Matthew Sweet is a giant in alternative rock, churning out power-pop for over than two decades. His 1991 album Girlfriend helped launch the guitar driven pop from the college and alternative scene into popular music in the 1990s. He is touring to promote his new album, Modern Art, but mainly to celebrate Girlfriend’s 20th anniversary. He’ll be playing with The Shadowboxers next Friday, October 21 at Mr. Small’s. We are happy to be giving away a pair of tickets. As usual just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name.
Matthew Sweet! You’ve got a new album out called Modern Art. This year is the 20th anniversary of your 1991 classic Girlfriend. Congratulations on both. You’ll come to Pittsburgh next week. What will we hear?
Next week we'll hear the entire Girlfriend album, we'll play a couple songs off Modern Art, and couple other well-known songs like "Sick of myself" and "We’re the Same." But most of our time is taken up recreating Girlfriend. We play it in the order on the record. It's very exciting in the beginning, cause its “Divine Intervention,” “I've Been Wating,” into “Girlfriend.” It holds up pretty well and people seem to be really enjoying it.
With all the music produced, it’s rare for an album to stand the test of time. 20 years on, to still be getting acclaim that Girlfriend is getting, what do you think it is about that album that has made it so timeless?
I think that it’s really kind of an intimate record with a lot of emotions in it. I think people really related to that. At the time, people really saw whatever they wanted to see in it. If they were falling in love, they fell in love to it. If they were breaking up, they broke up to it. And I think that really stuck with some people, and it's a surprise even for me how much people seem to have this fondness for remembering it.
Modern Art is your 13th album in a 25 year plus career with music. What do you think has changed and what has remained the same for you as a songwriter over this long and prolific career?
Maybe what's stayed the same is that I tend to write intimate music. It's very much “me and you”-based. If anything has changed it's that I probably touch on more metaphysical wanderings than I did when I was a kid. I mean, I don't feel that much different. When we decided to start playing the Girlfriend album again, I kind of thought it would feel really weird and ancient to me, but instead it feels just sort of normal. I don't feel all that different from 20 years ago. In terms of Modern Art, specifically, it's a rather more abstract approach to making a record than we had with Girlfriend, which is a little more straightforward.
I'm in awe of people like you. You’re a musician, you've made a career out of it. You're living the dream. Was there any moment or point at which you realized, "I'm gonna be able to do this! I'm going to be able to live my life as a musician"?
Well, not really. I think you always have to look forward and recreate the whole thing. One is never enough. Maybe as I have gotten older I think...partly because I got started before the internet I was really lucky, when there was still sort of the original rock history. The internet has changed the way people consume music so much. I think it's something like 85% less records sell in general. So it's a really different environment. And it's still challenging. It's challenging for me to make my way along, but if people ask me, 'What do you say to young musicians?' I say, you have to love doing music. Because a lot other things, even after they go well, they'll break your heart again.
With downloads, diminished record profits, the increased connection between commercial advertisements and success for young bands...You came into music at a different time, making good records with a clean, power-pop sound that transcends genre fads. But has your career over the past 25 years been affected by these broader shifts within the music industry?
I don't think so, not so much. If anything, I've had much more of a feeling of freedom as time has gone on. Because there's not so much pressure due to how much money goes into it. So I feel less pressure on me. Maybe I have a little better time making records and exploring a little bit more.
In what sense is there less pressure?
When labels invested huge amounts of money to make a record, there was a lot of pressure from them regarding what the music was going to be like. I don't think I ever did anything specifically to try to be commercial, but I always felt that pressure. It was never big enough for them, sort of. Even when I sold records well, you still had that feeling like it was never enough.
Do you feel like the music industry has eased up on the pressure? I'm sure they're pressuring some people?
Yeah, I'm sure they are to some people. I mean, I can't imagine if you were a young band that got on a major label now, there's just so little room to move around. I was lucky in that alternative radio really bloomed during the time of Girlfriend and Altered Beast. It sort of came out of college radio and became commercial and there was room for a lot of different kind of things. It seems like now things that are commercial are in a much narrower range. I know that there is a lot of vital music getting made now, but it's sort of a challenge to how it's going to get heard.
Have you branched out beyond your own recordings? What are some plans for the near future?
I worked with The Bangles on their new record. I produced a young group called The Bridges a few years ago. The Under the Covers records, volumes 1 and 2 were something I worked on with Susanna Hoffs. We are going to do an Under the Covers 80s volume, and hopefully do some touring for that. And I've already done quite a bit of recording since Modern Art, so I hope to do another record sooner rather than later.
Final question. Are you ever going to give up rock and roll?
*Laughs* I don't think I am. I mean, it gets challenging sometimes when you have to get through those times and not let it get you down. Just love life and love doing music and try to get through it however you can. No, I don't think I will stop until I have to.
That is the correct answer. We'll see you in Pittsburgh in a week.
Sounds good. See you there!