Moving Walls and making do with Matthew Good

Matthew Good's new album is called Moving Walls.

Touring for any performer is a tricky business. From town to city, big venue to small, there is a lot of stress because the audience always expects the best. That pressure goes with the territory, but in the age of novel coronavirus, there’s added anxiety for everyone involved. Ramp that up a notch for performers with a serious underlying condition.

That’s the case for Matthew Good, the talented Vancouver singer-songwriter, currently crossing Ontario with his latest CD in tow.

“I have sarcoidosis,” he told ARTSFILE in a phone interview in advance of his performances in Ottawa on March 18 and 19 at the Bronson Centre. He was in Kingston, Ontario at the time. “It’s the same condition that killed (the comedian) Bernie Mac. I have to take prednisone every day.” Needless to say, he washes his hands a lot.

“When my kids would come home from school I would get sick. I’ve had walking pneumonia twice a year.

The disease affects the lymphatic system and it lodges in the lungs, the liver and the kidneys. Good has had the condition for 20 years. “Most people have it two to four years and then it remits, but 12 per cent of people have it chronically.”

His latest CD is Moving Walls, something he has said is about emotional displacement.

That’s not the case with where he recorded it.

He settled in, as he has done many times now in the Bathouse Recording Studio.

“My manager handles me and the Tragically Hip. I had worked at The Warehouse in Vancouver for years and then (his manager) suggested coming out here and recording.

“I said I’d give it a try and as soon as I walked in it was fantastic. There were bedrooms upstairs so you could live here. There was a kitchen It was a totally easy go wth the flow kind of space and I fell in love with the place and I’ve made every record since there.”

Moving Walls comes at interesting time in Good’s life. He’s at an age now when his parents are elderly and infirm now.

Was the album inspired by that?

“A little bit. My mom and I spent two years with my dad looking after him. He had really bad dementia and cancer.”

When he announced the record’s release he wrote: “During this album, I was living with my mom and dad. I moved there after my divorce.

“My mom and I basically created a space in the garage. I would work from about 8 at night until 3 a.m. and then on the weekends, I had my kids. I hadn’t really settled on any kind of direction for the album. Then I wrote Selling You My Heart and it went from there.”

Sadly, he told ARTSFILE, “when I was in Moncton the other night, my brother texted me 40 minutes before I went on stage that my dad had passed away.” It was a poignant and “weird” moment, he said.

The album starts with an obvious political song called One of Them Years. Here’s a taste of the lyrics:

…Nobody likes your headscarf but they wear masks in the resistance
Either way forget the answers since we’ve perfected pointing fingers
And ya, it’s been one of them years …

The rest of the record is more introspective. Good says he has found that over the years people seem to gravitate to this side of his music.

“That’s not to say that I did it intentionally.”

Still, he said, “the majority of people who talk to me about my music talk about (the breakthrough album) Hospital Music, which is all about mental health.” Good has also been diagnosed as bipolar.

The introspective songs ring a bit truer, perhaps?

“That’s the thing. It happens when you are open about something and that record was very open about mental health issues and that sort of thing. I think that is the case with this record.

“I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know about the ins and outs of this industry anymore. I don’t know how sales work. I have no clue.” So as he told the CBC recently, he makes music for himself and offers it up.

It’s interesting how Good’s mind works. For example on the video for the song Sicily which is a more positive tune, he’s wearing the hobo clown face made famous by Emmett Kelly.

“I think it presented an interesting dichotomy between an upbeat song and the sad face. That’s how I wanted to do it — present the song in that new love meets sorrow thing.”

He is playing on this tour with musicians he has worked with for the past 13 years or so. But they aren’t his band. That is so done. The idea of being a solo artist is more straightforward, he says.

“All the way around. I did the band thing. I carried the weight on that one and let me tell you I’d never do it again.”

On the road, he said he’s seen the impact of the virus.

“After I get on stage is scan the crowd and see how many people are there given the whole Covid-19 thing. I saw some masks in the first two shows. The last two sold out but (not) in Toronto.”

He played the Meridian which holds about 3,200 people.

“I know we can do that. But we were about 700 tickets short. Either I suck or there is a pandemic.”

He’s watching as governments ban large crowds and soccer teams play in empty stadiums.

As someone who needs to know what is out there, Good has read up on coronaviruses.

“There is a basis medically for it. Coronaviruses were first researched in 1960s. This strain is different and the thing that people don’t realize is while we sit there and talk about it ,you have to know everyone in every major disease control facility best folks in the world working on this.

“Everyone is panicking on the market. I get phone calls from back home that Costco is out of water. It’s like the apocalypse.

“We do all this other shit that does so much harm because we think we are different. This virus rolls through and it doesn’t care who you are. It takes you out. That’s the earth. That’s nature doing what nature does.”

So far, there haven’t been any cancellations on his tour. Good says if it gets to the point “where the Canadian government steps in and says this isn’t a good idea anymore, I’ll listen to them.” A Good idea.

Matthew Good with Rita Mae
Where: Bronson Centre
When: March 18 & 19. Doors 7 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.