Devoted fans of the game Dungeons & Dragons will no doubt recognized the title of Matthew Good’s latest recording, `Chaotic Neutral’ as being one of the game’s nine alignments which describe an individual as one who follows his or her heart and generally shirks rules and traditions.
An apt description of this Vancouver artist who has constantly courted controversy during a career that goes back to the mid Nineties when a budding folk singer won a talent contest organized by Vancouver FM Radio station, The Fox in 1994, resulting in Good forming a band that quickly fell apart after their debut national tour.
However, he quickly formed a second Matthew Good Band with guitarist/keyboardist Dave Genn, bassist Geoff Lloyd and drummer Ian Browne which recorded three successful records between 1995-1999, winning three Juno awards and racking up gold status sales ( 50,000 units plus) for their debut ‘Last of the Ghetto Astronauts (1995), platinum sales (100,000 units plus) for their 1997 `Underdogs’ release and double platinum sales (200,000 units plus) for their 1999 `Beautiful Midnight’ which also racked up two Juno awards for Best New Group and Best Rock Album.
But following their 2001 release of `The Audio Of Being’, the band fell apart with Good embarking on a solo career. Dogged by failing mental health issues brought on by anxiety attacks, Good still continued to release records while battling his health problems, and since being diagnosed as suffering from a `Bipolar Disorder’, Good has taken the correct steps to combat his mental health issues.
“Finding out I was Bipolar was like figuring out the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle,” explained Good over the phone from his Vancouver home base. “Once I knew what the problem was, the doctors prescribed the right medication and I eventually got things back under control.”
The result of this bounce-back is a superb new recording `Chaotic Neutral’ which features a number of commercially-friendly tracks like Good’s debut single; “All You Sons And Daughters”, an excellent track titled “Moment” which could be his biggest single ever plus a daring, but highly effective cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbursting”.
With the recording of “Chaotic Neutral”, Good has elected to take a back seat to producing the record, allowing his long-time production partner, Warren Livesey to take full control of the sessions.
“Even when I was writing the record, I knew it was going to happen,” said Good of his decision to cede control of the soundboard. “Every album we record together, we try to do something different. With this one, I said to Warren, `You know how I work, I’ll demo everything, I’ll write down all the instrumental parts but instead of me playing all the instrumentals , I want to bring in other musicians and I just want to sit back and play the role of the artist.”
With a complement of musicians that included vocalist, Holly McNarland, guitarist Sam Goldberg Jr, former Midnight Oil bassist Bones Hillman, drummer Blake Manning plus additional help from Stu Cameron and Anthony Wright, Good has released his most accessible record in ages. Maybe the involvement of Warner Music Canada had something to do with it but either way, Good seems to have given his material a thorough overhaul.
A major fan of Dungeons & Dragons, hence the Chaotic Neutral reference (“Although I haven’t actually played the game in ages,”) he admits, Good allows that the record’s lead off track; “All Your Sons And Daughters” is probably the most commercially accessible track on the record. “My label was telling me about how Spotify always targets songs with a catchy lyric so I decided to lead off with this song,” conceded Good. “Personally, I hate the idea that people just download a single randomly, It defeats the purpose of recording an album. I mean these days, classic records like Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” would never get recorded. I mean who in their right mind would lead off a record with an 18-minute song? (“Shine On You Crazy Diamond”)
Good is obviously enthusiastic when this writer suggests “Moment” is one of the most creative songs he has ever produced. “A relative on my wife’s side wrote me a letter about his struggle with mental illness and the lyrics to this song are my response to his letter,” noted Good.
An obvious record highlight is Good’s effort to pay tribute to Kate Bush with his version of “Cloudbursting””You don’t cover anything off “Hounds Of Love” unless it’s going to be perfect and you certainly don’t cover “Cloudbursting” unless it’s going to be worthy of the original,”noted Good. “To tell you the truth, after I had done the demo, I wasn’t going to record it but Warren felt that song would be a good starting point for my record. So I changed the chord progressions on the chorus and the second verse to make my version a little different. I mean Kate’s original is a seven-minute masterpiece . There was no point me trying to capture what she did so I just did a four-minute version, in and out!”
