Music Interview: Matthew Sweet — Power Pop Master
Matthew Sweet and Tommy Keene return to town to brighten the Music Hall in Allston.
By Blake Maddux
On July 19, 2014, Matthew Sweet and Tommy Keene turned the rock club on Commomwealth Ave into a power pop paradise (here is Brett Milano’s Arts Fuse review).
At the time, Keene was promoting Excitement At Your Feet, on which he delivered his own versions of songs by some of his favorite artists. Sweet didn’t have anything new to offer, but happily served up fan favorites that dated back as far as his 1991 breakthrough LP Girlfriend.
On Saturday, September 16, Sweet and Keene return to town to brighten the music hall in Allston. This time around, Sweet will have a new double album called Tomorrow Forever to show off.
Sweet spoke by phone to The Arts Fuse from Nebraska, the state in which he was born and to which he and his wife returned after more than two decades in Los Angeles.
The Arts Fuse: Do you plan to play most or even all of Tomorrow Forever throughout the course of this tour?
Matthew Sweet: I think that’s unlikely just ‘cause we’d really have to rehearse a lot to learn a lot of them. Right now I believe we play four of them, and that’s a lot for me from a new album. But we just really wanted to play some of the songs, and the people coming to shows so far have really liked, you know, hearing new things and so it’s been a really positive response to the record. And we toured really extensively from the Midwest down into the South in July. So we’ve been out there and playing them, seeing audiences have a good time, so we’re in sort of a really positive mode.
AF: Having recorded three covers albums together, have you and Susanna Hoffs ever considered writing original songs together?
Sweet: In the very beginning before we ever made the covers record, that’s what I wanted to do. My idea wasn’t for it to be me at all, but just like her as an artist but we would write the songs. And she was already in these talks with Shout! Factory, and they really wanted it to be more of a poppy novelty kind of thing. We really wanted to do something together. It wasn’t like something we agonized over. We were like, “Okay, we’ll make a record of 60s songs we like.” It was a chance for us just to start doing some stuff together. But having said that, we had really good time, all the stuff we’d done. I think it’s quite possible we could do that [record original material]. It’s more difficult because I think we would want to actually be together in a room to be able to write together that effectively. But on the other hand, we could probably figure out a way to do it.
AF: What about you and Tommy Keene? Might the two of you team up for an album?
MS: I love Tommy, and you know, we’ve never talked about working together but I could totally see it happening.
We have so much fun with Tommy and he and I get along really well. He’s amazing in that he’s sort of an encyclopedia of everything. He has this super intense memory of like all the things he ever did as a kid going to rock shows. It’s really interesting to talk to him about a lot of things. But yeah, we’re almost like band mates because we traveled all together the whole of July.
AF: The Everly Brothers, Moby Grape, Counting Crows, and They Might Be Giants all have songs called “Omaha.” Which one is your favorite?
Sweet: (laughs) Well, I might only know the Moby Grape one. I don’t know the Everly Brothers’ “Omaha.” I’ve never even heard of that. It’ll be interesting to listen to it.
AF: What about Counting Crows and They Might Be Giants?
Sweet: I don’t know either of theirs. And they’re not covering the Moby Grape song or something? I really only know Moby Grape out of that group. In fairness to Moby Grape, I’d say that they’re the one I like the best, ‘cause they’re the only one I know.
AF: How did it feel when Girlfriend made such big splash after your first two albums barely made ripples?
Sweet: It happened slowly, going over me like a wave. And most of my thought about that time are just how super busy I got. We just toured all the time. I had to do interviews all the time and all these things I’d never done. And people started to say, “How does it feel? You’re doing really well!” or whatever. So it was weird. It made me happy, of course, like it would anybody, but it also brought out so much of the me I didn’t know really. It could have been 60% angst and 40% happy and able to appreciate it at the time. And I think some of that comes out in some of Altered Beast [Girlfriend’s 1993 follow-up], probably. By the time we went in and did Altered Beast, I felt like it [the success of Girlfriend] had given me this license to do whatever I wanted, you know.
AF: Fill in the blank: I wish that I were half the singer-songwriter that _________ is.
Sweet: John Lennon, I guess I’ll say. I can think of a million other people….
Lennon was cool because he could do edgy, cool kind of things, but he could also so be so sort of open-hearted and raw. There’s just an authenticity and sort of command about how he did his thing even though he was very unique sounding.
I don’t know if John would be my ultimate choice, but that’s what came off the top of my head. … I wish that I was half as good as anyone I see who I think is good. (laughs)
Blake Maddux is a freelance journalist who also contributes to The Somerville Times, DigBoston, Lynn Happens, and various Wicked Local publications on the North Shore. In 2013, he received an MLA from Harvard Extension School, which awarded him the Dean’s Prize for Outstanding Thesis in Journalism. A native Ohioan, he moved to Boston in 2002 and currently lives with his wife in Salem, Massachusetts.