With an amazing career spanning 30 years, Matthew Sweet has been the answer when it comes to guitar-driven power pop. His breakthrough records from the early 1990s, like Girlfriend, Altered Beast and 100% Fun, highlight the chord-ripping rock and endearing songwriting that set his style apart in the era of “alternative” music, much like Elvis Costello’s emergence parallel to the eruption of British punk in the 1970s. Like a true artist, he has continued to write, perform and collaborate on an astounding number of projects through the years — and shows no signs of slowing down yet. Matthew talked with Blown Speakers before visiting Cleveland on his current tour of the Northeast U.S., and discussed his next album, Tomorrow Forever, among other things.
Matthew Sweet: The whole thing is recorded. I still have to mix it, and I have to figure out what makes the album and what happens with the rest of the songs. I recorded 38 songs for it, so I’m going to try to figure out what the main album is.
There’s supposed to be a bonus disc that some people pledged for, and that was going to be demos, but given the time frame and I got started a little late, I mostly just made real recordings, so that bonus thing will also be full of studio songs.
Were there any direct influences that were drawing themselves out while you were making the new album?
MS: That’s hard to say. I think that it really just came from me. I’ve moved from living in a new place, and it’s kind of on its own steam. I wouldn’t say there was something I was particularly listening to or wanting it to be like. I just started picking ideas and doing it like I normally do, which is a little bit mysterious. I store up short minute long ideas or something. When I go through my day before I’m making a record, I’ll occasionally record little things and then save them up, or if I have nothing I’ll make them up that day or whatever when I need them. But somehow once they’re that little thing, it’s like the seed of what it’s going to be, and it just sort of becomes that. I just trust that it will and then it’s like magic or something.
I didn’t do a lot of thinking about what I wanted it to be like, but it has a wide range of stuff on it and I did try to make sure it has lots of different types of songs. For instance, I recorded it in three batches, and I think that the first batch had a variety of things, and then the second batch was a little more power-pop, and then the third batch was really slow, moodier type of stuff. But that’s the most I thought about it. I was like, ‘Well, I want to make sure I have slow stuff,’ you know?
Has being back in your old home state influenced the album, like how you were saying about a move back and everything?
MS: Well I guess your house and where you live is the most solid thing. I mean, for me, in my life, it doesn’t matter where I am in terms of doing music. I can do what I do anywhere, and I have. I’ve lived a lot of places, but there’s something about when you’re settling in and you have that comfort of your own space, and I think that did factor in somehow.
I grew up in Lincoln, and so Omaha’s really a bigger city than I grew up in. Although, Lincoln’s a good size, I mean the University of Nebraska’s there, it’s only fifty miles away from here. But it has been cool to connect to how I felt when I was really young. I’ve always been bad with remembering what all happened when I was little. I’d meet other people throughout the years who I grew up with, and I always felt like they remembered all the stuff, but I just didn’t remember it exactly. And there is a little bit of that being here — that I just can feel like I’m more connected with that part of my life. So there is something weirdly comforting about that.
Do you still have the home studio in your new place? How was it moving everything to a new location?
MS: I do. Well, that’s cool, too, to have a new room that I work in. I’ve never had a pro studio set up at home in terms of like “the room.” I’ve never built a room to be a studio. It was funny because when I sold my place in Los Angeles, it got in local papers and online, and it said I sold my home ‘with recording studio,’ but there was really no recording studio in it, except my gear being in one of the rooms of the house. And that’s really the same way it is here, but our new place had a really good room for me to do music in, so it’s always fun being in a new space doing that. It has been cool setting up my studio and making it my own sort of vibe.
You’re hitting the road in September. This will be your second time coming through Cleveland in two years. What is it that keeps you coming back to this area and do you have any favorite moments or memories about playing in Cleveland?
MS: I feel like there must’ve been a time where we didn’t come as much, and then we started coming more often a few years ago. I mean, back in the day, we came there and there were always great rock crowds, and we played a lot of different places that had different vibes and stuff.