Good admits he’s a poor judge of what constitutes a single and gives credit to his new label, Warner Music Canada for providing valuable input into what should be released to radio and even the track running order on the record. “If it had been left up to me, I probably would have led off with a track like “Harridan”, it was their idea to go with “All Your Sons And Daughters” as the lead track.”
“I have a disassociation on how music is consumed, I don’t even know if singles’ charts are relevant anymore, that’s why I put my trust in the people at Warner Music, because, personally I don’t know what works and what doesn’t,” admitted Good. “At one point I wrote a 21-minute song titled “Something Like A Storm” but I scrapped the entire demo although I did salvage some parts for a track on the album titled “Tiger By The Tail”.
Good is joined on the record by vocalist Holly McNarland who plays a predominant role on tracks like “Cloudbursting”, “Kid Down The Well” and “Cold Water”. “Ì realized I needed a female vocalist and when I came to Toronto I discovered Holly was hanging around and was available,“ explained Good. `Holly and I go back about 20 years, our vocals are totally in sync together and it just worked out. She not only came in to the sessions with her parts nailed down but she also had multiple, constructive ideas about the arrangements. After we finished the sessions, she suggested we should start our own band.”
Strangely enough, Good turned off the idea of having his own band after the relationship between himself and original band members; drummer Ian Brown, bassist Geoff Lloyd and especially guitarist Dave Genn turned caustic.
The band’s initial three albums may have hit gold and platinum sales targets and collected three Juno awards in the process but an internal personality clash between Good and Genn split the band in 2001 right after the release of “The Audio Of Being”. “I placated David a lot on publishing issues that maybe he didn’t deserve,” noted Good. “This caused contention with other members and in the end we were four people who really didn’t get along.”
This all came to a head when The Matthew Good Band – but no Matthew Good, went on stage at the 2000 Juno Awards to accept awards for best group and best rock album for their “Beautiful Midnight” release sparking rumours that all was not well in the Matthew Good camp. “I was in California at the time so I couldn’t make it but to be honest, I’ve never been a fan of the Junos,” he continued. “ “To put music in front of a panel of judges who decide that one is better than the other is totally ridiculous.”
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Good was also battling an affliction called Sarcoidosis which caused lesions on his lungs when he wrote material for “The Audio of Being” and additional anxiety, triggered by his divorce, ended up with him pursuing a solo career. Even though his mental health worsened as he battled an addiction to the anti-anxiety drug, Ativan, Good continued to write, often changing musicians but the guidance of producer Warne Livesey was a constant.
Between his 2003 “Avalanche” record and his 2013 “Arrow Of Desire” release, Good turned out a prodigious amount of material, seven records in all, some of it created from his hospital bed as he battled symptoms of what later would be diagnosed as a bipolar disorder.
“Things come at you at different times for different reasons and if you shut this input off, you miss it,” Good explained. As for writing in hospital when he convalescing from his illness, Good notes “this was my saviour, absolutely. Being in hospital was a place I felt safe and comfortable. It was like after being in a major city, finding a place that was quiet and peaceful.”
He is aware that so long as he takes his medication, his neuron chemical problem is controllable but it’s something he has to keep an eye on. And as a survivor, Good has no problem speaking out on mental illness which he admits “remains something that scares people.”
Now emotionally grounded with a wife and family, Matthew Good does not come across as the Bad Boy of Canadian rock who used to terrorize North American journalists with his snarly attitude . “Yes , I got a bad rep but I just got sick of journalists taking comments I made out of context. Many, of the press I met knew nothing about me, looked at me like I was some piece of shit so that negativity resounded with me and I acted in kind”.
Good seems to be in good spirits during our conversation, his songs are still being played on national radio play lists and all signs are that his latest “Neutral Chaos” release is receiving a positive critical reception.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years now so nothing really surprises me anymore,” cracked Good. “I love playing and I love writing which is something that seems to come naturally to me. When I do get into a writing situation, if I find I am spending more than 48 hours on a song, I just know it’s not going to work. So I put it away and move on.”