Matt Nathanson (Daily Pilot / October 4, 2012)

It was a very surprising answer to a common question, at least for singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson.

When asked Thursday during a phone interview how life has been treating him, he responded: "Everything is really good. I have no complaints at all … which is very strange for me."

Nathanson has developed a name for himself since the 1990s as a self-deprecating, incurable romantic of the alternative Lord Byron variety, releasing a slew of albums on the power and pain of love in its many forms.

With hits like "Run" and "Come on Get Higher," the San Francisco musician has built himself a cult following, from teens to grandparents, who travel around the country to see him perform live.

But after years of publicly sharing his experiences in the dating world, today's Nathanson is happily married, leaving fans wondering what might happen to his inspiration levels.

"It's funny — I still find myself being sort of endlessly the well of inspiration," Nathanson said. "For me, being such a fan of music and a nerd for music, it comes from other musicians and other albums and that kind of stuff. And so being home… well I guess it gives me a little more perspective."

Nathanson is set to headline next weekend's Balboa Beach Fest, where he said he's happy to be able to perform a full set rather than a few numbers, following a tour as an opening act earlier this year in Australia and Europe.

"It's a killer lineup, like the whole day," he said of the festival, which also boasts performers like Joshua Radin and A Fine Frenzy. "Hopefully I can get there early enough to catch some of the other acts. It's going to be awesome."

Nathanson will perform with his guitarist, Aaron Tap, rather than with his full band.


'Sing Me Sweet'

Along with comedic deftness, which he mines for improvised monologues and jokes from stage, Nathanson also is known for the intensely personal partnership he tries to cultivate with each show's audience, via a conversational style and a willingness to take requests.

"Getting onstage for me is a pretty natural act," he said. "A lot of times, a lot of artists that I've worked with in the past will kind of like need 10 minutes before they get onstage, and kind of gather themselves. For me, getting onstage and talking to people, I try to make it as natural an experience as I can, because I don't want there to be any remove from the audience.

"So if anything, my stage presence is one of the few things that's, like, stayed constant-ish, you know, over the course of my career. I guess if anything, I've gotten a little more comfortable being myself onstage, and just sort of having that connection, because that's what really generates the connection for me."

And that connection, Nathanson said, is critical — both for him and for the audience listening.

"It's like, if I get onstage and I'm myself, then I get to sort of connect with these people, and that's what it's all about, because without that kind of connection, there can't be the … transcendent moment," he said. "Like, connecting with the band is one thing, and that's a transcendent moment because it's human beings bouncing off of each other. But once you include the audience in that, and their energy, it's like a limitless potential."

But such empathy also can go the other way around, Nathanson said, whereby if an audience isn't interested, it can have the opposite effect.

"If the crowd's not wanting to do it, if there's an off night in some way, you know, it's like then I have to turn inward and sort of like generate it myself — which is totally cool, but it's like one person versus a team," he said. "It doesn't benefit nearly as much as when everybody's involved."


'Come On Get Higher'