Matthew Sweet: 100% Fun
Late afternoon. Near Montreal, Quebec. Matthew Sweet checks in from his tour bus. Touring with Canada’s Tragically Hip, Inbreds and Spirit of the West along with Eric’s Trip, Reo-Static, Blues Traveler and Ziggy Marley. Having already played a forty minute set, Sweet is phoning in one of five interviews in a row in support of 100% Fun, his new record.
BW: The year’s half over. What’s it been the year of?
MS: 100% Fun, the album. It’s been a really crazy year. Really busy. Altered Beast was succesful on its own terms but it wasn’t a huge record for me. So we didn’t know what to expect from this one. This years been kind of surprising as far as how much reaction the first single, “Sick of Myself,” got. It went beyond anybody’s expectations. So I guess it’s been a pretty happy year so far. But busy. A lot of touring.
BW: 43 dates in two months, and you’re on the second leg.
Something like that. We just started up again and we’ll be out now until at least October (with Soul Asylum). We’ll have done a lot of dates this year.
BW: How has the tour been for your psyche?
MS: It’s really good as far as playing the shows. It’s really fun to play and I get into that. As far as the business and interviews: the crazier it is the more it wears on me. I get tired trying to find time to shower or workout or find time for myself. More and more I’ve been prepared for it. I’m getting more and more into the groove of it.
BW: What’s the flip side to the proverbial rock star gig?
MS: There’s a flip side for sure. You give up having a normal life where you just get to see your friends and hang out. My life was very different before Girlfriend than afterwords, as far as what I do day to day. I used to be able to sit around and get into my moods and write songs all the time and make demos all of the time. And now it’s a lot harder. I have to find times to get alone and work on music. You defintaely give something up. It’s not really like you would imagine it to be in a perfect world.
BW: What’s the LP in your lap on the cover of 100%?
MS: It’s the soundtrack from “King Kong”. I was really into monster movies when I was that age. I ordered out of “Famous Monsters of Filmland”, a magazine I got at the time. I used to make up half my face like a skeleton and things like that. I was pretty into monster movies.
BW: Nice headphones. What else was spinning on the Sweet family record player?
MS: The big headphones definately don’t belong to me. They’re my father’s or my brother. But I like big phones. My parents weren’t really big record listeners. They just had things around. Mostly weird soundtracks like “What’s New Pussycat” and the “Threepenny Opera.” They listened to Willy Nelson and Emmie Lou Harris. And we had a few Beatles soundtracks like “Help” and “Hard Day’s Night.” The first Beatle records I heard were soundtracks. My older brother was into the Who and had “Revolver” and the Pretenders. He was into cool stuff and there were cool things around. But it really wasn’t until I became a teenager that I really started buying Buzzcocks records or Generation X and all that kind of stuff that I got really into records.
BW: How do you spend the twenty three hours off stage?
MS: This tour is kind of cushy because we just play forty minutes. So we have a hard time filling all of our time. We try not to eat all of the time, with this great catering going around. Tony, the bass player and I, we bought little mid-70s Schwinn lowrider bikes with bananna seats. I got a yellow one, just like I had when I was 12. We’ve been riding around the sites on the bikes. And we got some Rollerbades recently, so were learning to Rollerblade. We try and get out and be athletic as much as we can to combat all the food and the beer and everything. We’ve been meeting people in other bands. They’ve got a tent with video games and air hockey and things like that. Sometimes we go there. The day gets filled, but it’s a lot of time to fill up.
BW: What are you reading?
MS: In the middle of the night last night I finished reading — mostly I read biographies — I read an Elvis Presley biography called “Last Train to Memphis,” the Guralnick one. That was really good.
BW: He’s writing the second part now about Elvis after the war.
MS: Yeah, I heard that. I was wondering about that [a second volume]. I finished that book and I really wanna hear the rest of it. I really want to know [about] when he gets back from the war and Prescilla and all the early 60’s movies and stuff. I also bought a Dr. Seuss biography that I’m about to start now.
MS: We watch a lot of movies on the bus. “Beyond from the Valley of the Dolls” was really big recently. We watched it about ten times. “Caddyshack,” “Animal House.” That kind of stuff.
BW: What shampoo are you partial to?
MS: [Laughs] Shampoo! Infusium 23, I don’t know, what is it? It’s the one with extra body for fine hair. Yeah, I have really thin, terrible hair. And some kind of conditioner. Actually right now I’m, using this Freeman’s sea kelp shampoo and conditioner, but I need some Infusium again.
