Matt Nathanson was never a team player. While growing up in Massachusetts, he was attracted to individual sports. “I wasn’t into collectives,” Nathanson said. “In high school I was drawn to the wrestling team. I liked that sort of thing.”
No wonder Nathanson became a singer-songwriter. For much of his career, Nathanson preferred to be left to his own devices. “That’s how I was most comfortable,” Nathanson said. “It just made the most sense to me.”
That’s how it was until he made ‘Last of the Great Pretenders,’ which dropped in July. Nathanson wrote each of the 11 tracks. However, he bounced the completed songs off of a crew of musicians, such as multi-instrumentalist Jake Sinclair, guitarist Aaron Tap, bassist-keyboardist Mike Viola and drummer Victor Indrizzo.
“I enjoyed working with a team so much I’ll always go that route in the future,” Nathanson said during a phone call from Los Angeles. “This is the first record when I just forgot and left the safety net behind. I learned to trust. I found there is less anxiety for me working with a team. It’s easier analyzing everything myself.”
Even with the added input, ‘Pretenders’ has Nathanson’s fingerprints all over the project. Many of the songs scream San Francisco, where Nathanson has lived for the last 20 years.
“Earthquake Weather,” “Mission Bells” and “Last Days of Summer in San Francisco” smack of the city by the bay. “It really is a unique, inspiring place,” Nathanson said. “It really is an incredible environment. It’s constantly overcast. It’s always foggy, and you wear a coat in the middle of summer. It’s weird and wonderful, but I won’t say magical. Too many people paint San Francisco as this magical town. It’s not that, but it’s amazing. You look at how much great music has come out of that city, and it certainly inspired me. I didn’t intend to write these (paeans) to the city I love. They just happened to come out of me.”
Nathanson previewed the songs to enthusiastic crowds at Austin’s South By Southwest festival earlier this year. The new tunes, earnest and sometimes melancholy, are witty, tuneful and reflective.
“The response to these songs has been really good,” Nathanson said “I’m playing the new ones, but I haven’t forgot about what I’ve done in the past.”
When Nathanson appears Thursday at the Ritz Ybor, count on the charismatic bard to draw from his eight prior albums. “I’ve made a number of albums, and sure I have to go back, but I love doing that,” Nathanson said. “I’ll be going back to a number of songs when I come in.”
Expect Nathanson to do what he does best, which is engage the crowd. “I love that,” Nathanson said. “I don’t get it when recording artists come in and just play one song after another and act as if there is no audience there. I like to go in and have fun. That’s what it’s about.”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Ritz Ybor, 1503 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa.
Tickets: $21 and $45.25; (813) 247-2518 and ritzybor.com