BY THOMAS CONNER
© TULSA WORLD
Matthew Sweet has been all over the map — literally and musically.
He's come a long way from that seersucker jacket and wallflower
gaze on the cover of his first LP, 1986's "Inside," to the black
leather and devilish grin on the back of his current chartbuster,
Geographically, he's come to L.A. by way of New York City; Athens,
Ga.; and his homely home state of Nebraska. Musically, he's come to
the seventh level of power-pop heaven by way of synthesizer
anesthesia and look-Ma-I'm-on-a-major-label overkill. And like all
travelers, he is better and wiser for his journeys.
"My whole concept, though, hasn't changed that much," Sweet said.
"As long as I have a room with a multi-track (recorder) in it, I
can make music."
The multi-track is key. Sweet is one like many across the country:
a goofy Midwestern boy who spent his formative years locked in his
bedroom with his first four-track, writing silly songs for the kick
of it and experimenting with sound like a Merry Prankster aboard
Ken Kesey's Day-Glo bus. Sweet just happened to creep ever so
slowly into well-deserved national notice.
Sweet spoke with the Tulsa World last week from the office of his
Los Angeles record company, Zoo Entertainment.
"I don't work and work on songs," he said. "They come instantly or
they don't happen. Sometimes I'm just blowing off steam, getting
moody and weird, and I get my guitar and just muse on it. It's
therapy, and for a long time — really, all the time — it was
totally that until `Girlfriend' came along and made it a career
"Girlfriend" was his 1992 release and the one that pulled him out
of cult status and into that realm of "modern rock" praise that's
just enough to pump your ego and get your name in the paper but not
enough to boost you from renting the house to buying it. But on
that album, Sweet found his niche — his literal and musical home.
The success of "Girlfriend" also accomplished one major feat: it
got Sweet out of the house.
" 'Girlfriend' gave way to my first real live outing. I didn't play
live much at first because I was doing a lot of multi-track stuff
and was playing almost everything myself, so it wasn't very
feasible to go out on the road."
Sweet said his music — with mostly guitars and drums — translates
to live performance pretty well.
"It's a pretty basic combo. We don't do a lot of the harmonies and
stuff because that would mean I'd have to have background singers
or something." This cracks him up, but he recovers. "No, the live
shows are a little more intense, more rock. We're also trying more
acoustic stuff this time."
Some rockers complain about touring; some can't wait to get on the
road again. Sweet said he's in-between. "I remember at first I was
so unprepared for that kind of life. It's a real strain to try and
stay healthy and keep going, and you miss things like your wife and
“But these days I'm into getting out and playing guitar. It's a
great chance to get out and have fun with some songs, kick around a
Before Sweet hit the road to tootle to the multitudes, he was a
nomadic, bright hooksmith moving around the country. Out of high
school, Sweet was determined to get to Athens, Ga., the late-'80s
harmonic convergence of innovative rock.
"There was a real magical feeling in Athens. It was really
encouraging," Sweet said. "But as time went on, Pylon broke up,
R.E.M. pretty much left and the scene got nastier, and just like
everywhere else, it turned out to be a bunch of greedy, nasty
musicians and hangers-on."
He bailed, and he didn't take with him much of the jangly Southern
rock sound from Athens. ("I've never made the Athens claim," he
said.) But he did take the connections. As a result of his tenure
there, Sweet can name-drop with the best of them.
Starting as lead guitarist for cult-faves Oh-OK with Lynda (sister
of Michael) Stipe, Sweet landed his first solo record deal with
Columbia, which produced "Inside," featuring Sweet with Aimee Mann
('Til Tuesday), two Bangles, Jody Harris, Mike Campbell (Petty's
Heartbreakers), Valerie Simpson (Ashford and ...), Chris Stamey,
Fred Maher and others. The album was produced in New York, Boston,
Los Angeles and London.
A smorgasbord of talent made for a nice first record, but the work
thereafter suffered from synth-itis. Not until "Girlfriend" did
Sweet find his groove. "At the beginning of my career, I kind of
didn't know what I was doing," he said. "I tried some different
things until some certain ones clicked." A little bit of that, a
little bit of this until he was 100 percent Matthew Sweet.
The latest album, "100% Fun," capitalizes on Sweet's strong suits
-- guitar, guitar, guitar. His versatile formula is melodious and
monstrous, especially the album's first track, "Sick of Myself,"
which reached No. 9 on Billboard's modern rock chart last week.
It's a catchy crunch of electric strings alongside Sweet's vital
vocal: "But I'm sick of myself when I look at you/Something is
beautiful and true/In a world that's ugly and a lie/It's hard to
even want to try."
The lyrics do not exactly conjure the title "100% Fun." Sweet's
songs are not depressing, by any means, but he's not retreading
"Walkin' on Sunshine," either. The album title, though, smacks of a
"When my last album ("Altered Beast") came out," he said, "people
kept telling me how dark and weird the songs were. So I told
everyone I was going to call my next album `100% Fun.' Now I'm
hoping the title will predispose people to think the record is more
pleasant than it really is."
"Altered Beast" actually featured some of Sweet's finer songcraft,
but the subjects were black and the characters were creepy, not
unlike R.E.M.'s "Monster."
"I came to think of it as creepy because I think that's cool,"
Sweet said. "I can be wacky, but sometimes those things aren't as
important to me.
"Though ('100% Fun') deals with the more human side of life, there
are also some songs that have a weirder, wackier perspective. I'm
really into sci-fi monster music, and I think those songs help give
the album an added kick."
The tour kicked into gear this week. Sweet said he hoped the band
would be into a groove by the time they hit Tulsa.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.