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Canadian singer-songwriter Matthew Good at his home in Mission, B.C., Sept. 16, 2013. (Jeff Vinnick/Globe and Mail)
Canadian singer-songwriter Matthew Good at his home in Mission, B.C., Sept. 16, 2013. (Jeff Vinnick/Globe and Mail)

Matthew Good gets back to rock 'n' roll basics Add to ...

Matthew Good is continuing his ongoing political education about our terrible world from a new, idyllic home base. In a Lord Of The Rings-inspired dream home, perched on a hill in rural Mission, B.C., the alt-rock stalwart is surrounded by beautiful things: children – three of them; animals – dogs, cats, horses; and Better Homes and Gardens-worthy landscaping presided over by his wife, Raeleigh. But it’s the ugly that continues to demand Good’s attention.

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On his new album, Arrows of Desire, the first he’s written in the new space, the multi-Juno-Award-winner keeps up the good fight, hoping to turn our attention toward societal horrors – whether a world away, or in our own geopolitical backyard. Musically, this is a back-to-basics affair that seems sure to appeal to Good’s fan base: drum-on-your-desk guitar rock with brains – at turns urgent and brooding.

Good started writing the new album in a nostalgic mood, after listening to old favourite bands such as the Pixies. And during a wide-ranging interview ahead of the record’s Sept. 24 release, we repeatedly circled back to wistful reminiscences of the good old days of rock ’n’ roll. It was a time when a young person could acquire a political education at the turntable, learning about the U.K. class wars from Billy Bragg or the Clash, as Good did. Well positioned in Vancouver to experience the punk scene, Good ate up the anger of Dead Kennedys in person and, on vinyl, acts like the Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith.

Music fandom then was a labour of love – actually physical. Making a mix tape involved hitting the cassette deck’s pause button at just the right time, scoring good concert tickets meant lining up, and acquiring music meant a trip to the record store rather than a click of the mouse. You would sit and listen to an album again and again, holding onto the cover, studying the liner notes, and the one or two photos of the band.

“We’re lucky. We were the last generation that had that,” said Good, 42, smoking a cigarette in his airy, wood-beamed living room. “We didn’t have the Internet, and our phones still had cords attached to the wall, and we couldn’t find out everything we wanted to know about someone in four seconds, and the industry wasn’t saturated by that. There was still mystery and there was still a mystique about bands. These days, bands have to invent mystery and mystique, even though you can still find out all about them. … It’s not the same as going out and buying frickin’ Reggatta de Blanc and going, ‘Who are these dudes?’”

Good made a name for himself in the 1990s fronting the Matthew Good Band, which became huge on the alt-rock scene, but ultimately broke up in 2002 in a stew of dysfunction. Arrows is his sixth solo studio album.

Even with its high-energy riffs and often sparse lyrics, the new record reflects Good’s deep reading on everything from the Crusades to the gun culture of present-day America. As the outspoken human-rights activist and blogger is quick to point out, his political curiosity predates his musical calling.

“I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 20,” he says. “But I read Catch-22 when I was, like, 12.”

The record’s title track is sung from the perspective of an arrow sailing gracefully over the chaos of war, headed for its target. The song came out of Good’s research into drone use in Yemen and Afghanistan, coupled with Shakespeare’s Henry V and its depiction of the Battle of Agincourt – won by the English primarily because of their use of the long bow.

On the haunting Guns of Carolina, written as he pondered the shooting that critically wounded then U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Good ruminates on the inevitability of guns being turned on the society that manufactures them in such great quantities.

And in Mutineering, he offers a wish to protect his children from the horrors he spends so much time reading about. “They don’t gotcha yet,” he sings.

Good, who grew up in suburban Vancouver and spent 17 years living in the city, bought this out-of-his-price-range rural homestead hoping to create a lifelong base for the kids: Elizabeth, 9 months; Thomas, 2; and Avery, 6, his stepdaughter. Here, he and Thomas watch tractor videos, the family co-sleeps, and the preschool channel Treehouse is inevitably on in the main-floor family room. (You could hear shows like Caillou bleeding into the vocal track on the album demos, which Good recorded upstairs.) He seems to be in a good space with this kind of life: the mornings in the stable; the country home – which the builder really did model after LOTR, complete with a hobbit house (this appealed very much to Good, who first read the books when he was eight and has read them several times since); the pine trees towering over the backyard swing set and the ExerSaucer.

When asked about his mental health, Good, who was diagnosed at 36 with bipolar disorder, said “it’s day by day.” He also suffers from sarcoidosis, which sent him into fits of coughing at times during the interview.

He’s exhausted – young children will do that – but the kids are also a new inspiration in his writing. And while he has had to pull back from his political blogging to some extent, parenthood has made him even more determined to disseminate events for his readers.

“I consider it my responsibility to know exactly how lucky we are and to make sure everybody else realizes how lucky [others] are not. And if there’s something I pass on to my children it will be that: to never, ever take that for granted.”

Arrows of Desire goes on sale Sept. 24. Matthew Good’s tour begins Oct. 14 in Belleville, Ont., and winds up in Vancouver Nov. 28.

 

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