There are swingers and then there is Matt Dusk – a singer, songwriter, producer, arranger and fervent jazz-pop musicologist blessed with the perfect name…for his spirit truly comes out as night approaches and concert audience await. The Canada-native and Juno Award nominee has spent most of his career reanimating the great American songbook alongside some of his own more quirky pop creations. He scored a gold album with his debut CD Two Shots and a chart-topping adult contemporary (AC) single there with “All About Me.” Matt even scored a #1 single in Japan with “Back in Town” – the first male jazz singer to ever top the pop chart there.
For his third major label release, Dusk has come up with an amazingly novel approach to assembling the perfect pop album – a fool-proof stroke of shape-shifting, era-leaping, cross-continental aural electricity that he’s titled Good News. On this vibrant and riveting collection, time does not stand still…it dances with ever changing partners – from Motown to Euro-synth, from big band ballroom to quadruple guitar blitzkrieg - within a cavalcade of hit songs from ‘round the globe interpreted in a fusion of sonic styles as dizzying as they are dazzling.
“I decided to adopt an old school pop music mentality,” mad musical scientist Dusk confesses. “The difference between the music business of today and of yesterday is that it used to be run by song publishing companies. They’d put a song out, several singers recorded it, and one artist/arrangement would eventually reign supreme. What I decided to do is find some of the biggest chart-topping contemporary pop hits from other countries that have never been heard outside of their territory and re-record them in my style. How many times do you have a 1-hit wonder in one country that’s never been released in another? I’m not reinventing the wheel here. This is precisely the way the industry worked from about 1920-1970. The simplicity of it is what makes the music communicate so beautifully. It’s funny…in jazz, you can get away with this, but if Britney Spears did it, she’d be crucified!”
The process of making Good News took a year and a half, but Dusk greatly benefitted from today’s technological shorthand of the Internet and MP3 hard drives. “We started in December ’07,” he explains. “Everything from song selection to production centered ‘round me being completely neurotic! I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I went through, like, 1,700 songs - combing Websites country by country for Billboard charts then finding YouTube links where I could listen to a verse/chorus of any song I was interested in. I went through so many song histories looking for very specific tunes that moved me. I was thinking about my audience – how I wanted them to feel at my concerts. You’ll notice an abundance of background sing-a-longs on the choruses. That harks back to one era while the music harks to another, and the language/lingo is from yet another still. I look at it as a musical buffet. The music is loaded with variety but what holds it all together is my vocal delivery.”
The resulting 12-song album, which also includes a few all-original pieces, reflects Dusk’s fine-toothed quest for fun, hooky songs that no one would expect a cat raised on Sinatra to sing. “Another part of the process was that for three weeks, I got my knap sack and travelled around Europe meeting and collaborating with different writers. One guy I wound up writing two or three songs with kept playing me stuff that wasn’t what I was looking for. Finally I convinced him to just hand over his hard drive so I could go through and pick what I wanted. The next day when he saw what I’d selected, he said, ‘I never would have pitched that to you.’ I said, ‘Exactly!’ That was the fun of this record – the discovery.”
The selections move from the big and beat-y finger-snapper “Feel Good” to the laidback break-up reflection “It’s Not That Easy” to the ‘60s ditty-bop 911 call for a love rescue titled “Operator Please.”
Pondering whether he chose songs based on liking them as they were or more for the potential he heard for him to take them to another level, Dusk says, “A bit of both. I’m more an arranger/producer than musician…always thinking of how we can tweak sounds and instrumentation to beef up a song. For instance, I wanted ‘On Vacation’ to have a kind of Kelly Clarkson ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ feel to it – where you have three layers of distortion guitar in the chorus…something you would never have with a big band in the background…taking the song that next level of intensity and girth. ‘It Can Only Get Better’ is similar in that the original version I heard was a piano vocal thing. A buddy suggested we turn it into something like ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay which starts the same way then builds to a guitar wars thing with 19 layer wall of sound of guitar. I like to listen to music loud, so I made the kind of record you want to crank and have fun!”
Among the highlights of those unearthed and re-imagined gems is the first single/video/title track “Good News.” Recalling the happy madness of making the video and the spontaneity he loves to bring to most situations, Dusk shares, “It was a 2-day shoot with a bunch of friends and a young director. I made it like a real party – everybody was hammered. At some point, somebody hauled out a guitar. Now I can’t play guitar, but I grabbed it and made an ass out of myself on camera because I wanted to show that it really doesn’t matter. It’s about the moment and not taking yourself so-so- serious.”
Beyond the music and arrangements, there is a lot of lyrical magic within these deceptively simple songs. Within the straight ahead 4 on the floor beat of “Don’t Hate On Me” are the memorable lines, “We’re the right train runnin’ on the wrong track” / Don’t blame it on you don’t blame it on me / Don’t blame it on the trip it had no guarantees / This is the day this is the time don’t hate on me.” Then there’s the irresistible frothy “Love Attack” over which a vampy synthesizer pulse come the lines, “Like a drug you take me higher / Intoxicate me with desire / No escape or run for cover / Something tells me that I’ve got to watch my back / I think I’m under love attack!” I live for stuff like this,’ Dusk enthuses. “Jukka Immonen sent me this song with a whole different lyric - a girl singing over this Euro-synth track. Even though it wasn’t my thing, I loaded up my Pro Tools and started a rewrite. When I played it for people, they were like, ‘What the hell is this?’ Where else would you hear a crooning style delivery to a Euro synth track? People really dig it.”
Canada native Matt Dusk is an alumnus of the St. Michael’s Choir School and studied under jazz piano legend Oscar Peterson at York University. An expert interpreter of standards, he emerged from a bidding war with a lucrative major label contract and a melancholy 2004 debut with Two Shots. “I was going through a break up at the time,” he offers as a terse explanation. Dusk followed that with the power-packed punch of 2007’s Back in Town, recorded in Hollywood by engineering master Al Schmitt at Capitol Records ‘Studio A’ – home of Sinatra and Nat Cole – with top-tier arrangements by veterans Patrick Williams and Sammy Nestico. The goal - old tunes with a fresh approach. His take on “Get Me to the Church on Time” was used on the hit TV competition “So You Think You Can Dance.”
For Good News, Dusk co-produced himself with Ron LoPata (a co-writer from his first album) and drafted Terry Sawchuk – who produced Back in Town – to helm the mixing sessions. Musing again on his methodology, Dusk states, “In a market that has returned to being all about singles, it’s very rare that people listen to the art of an album. My approach making Good News stemmed from the fact that most people you ask today about what kind of music they like, they say they like all kinds as long as it’s good. You don’t hear ‘I like country music’ as much as you hear ‘whatever moves me.’ I don’t believe there is any true originality I music. It’s always one degree away from something you already know.”
Dusk is eager to take the show - and his 9-man band of horns and rhythm - on the road, for it is the stage that really gets his juices going. The records are a mere souvenir of him trying to capture that lightning of energy exchange in an audio bottle. “When you’re around people who love music as much as you, that’s the moment I love and the moment I dread ever losing. I’m not trying to change the world. I’m just an entertainer who wants to bring a little jazz into the mainstream. With Good News, I was looking for ways that I could bring my audience with me outside of the pure jazz genre.”
“I often find myself comparing the joy of making music to the joy of making love,” super swinger Matt Dusk concludes. “You don’t know why you like it, you just do! That’s what I live for - that massive musical orgy between me and my audience.”