Matthew Good does not live where you'd expect. The gritty urban rocker whose latest release, Vancouver , features some pretty dark and angry lyrics, actually lives about an hour's drive outside the city, in a tidy subdivision in Maple Ridge that's lined with manicured lawns and double garages. Good's front porch is adorned with spray mums and an autumn-harvest display. Inside, a couple of dogs and a sweet young stepdaughter complete the scene of domestic suburban bliss.
Yes, this is the same Good who roars "It feels like time to fuck or leave" on Vancouver 's first track, Last Parade ; the same Good whose song The Vancouver National Anthem laments: "We all live downtown/Pay in blood, no parking/Sleep on the ground/Step over ourselves."
Good's Vancouver is hardly a love letter to the city in and around which he has always lived. While the CD's art features photos and maps of Vancouver's downtown, they aren't the pretty postcard pictures tourists may be accustomed to seeing. Good's Vancouver is portrayed through shots of fire escapes, back alleys, barbed wire and construction cranes. The music isn't any merrier. In no way a tribute to his hometown, The Vancouver National Anthem is instead a critical exposé of a city with which Good has become increasingly disillusioned.
"I lived downtown for the better part of 16 years … and I watched it transform from something that it was, to something that I didn't really particularly care for any more," Good, 38, said while smoking the first of several cigarettes during an interview in his sunny backyard. "The thing to me that is so shocking and will always be so shocking is that you can take a cab literally from Canada's poorest urban neighbourhood to one of its wealthiest in seven minutes.
"The disparity, the line between [poverty]and affluence, has just become so utterly abrasive and apparent and hypocritical that there just came a point when I couldn't take it any more."
After three years living in the city's notorious Downtown Eastside - an experience which he says both enraged him and filled him with a sense of kinship with the area's less-fortunate residents - Good decamped to the suburbs last December. "I'll be the first to say that probably it was a little cowardly to run all the way out here, you know? But it doesn't change my passion with regard to what needs to be done in that neighbourhood."
Passion is something Good has plenty of. These days, a lot of it gets expressed on his blog, where he conveys his strong political views on everything from U.S. politics to the Middle East to the celebration of vampires in pop culture. He has written opinion pieces for publications that include The Guardian , and sees his activism as being inextricably connected to his music. "It's all one and the same to me, really," he says. "I mean, obviously one's an art form, but then one could argue that political science is an art form, too. I wouldn't really call it a science."
Good also does an awful lot of reading online - three to four hours a day, often at night when the European dailies are published. His political views bleed over into his music on such tracks as A Sil ent Army in the Trees - a powerful anti-war lament.
But before the blogging and the political activism, there was, of course, the music. The Matthew Good Band released its first CD, Last of the Ghetto Astronauts , in 1995, and quickly became a darling of the early indie-music scene in this country. Three full-length studio releases (and a lot of touring) followed, but Good, who found himself embroiled in his share of personality conflicts, dissolved the band in 2002 and began recording on his own.
For his latest release, Good says he chose the title Vancouver before writing most of the material, believing the city would serve as a good "backdrop for introspection." On such tracks as National Anthem , the CD offers a lonely critical voice about a city that is constantly topping the best-place-to-live surveys. On tracks like Empty's Theme Park , it is a morose look back on difficult times.
Good has had difficult times, to be sure: a divorce, a breakdown, drug addiction, a bipolar diagnosis. Those challenges formed the basis of his last studio album, 2007's Hospital Music.
Vancouver , he says, is a much more hopeful recording - despite what appear to be some pretty bummed-out, bitter lyrics. And it is not, he insists, a wholesale condemnation of his hometown. "I didn't really set out to write something that was going to be damning, because there are a lot of aspects of the city that are wonderful. I've lived here my entire life. I am a born-and-bred Vancouverite. I always will be. People will attack the fact that I say the things that I do. How irresponsible is it not to?"
Matthew Good will tour to promote Vancouver beginning Tuesday at the Abbey Arts Centre in Abbotsford, B.C. and ending at Toronto's Massey Hall Dec. 18 and 19.