first and professional recording artists second, that they’d be making music together even if there was no chance of selling it. When the conversation shifts to the sudden departure last fall of the group’s original bassist—Good’s old high-school buddy Geoff Lloyd—that notion of camaraderie is reinforced. Lloyd, who has since been replaced by former Chrome Dog member Rich Priske, decided to leave the band just when it was about to demo songs for Beautiful Midnight.
“You have to put aside the fact that it sets us back a little bit to have to bring in a new member and teach him all the stuff,” Genn relates. “But when a friend comes to you and says ‘Look, I’m not happy,’ you’ve just got to send him off with your best wishes. And he was very lucky—at 28 years old, he got to form this band, things happened very quickly, and he got to sit on that big tour bus and look around and say, ‘This isn’t for me.’ And it isn’t for everybody. It’s a lot of travelling, and it’s a lot of pressure.”
“I’ve talked to him recently,” Good adds, “and you know what? He’s happy. And as far as me and Dave and Ian are concerned, that’s the number one thing.”