Canadian Bands You Should Know: Matthew Good

He's almost as well known for his outspoken geopolitical views and his curmudgeonly tendencies as he is for his music, but this only serves to endear him to his vast army of fans. Twenty years and eleven albums into his musical career, Matthew Good remains a brusquely forthright social critic and one of Canada's most prolific musicians.
Good began his musical career as a folk singer, when his band the Rodchester Kings was discovered at an open-mic night at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. After winning recording time in a band competition held by a Vancouver radio station, Good and what was the first incarnation of an ever-evolving Matthew Good Band recorded a demo tape that caught the ear of EMI, with whom they signed. After a cross-country tour in early 1995, the band split up.
The Matthew Good Band was rapidly reformed with new members, who quickly began recording material that Good had written over the years. Led by Matthew Good's reputation for subversive lyrics and the band's driving rock sound, the Matthew Good Band became one of Canada's most successful alt rock groups of the 1990's. Their debut album, Last of the Ghetto Astronauts, was released in 1995 and created a groundswell of popularity for the band, initially in the Vancouver area, but spreading nationally with heavy play on both radio and MuchMusic. Financially it became the highest selling independent label release by a Canadian artist, and culturally it contained in the lyrics to the bonus track “Omissions of the Omen” what is believed to be the earliest known reference to the term “first world problems.” It was an early indication of the biting social commentary that was to become Matthew Good's signature.

Underdogs, released in 1997, reached platinum sales in Canada and was nominated for a 1999 Juno for Best Rock Album. Several tracks on the album became hit singles, including “Apparitions”, which remains the band's most successful single. Coinciding with the band's skyrocketing popularity, Good turned increasingly to the blogosphere. A prolific blogger, he developed a faithful following on his website, where fans were drawn as much to his political passion as they were to his music. Despite his reputation for being prickly and difficult (which prompted him to sell merchandise at his shows emblazoned with the slogan “I Hear Matt Good is a Real Asshole”), he invited and encouraged discussion on his blog, and it became a virtual meeting place for many fans. Good eventually compiled many of the short stories, rants and commentaries that he had penned on his website into a book titled At Last There is Nothing Left to Say
1999's Beautiful Midnight was an immediate success, reaching double platinum status in Canada and winning two Juno Awards in 2000 – for Best Group and Best Rock Album. Good has commented on the irony of the success of the single “Hello Time Bomb”, which he claims he wrote in 45 minutes “on a dust covered classical guitar that had been sitting unused behind a large plant for years.” Never afraid to take an unpopular stance, he is infamous for his boycott of the Juno Awards and for refusing to accept any of his winnings, criticizing the awards for not promoting Canadian music at the grassroots and referring to the Junos as a marketing warehouse for the United States.

The release of The Audio of Being in 2001 marked the end of a turbulent period for the musician, who struggled increasingly with the pressures of success, as well as a diagnosis of sarcoidosis, which ultimately required throat surgery. It also marked a time of increasing dissidence within the band. The Matthew Good Band disbanded immediately following the release of The Audio of Being.
Matthew Good's 2003 debut solo album, Avalanche, featured a major stylistic departure from the albums that had been recorded with the Matthew Good Band. More introspective and experimental, Avalanche featured songs that were anything but radio-friendly, with tracks like “While We Were Hunting Rabbits” and “Near Fantastica” both clocking in at eight minutes and even the title track running 7:26. With accompaniment by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the album's sound was more lush and richer than previous MGB albums. The music video for “Weapon” won a 2003 Juno Award, which of course was turned down by Matthew Good.

White Light Rock & Roll Review, released in 2004, was recorded largely live off the floor, with the track “Blue Skies Over Bad Lands” being recorded in one take. It was a conscious departure from the usual practice of recording each instrument individually and adding layers, and it gave immediacy to the politically charged subject matter of the songs.
Good's 2005 compilation album, entitled In a Coma: 1995-2005, was released in both a regular and deluxe format, and featured darkly acoustic reworkings of earlier MGB material in addition to new music. Pre-sales of 200 signed copies of the deluxe format, which included a DVD, were offered on Good's website and sold out in under four hours. One of these graces my own music library.
Underscoring the recording of In a Coma were Matthew Good's increasing mental health concerns, which were exacerbated by the sudden and unexpected demise of his marriage. He was twice hospitalized for adverse reactions to the anti-anxiety medication Ativan, for which he developed an addiction. The second hospitalization was the result of an overdose. During a self-committed stay in the psychiatric ward in 2006, Good was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Many of the songs on Matthew Good's 2007 self-produced album, Hospital Music, were written during his recovery and reference both his hospitalization and his bitter divorce. Having long been an outspoken human rights advocate deeply involved in Amnesty International, Matthew Good has become increasingly active as a mental health advocate. With his characteristic candour, he speaks openly of his bipolarity.

During the making of Hospital Music, Good lived in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Gastown, which borders on the troubled Downtown Eastside. His advocacy for Vancouver's burgeoning homeless population, many of whom suffer from untreated mental health problems, became interwoven into the some of the songs, including the track “Girl Wedged Under the Front of a Firebird” which samples the story of a drug deal gone horribly wrong as recounted by a homeless resident of the Eastside.
After re-signing with Universal Music Canada, Matthew Good released Vancouver in 2009. The concept album expanded upon the themes of poverty and homelessness that were touched upon in Hospital Music. Vancouver was named Rock Album of the Year at the 2011 Juno Awards.
Good's most recent studio album, Lights of Endangered Species, was released in 2011, and garnered a Rock Album of the Year nomination at the 2012 Juno Awards. Showcasing the musician's evolution, the album continues the trend away from the brash rock sensibilities that characterized his earlier work with the Matthew Good Band. With a nod toward jazz instrumentation, Lights of Endangered Species is layered with lush strings, horns and woodwinds. It's an album that acknowledges Matthew Good's growing maturity, without compromising any of his righteous indignation.

Matthew Good is a musician whose music drags the listener out of complacency and whose frank and critical passion forces us to examine our world and our own lives. He does not suffer fools gladly. And that's never a bad thing.

– Barbara Bruederlin

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