GOLDMINE: Your Omnivore Catspaw album is very entertaining and so much fun.
MATTHEW SWEET: I am so glad to hear that. Thank you.
GM: Before we get to this month’s new album, let’s go back to the first time I heard you on the radio. We were living in Chicago and “Girlfriend” received heavy FM rock radio airplay in the early 1990s. That electric guitar sound was powerful, like what I would hear from Lenny Kravitz later in the decade.
MS: That was Robert Quine playing lead guitar on “Girlfriend,” which I first thought of as kind of a throwaway song, but it came out really cool due to the way we recorded it. My longtime manager and attorney Russell Carter, who was also managing Indigo Girls, was convinced that “Girlfriend” could be on rock radio and he was right. The song did really well, fortunately. I agree with you on Lenny Kravitz. He is the only other person I remember from that decade who had more of that rock guitar sound which we loved from a few decades prior. By the 1980s, we were used to more drums and synthesized sounds. We were trying to go the opposite direction from that as the 1990s began. Both Lenny and I love The Beatles and draw from them.
GM: After living in Chicago, we moved to Roanoke, Virginia which was a small to medium size test market for products and songs. On the weekends we would hear music on K92 FM which expanded from its weekday Top 40 focus. They would play new songs in the Top 100, outside of the Top 40 including “Sick of Myself” from your 1995 100% Fun album. The cassette single of “Sick of Myself” included a flip side, not on the album, which is one of my favorites, “Never Said Goodbye.”
MS: After the Girlfriend album, I made Altered Beast, which was edgier and more difficult to promote. “Sick of Myself” brought back the success of “Girlfriend” and was a really great experience for me and 100% Fun became my second platinum album because of it, solidifying my career. I like that “Sick of Myself,” with a more complex sentiment compared to other songs of the time, did well as a single. I am fond of “Never Said Goodbye” and it makes me happy to know that you enjoy that flip side.
Flip side: Never Said Goodbye
A side: Sick of Myself
Top 100 debut: May 27, 1995
Peak Position: No. 58
GM: On your new album, the song “Give a Little” jumps out at me with the guitar and vocal. It is so catchy. I found myself humming and whistling it hours after playing it.
MS: That one is really poppy, and it grabs you. It has a hopeful vibe to it, to talk someone out of feeling bad about where they are in their life.
GM: “Come Home” is another catchy one, and on theme of the song, you and your wife Lisa truly came home to Omaha, after years in Los Angeles.
MS: We did. That song is really simple, and like “Give a Little,” it is one of the more positive songs.
GM: Lyrically, one of my favorites is “Stars Explode,” which opens with the lines, “Stellar winds, she comes riding upon with a nebulous intent, for beyond any reason for her to be seen as heaven sent.” What a great beginning.
MS: Well, thank you. Musically it reminds me of Neil Young a bit, the way the song starts on just one note repeatedly. I love physics, astronomy and learning about the forces in the universe. I love the idea that we are made of stardust and have all the elements when a star explodes. I found out about a North Carolina group called The Stars Explode who have a song called “Matthew Sweet,” which isn’t really about me, I’m just mentioned in the song about a couple listening to a record of mine. I liked their name and wrote it down in my list of lyric ideas and thought that I would compose a song called “Stars Explode” since they have a song called “Matthew Sweet.” Ha ha. Maybe they’ll appreciate this little tribute to them.
GM: The song is a great companion piece to another new song, “Challenge the Gods,” with motivational lyrics about taking the road less traveled and rising above issues.
MS: Thank you. I hope it is. When I was touring, our guitarist Jason Victor was confident about a lot of projects he had going on, and I told him he had a lot of hubris in him. I read a definition of the word hubris to him, and one line was to challenge the gods. I liked the sound of that phrase and kept that in mind for a song title and married it to the sound. I like how the song has a bit of defiance to it.
GM: There is a pair of songs that has a bit of The Youngbloods’ “Get Together” guitar sound in it. “Drifting” has it a bit and it is even more prominent on “Hold on Tight.”
MS: Ha ha. That makes me laugh! I know exactly what you are talking about, that little arpeggiated guitar part. Both songs do have a bit of that, and I can’t say I was specifically thinking of “Get Together” but I have always liked that arpeggio appeal. What a sentiment that original 1960s Youngbloods hit is for us right now. Boy do we really need to get together right now as a people. I think both songs are a little dreamier with a soothing effect. “Hold on Tight” is about holding on to nature and “Drifting” is about getting into the flow of things. One thing that is different about Catspaw is that I play all guitar parts myself, setting it apart from most of my records. On these two songs, the rhythm guitar part that I am playing is creating a metronome with those notes. The only other musician on the album is Ric Menck on drums, who came down from Minneapolis. Both of us lived in Los Angeles for the longest time. After Lisa and I moved back to Nebraska, Ric and his wife moved to Minneapolis, where she got a job, so it is cool that we are sort of near each other still. It is a quick flight from Minneapolis to Omaha. He came down and spent three or four days on the drum parts, and then I built upon that foundation. It is a simple recording with guitar, bass, drums and just a little piano, being the glue to hold it all together.
GM: We spoke earlier about The Beatles. A few months ago, songs from your series of three Under the Covers CDs, with Susanna Hoffs, were released as a double vinyl album, beginning with cover of The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing” from their Revolver album. Let’s conclude with one song which did not make it to the new “best of” collection, which you taught me in 2006, “She May Call You Up Tonight,” originally recorded by The Left Banke, whose music we will feature in a Goldmine article later this year. With the piano, I felt it had the same bounce that Susanna brought to The Bangles’ “Manic Monday.”
MS: Susanna and I both love The Left Banke. They are not super well known. People know “Walk Away Renee” and maybe “Pretty Ballerina” but generally nothing else. I love their baroque rock sound. “She May Call You Up Tonight” is a really upbeat Left Banke song, a little different from most of their stuff, and both Susanna and I had this one on our lists of possible songs to cover for our 1960s Under the Covers CD. I first heard their music by listening to oldies radio in the early 1990s, then I learned about Michael Brown from the group and got their music once it was out on CD. It has brought a great deal of joy in my life to see my music come out during these difficult times. I look forward to playing live again and sharing songs from Catspaw with the audience. When everybody thinks it is safe to play little clubs again, I’ll be back out doing it. In the meantime, Lisa and I are here at home with our three cats, the five of us having a close relationship during the pandemic. I guess I am a crazy cat guy and Lisa is a crazy cat lady, so it makes sense that I would have a cat on the new album cover and in its name. Thank you for taking the time and being so thoughtful about all these new songs.