Then we played the Beachland a few times over the last few years, and that was when we really started playing Cleveland again. We played there a few times, and then we played the Music Box, and we had a great time there. It’s a really nice venue, and spacious, and has a really good backstage and stuff. I have positive memories of it, so it’s comfortable.
But in general, Cleveland, it’s such a great music city and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is there, and I have some history with it. I had a really cool moment in my career when we got to play at an opening of the John Lennon exhibit that Yoko Ono curated in there in 2000. Two or three bands played at it, and we were able to meet Yoko and have her sign our little books at the exhibit. It was up in this room where they had a lot of John’s handwritten lyrics on walls. So that was a trip and is a cool memory from being around there. It’s always been a rock and roll town so it makes sense that it would be a place good for me.
Your songs have been used in a lot of popular movie soundtracks from the 90s and on. Has anyone asked you to write a film score or perform a complete film soundtrack, like Prince on the Batman soundtrack?
MS: Not really. I would’ve done it, I’m sure. I got close to that sort of thing. Unfortunately, when I probably could’ve done something like that easier was when my career was early enough in success. I was touring all the time and maybe didn’t have as much time to get into that sort of stuff. Later on, I’ve never really concentrated on trying to change the kind of work I do because I just like being an artist and writing my own songs. But I’ve always felt like I could do it pretty easily. I guess the closest I got was a little bit of incidental music in Can’t Hardly Wait, the teen movie. I had a song on the soundtrack of it, but I ended up with a little bit of background music for it.
Are you still crafting pottery? Is the Lolina line still going on?
MS: It is, theoretically. I have all my stuff here and I actually have a small garage just for doing pottery in, but I haven’t really set it up and started doing it. It’s been kind of a long break for me but I am going to get it going sometime soon. I got embroiled in the album pretty quickly after we moved and I’ve only really been working on that. Some of the rewards from the Kickstarter campaign include 3-D printed things that I’m making. I’ve scanned from pieces of my pottery, like a cat head, and then use them in building the 3-D things. I’m also making a bronze cat sculpture as one of the things people could get as an incentive. To do that, I think I’m gonna carve it out of clay, and then we’ll make some sort of a mold from it, so I’ve got to get into some clay and get it going. I’m thinking sometime this fall is when I’ll actually get all that stuff rolling and get back on the wheel. Make some things to get myself going.
I think that doing pottery, the way I do it, it’s very self-taught. I’m not like a pro at doing it, it’s my own weird way. I learned just a little bit from others, but kind of like my guitar playing, I just kind of learned it on my own. It has this thing about it that’s kind of like music, which is why I like pottery. Where you can get lost in it, and it’s hard to imagine how you did it afterwards, for me. I listen to a song I’ve done and I can’t really imagine where it came from. It’s sort of like when I said magic, that’s sort of what I mean.
I’ve got several pieces around the house that we ended up keeping though a lot was made and sold. When I look at pottery that I made over a few years ago, I go, ‘How did I ever make that?’ It’s hard to imagine how I knew how to do it on the wheel. It’s different from music because it’s like a solid thing.
I think I will be able to just do it still. I think, in a weird way, maybe I’ll be better at doing it even though I didn’t do it during that time. You go back to a feeling, and if you can get in that kind of a meditative state where you lose yourself, you can do it. That’s when it works. You know, pottery is really weird. Some days it just seems like you can’t do it at all, even for people who are great at it. Some days it’s just not happening, something’s wrong, and then you get in that sort of zone, and it happens. I’m more used to creating that feeling with music and a lot less used to it with pottery, but I still have faith in that concept.
How do you feel about the Kickstarter approach and using this kind of method to connect with fans and get your work out?
