The Roots Report: An Interview with Matthew Sweet

Okee dokee folks… Matthew Sweet is hitting the Narrows Center For The Arts in Fall River on Tuesday, September 19 (www.NarrowsCenter.org) and I had a chance to talk with him and review his latest recording. Read on for more…

Matthew Sweet: Hello, is that John?
John Fuzek: Yes, is this Matthew?
MS: Yes, sorry about that (not answering the phone), I was still on another line and trying to get off it! (laughs)
JF: No worries! How are you?
MS: I’m doing good, how are you?
JF: A little too hot for comfort but that’s summer here
MS: Where are you?
JF: In Rhode Island
MS: Wow, it’s been so hot everywhere, here in Nebraska it never let up all summer and we just traveled through Texas, Mississippi, Atlanta, Nashville, Louisville and it was just crazy, crazy hot everywhere
JF: Oh, that’s tough, I hope that you had A/C on the bus!
MS: Yeah, we have good A/C, we have one of those Sprinter Vans, there’s a place for gear in the back of them, they’re kind of tall, luckily the A/C always works in them!
JF: So, you are in Nebraska, are you in Lincoln?
MS: No, I am in Omaha, I did grow up in Lincoln
JF: What made you move from Laurel Canyon back to Nebraska?
MS: We were just ready to not be in the middle of a big city and I felt like I could do my thing regardless of where I was and we didn’t start out with the idea “let’s move back to Nebraska” we really fantasized about a lot of places, we were like “let’s go to Hawaii!” or “let’s go to the super Northern California coast”, but all these places were not very realistic in terms of near an airport for when I have to do my job, so, we just at some point, I guess my wife, Lisa, started thinking about looking at places here and i got sort of into with her and it seemed crazy but we found a house that we really liked and we just did it
JF: Is your wife from there as well?
MS: She is from Scott’s Bluff which in in the far western end of the state so we’re from eight hours apart, driving
JF: That’s a pretty big state, in RI you get from side to side in 45 minutes!
MS: This is a long one from east to west
JF: Well, you’re both from Nebraska and you probably have family around
MS: We have a lot of family here, it turned out to be really good timing, my mother passed away right before I started making this record, we’d been here for nine months and were able to spend a lot of good time, so, it wasn’t as jarring as it would have been had I not been around, you know that was sort of really lucky, and I got to spend a whole lot of time with my dad over the last couple of years and he just passed away about a month ago…
JF: I’m sorry to hear all that
MS: …that kind of book ended my Kickstarter project for making this album, but in both cases it wasn’t as tragic because I’d gotten to spend so much time with them
JF: Well, that is the silver lining, at least you got to do that
MS: It was a time that I was glad that I’d been around, I guess is what I mean to say
JF: I read that you raised 75% ABOVE your Kickstarter goal, what did you actually raise?
MS: I don’t remember the exact figure but I think it was maybe $56,000, I think the original goal was something like $30,000 so it’s really almost double I guess.
JF: So, I guess you’re not on a major label anymore?
MS: No, I actually have my own label through Sony, they have a big wing called Red which is all their distribution of independent labels basically so I just have what amounts to be my own label deal and they do distribution and manufacture and it’s really been great, my publisher, which is also Sony, really got into the record and he brought it to the people at Red and they were really enthusiastic about doing it so it’s been an amazing thing to have a company working for the record, the record came out in June and it’s called Tomorrow Forever and it’s got 17 songs on it, it’s a fulfilled Kickstarter project, and it was a monumental effort to get it done and manufactured, I recorded it over a couple of years, prior to this year, and it was done right at the end of 2016, I did the Kickstarter in 2014, I recorded 38 songs for it, that is part of the reason that it to ok so long but I was really trying to make sure to have a strong record and I had moved and going through all this stuff I got into a fertile time of creativity and just kind of did a whole lot in order to come up with something special
JF: Creativity is a challenging thing, it’s either there or it’s not and sometimes you just have to squeeze it out
MS: yeah, for me it’s really zen, it’s like thinking of nothing and then something comes out of nowhere (laughs) , I’ll record little snippets of ideas and then i go back through them and some of them are just “Oh, yeah, I remember that idea” and it just sort of clicks for me so it’s easy to take it and shape it into something…and I’ll just do batches of those and then separately i will just make up titles and ideas, minor bits of words and things, once I’ve started to work on some of the musical stuff sometimes those will start to work and give me an idea of what the lyrics will be
JF: Do you have a home studio?
MS: I do, I have a room that is my studio, and i run a kind of high end Pro-Tools system with not a lot of outboard gear and I work “in the box” as they call it, once I go in i don’t come out, to me the sound quality is preserved better that way, I go in though my pre-amps that are good, old style pre-amps so the basic sound of everything is good, I kind of do it all myself, I do the mixing and everything so everything except for mastering, this record I got mastered by a guy at Abby Road Studios in London, they offer an online mastering service and you can choose and engineer from their roster, you can read about them, this guy named Sean McGee mastered the record and he has been highly involved in the remastering of Beatles records, he remastered the whole John Lennon vinyl catalogue recently so i figured I’d get this guy, I like all these people and he did a great job and really brought it up a notch, it was worth it to do, slightly expensive, everything with the Kickstarter thing cost so much like there’s no profit for me from fulfilling it (laughs) everything is used up, that is what some Kickstarter buyers don’t understand, you’re not running away with their money, it costs every bit of it to fulfill the things that you’ve promised or least in my case it did
JF: People still have this image if a rock star being rich and famous and riding in limousines all the time, they really don’t understand it
MS: You’re right, they don’t understand that it’s like a regular job now, it’s difficult to crowd source things, my strong point isn’t publicity of myself, I am very lucky that I have management that has been going forever and ever, I have them to deal with a lot of this stuff
JF: I read that you started off in your bedroom with a four track recorder way back in the 80’s
MS: That’s true, a cassette four track, it became possible to do four track on a cassette and I was about 15-16 years old and I worked at a music store so i worked in a music store and we were going to get in the first cassette four track, so I  got one when we got it and just started some guitar, even though i really wasn’t a guitar player then,
JF: What did you play?
MS: I was a bass player originally, played electric bass from when I was in about fifth grade, I was a young bass player, I played in bands of college kids when I was 13-14-15 years old, so I was really accomplished in bass, but I had just started to play guitar in order to write songs, I would record something of guitar on the four track and then sing along with it and in harmony with myself which I thought was really interesting, also doubling my voice sounded cool to me, those things kind of got me into trying to make music, I was really shy about it and only listened to it on a Walkman with headphones, I couldn’t play stuff out loud or talk to most people about it (laughs), it was more a place of where being a songwriter or an artist, fledgling for me and I didn’t want to make the claim out in the world, but I did get a lot of experience playing with bands as a young kid, doing covers basically
JF: I know you recorded a bunch with Susanna Hoffs (of the Bangles). How did you connect with her? I always thought that was a very random pairing.
MS: Well, knew each other from quite a ways back, I had sung on some stuff of hers, and we had some friends in common, then when she brought Mike Meyers to a show of mine and we all started hanging out, it was around the time he was developing the Austin Powers character, so Sue and I were in this band, fictionally, called Ming Tea, in the Austin Power’s movie, so we’ve kind of been in a band together but one we didn’t really do a lot of playing, we did like one live show, we were friends after that and I was at a Bangles and friends acoustic show at a place called The Cave in Los Angeles, it’s really well known, I just happened to Susanna that I really liked her voice and I would love to do something with her sometime, she was talking to someone at Shout Factory at the time, a guy named Sean Amos, the A&R guy, and they really wanted us to just do covers and have it be lighthearted and so we were like, “Ok, we want to do something”, my original idea wasn’t to have me singing, it was to have her making an album where she did all the singing (laughs), but they wanted us to do all these duets and we just got into it, and we really did a whole lot of stuff in the course of those records, now there’s a box set of the albums- a vinyl box set, too, and they used all the artwork from the original CDs, that package turned out really well
JF: Have you written with Susanna?
MS: I have, yeah, we’ve written quite a few things but not really had the outlet for them, we were still always working on those cover records,
JF: Do you plan on doing an (original music) album with her at some point?
MS: I think it could very easily happen, it just depends on when it makes sense for both of us, I’m sure we can do something really cool together, it might be great to do something that was original, it might take more work but it would be something cool to do, for that matter we could do more covers and do genre versions of the covers records, we’ve always talked about it- the Hawaiian record (laughs) but we’ve both been off doing our own stuff for the last couple of years, I will probably see her when we play in Los Angeles later this month, so maybe we’ll scheme on something
JF: You produced a band called Velvet Crush
MS: yes, my drummer and bass player’s band and they were signed to Epic Records in the 90’s and are a really good group in their own right even though they really haven’t been very active just these last few years, they’ve done a lot of great stuff, they are my current bass player and drummer
JF:  They are originally from Rhode Island, that is why I was curious
MS: Yeah, they were based in Providence for a long time, Paul (Chastain) lives mostly in Japan now and he has a Japanese wife and a couple of little kids and then comes here and does a tour, has a place in Champagne, where he started out and Ric (Menck) just moved from Los Angeles to  the Minneapolis area so we’re all out in the mid west now
JF: How did you wind up with the large base of Japanese fans? Was it from the anime of the “Girlfriend”  video?
MS: I think it partly was they liked how i was a fan of their pop culture, but i think it’s just a thing about the way Japanese people are, when they like something it’s a crazy worship of it, I don’t mean that in a negative way,  they are truly excited and dedicated, it’s not so much that I am especially popular in Japan as it is that the fans that I have there are super dedicated, I haven’t actually been there in at least a couple of years I think, but i am sure we’ll be back at some point
JF: What can people expect at your show? You’re playing at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River on September 19th.
MS: Well, it’s a four piece band, it’s Ric and Paul on drums and bass, a guy named Jason Victor is playing lead guitar, he also plays on my album, people seem very enamored of him, we just did a month of shows starting in Omaha and going to Minneapolis and Chicago down through St. Louis and Kansas City, Dallas and Austin, and the shows have been going really great and we’ve been doing lots of in-stores and things, the reaction has been really good, and we play probably three or four new songs off of the new album Tomorrow Forever and we have CDs and vinyl with us but you can get it anywhere online as well, it is a mixture of greatest hits kind of songs and a couple of more unusual ones for me to play off of some of my records and then this handful of new songs and the set seems to be going over really well with the audiences so I suspect that we will have a good time in Fall River!
JF: It is a very cool venue, I have played there many times
MS: What is it called again?
JF: It’s called the Narrows Center for the Arts
MS: I can’t remember if I have been there before, do you know?
JF: I don’t recall having seen you listed there before
MS: It doesn’t seem familiar to me and I’ve played a lot of places in Massachusetts so it’s fun if we get to try a new place
JF: It’s cool, it’s an old mill building from the Fall River mills days and seats about 300, it’s a very low key kind of venue, very comfortable venue, great people who work there, great sound, the people are amazing that work there, they really treat you well and the fans will line up early to get in! They are very devoted, they just really love the music there. I am thrilled that you are playing there. I have never had the chance to see you live and am looking forward to it.
MS: I have been playing live a long time and it’s a big part having the fans get to hear the music again, too I think you will have fun! I am actually looking at their web site now trying to get it in my head to see if we have played there,
JF: There’s a battleship across the street!
MS: This is different than what I was thinking, I don’t think we have been there, that’s great, I love it!
JF: Well, I don’t want to take up more of your time, I would probably talk and talk and talk…
MS: (laughs) You’re my last today so I am finally free (laughs)
JF: Well I definitely don’t want to take up more then, you can go chill out!
MS: Thanks, John, I appreciate the support!
JF: See you at the show!
MS: Yes, take care!