MS: I like it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, and I talked about doing it for a long time before I ever did one. I can’t say whether I’ll always do it through Kickstarter. In a way, I feel like it would be hard to do it multiple times or something, but what it gets for me is this fire under me to really try to do something great. I’ve really tried to make it come to life in a strong way, and it’s afforded me more time to spend on recording and record more things just out of wanting it to be very special. Because it’s paid for by fans, I want them to really like it. The only way I really knew to make sure it’s especially good was to just record a lot of stuff and then pick the things that just work the best. That’s been great, although it’s making it a little harder to choose what the album is. I’m getting close to that.
I think the hardest thing about it is that it’s taken me so long to do, and some people get impatient about it, although the vast majority are just really great and supportive. I think that trying to stay super engaged with communicating and keeping everybody happy is something I’m not as good at. I’m a person who’ll decide one day, ‘I want to do Facebook,’ and I’ll do posts or I’ll get engaged, but then the next day, I have no urge to do it. I just know myself in this way that. That’s been the hardest thing, I think, between me and the Kickstarter, is me giving enough extra stuff because I’ve just been so focused on recording.
Having said that, people are great and it’s really fun to give a big update and tell them where I’m at. Last month, when I got done with all the rough mixes and everything was recorded that’s going to go on all the parts, it was fun to tell everybody, ‘Look, here’s where it is, and we can see light at the end of the tunnel now.’ I just have to get all the rewards going and mix it this fall and we’ll be good to go.
If there was a (purely hypothetical) biopic movie of your life coming out either this year or next year, who would you want to play your role, and who do you see playing any of the other guys in your band, like Ric (Menck) and Paul (Chastain)?
MS: Ha! This is great. I wish I had a couple days to think about this. There’s a guy who looks like I looked when I was young. People tell me, ‘That guy reminds me of you.’ To me, he’s much cooler than me, and also a really cool actor. His name is Michael Pitt. He played Jimmy Darmody, the young, up-and-coming bootlegger guy on Boardwalk Empire. We may not really look that much alike, but he’s cooler than me and somewhat similar.
He can play me, and then, god, who could be Menck? Who’s really tall? You need someone tall and skinny so that’s the actor. Paul would be a smaller guy. I don’t know, I just have to think a little bit more about casting those two because it would have to really be right. In a way, Steve Buscemi would be good as Ric, but he’s not tall enough and he’s too old to be with Michael Pitt. Meet the older and the youngers, you know? Buscemi has the personality that’s a little more like Ric. But no, it can’t be all people from Boardwalk Empire!
Concert/photo recap, Music Box Supper Club, Cleveland, 9.13.2016
Instead of bootlegged whiskey, Matthew Sweet has been chord-running an intoxicating collection of hits and fan favorites as his fall tour winds through the Midwest and toward the Atlantic coast. His visit to Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club proved to be another outstanding performance that his devoted listeners have come to love.
The night began with a rousing performance from Cleveland’s Chris Allen, known for his work in the bands Rosavelt and The Boys From County Hell. His brand of hard-strumming heartland rock with a subtle touch of Telecaster twang was a perfect match for the evening. Joined by Tom Prebish on bass, and Fred Perez-Stable on congas and percussion (instead of the usual drum kit because the kit couldn’t fit on stage in front of all of Sweet’s band’s gear), the trio delivered a strong, yet intimate set that included several Rosavelt favorites, like The Last Heartache and Perfect Girl.
Matthew Sweet arrived on stage to a packed seated house. As usual, he was joined by Ric Menck on drums and Paul Chastain on bass, both long-serving bandmates and the core duo of Velvet Crush, and featured the incredible non-stop talents of John Moremen on solo guitar.
Matthew’s set covered plenty of his popular singles, like Girlfriend, Sick of Myself, and Time Capsule, and also showcased signature tunes from his recent releases, such as Byrdgirl and She Walks The Night. By the end of the night, the crowd of steadfast fans in the audience got more hits and rock sweetness then they bargained for.
For more details on east coast tour dates and venues, and more news on the upcoming album, visit Matthew Sweet’s official website.