I received a copy of Matthew Sweet’s latest CD, Tomorrow Forever, which was released this past June,in advance of his show at the Narrows on September 19th. I first was introduced to Sweet’s music back in 1991 with his third album, Girfriend. Back then that CD was lauded as an almost perfect pop recording. I admit that the disc spent countless hours spinning in my newly acquired CD player. I followed him for a couple of CDs but then lost track of him. He has put out eleven recordings between Girlfriend and Tomorrow Forever. The latter was wholly funded by a Kickstarter campaign and released on Sweet’s own label Honeycomb Hideout.

His latest, a seventeen song, packed offering, starts with the power pop guitar chords of “Trick” and is followed by the slower, warbling “Entangled”. “Pretty Please” gets a little heavier and tougher with the sound. “You Knew Me” begins with a country-ish twang but shifts back to the pop feel of the rest of the album. He kicks back into full on rock again with “Circle”. The piano of The Zombies Rod Argent kicks off the dark and somber “Haunted”. Another country-ish song, the aptly named “Country Girl” sounds exactly as you would expect it to sound, simple and honest. The Mellotron intro of “Off The Farm” gives you the feel of an old time serial film but then flows into a Neil Young/Beatlesque sounding number. Dealing with loss, the cut “Nobody Knows” could have some from the Girlfriend CD sessions. The pulsing waves and jam of “Searcher” is a soundtrack for ups and downs of exploration. “Music For Love” has Sweet stretching his vocal range on a few notes over the sound of jangly guitars. The opening chords of “Bittersweet” and soft vocal have the minor key feel of the sentiment but some of the lyrics are biting. The first few notes of “Come Correct” reminded me a bit of Tom Petty but then steers to a more funky direction. “Finally” returns to the alt-rock grunge style of the 90’s. “Carol” follows the formulaic feel of female named compositions. Drums and a deep left side, slow punching of the keys, again by Rod Argent bring you into a dusky sci-fi-ish “Hello”. And the appropriately placed “End Is Near” trickles out and wraps the recording.

If you are fan of Matthew Sweet’s sound and style then you love this disc but there is nothing surprising. It is pure Sweet but predictable. After several listens there really doesn’t seem to be stand any out tracks like the hits you could immediately hear on Girlfriend. The closest song to that would be the lead track, “Trick”. I enjoyed the CD and I like Sweet’s music. Hopefully he will hit again with the power of Girlfriend!

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

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