BW: How about breakfast cereals?
MS: I haven’t been eating a lot of breakfast. I usually have just a Powerbar in the morning. But cereals I like? Frosted Minni Wheats are really good. If I’m being more healthy I’ll just go with Shredded Wheat. If I was being bad I love Lucky Charms or Sugarpops. Cream of Wheat. If I was going to be out of control I would eat Lucky Charms or Freakies. But I don’t know if they have Freakies anymore.
BW: What happens to your homelife whan you’re on the road?
MS: I’ve been married for a couple of years now. We’ve really been together for almost six years. So we know each other really well. We spent all of our time together 24 hours a day before Girlfriend became successful. She knew if anything happened with my career that I’d be away a alot. It was hard early on, but now we just look forward to being home together. When I am home, we spend more time together than most married couples. We just deal with it.
BW: How’s L.A. been?
MS: I have to say I like L.A., for all that it get’s trashed. But I really like being close to the label and I like to be able to just go over and know everybody personally. I’m really into movies. I love being able to see the premiers right when they come out. I can see any terrible teen movie, although they go away really quick there and the theatres are huge and loud.
BW: You speak of film a lot.
MS: I go through periods where I really think it’s the only thing I still haven’t gotten into that I’m really afraid of and it gives me kind of an excited feeling, the idea of trying to do it. But I don’t know exactly what I want to do. I just talk about it loosly. The reality is that I just spend my time making records.
BW: Do you have some sort of mental censor lyrically?
MS: Every now and then I get something and think, ‘that’s boring.’ I just encourage anything and store up a lot of things and then eliminate them for their regularness or whatever and pick the things that seem to stick out and be new. I really try to write more than I need so I don’t have a problem with being satisfied with it.
BW: You’ve managed to be all over compilation records.
MS: I have a lot of extra things. Very rarely do I have a chance to write for something specifically, which I’d like to do. But, yeah, I’ve got a lot of stuff.
BW: Are your open-ended refrains constructed? They’re so memorable.
MS: It’s more off hand when I write lyrics. It’s a lot less thought out than people think. Often times people want to put a whole lot into it, like it came from some personal experience and a lot of the time it doesn’t. That’s not to say they don’t feel personal to me, because they come out of a felling I have. But a lot get’s built up about it and for me it’s still kind of a mysterious mysterious situation. I just go with my feeling at the time.
BW: I notice you like to bring the groove back on songs like “Divine Interventin” and “Sick of Myself.”
MS: I guess I never never really tough about it. Sometimes it’s good to bring it back, but sometimes it’s pushing the limit of corniness. In Sick, it wasn’t planned. What happened was Rick, the drummer ended on the wrong times around and I kept motioning to him to do it again because I thought we would cut on an ending that was right. We liked the way it sounded so we left it. It was pretty much the same with “Divine Intervention.” All those things aren’t planned out.
BW: What’s the deal with all this self-loathing? From “Nevermind” to “Loser” to “Sick of Myself?”
MS: It’s not purposeful. I didn’t think about it a lot, but then I thought it would be funny to put it “Sick of Myself” first on 100% Fun. In a way it applies in my life where I get sick of talking about myself and the looniness of everything. On the other hand, I’m my own best friend and it’s not like I hate myself or anything. The song’s not about hating yourself. It’s about this person who sees this other person who’s really fresh and maybe beautiful or young or whatever. And in them they see this thing that is kind of old or used up themselves. But it’s not really about me.
BW: What would you be if not a musician?
MS: Maybe I would’ve gotten involved in film. I think I had an interest even in high school. I would’ve been a writer or a filmmaker or something like that. I always felt kind of wound up, like I needed to get something out.
BW: When have you ever felt 100% happy?
MS: I think for me there are times where I told myself to rememeber that I was happy. So I think that those moments exist. But that’s one of those things that was intriguing to me about the title. What is it, when does it ever happen, does it ever last — I don’t think so. In a way it was sort of sad as a title, yunno? Where did it go? I think that those times might come at any moment. You might feel a certain sort of satisfaction about everything and you really have to try and remember them because they happen only briefly.
BW: Are you more liable to pick up your guitar and write when all’s not 100% fun?
MS: If I’m in a bad mood I’m much more likely to write, although sometimes I write in a happy mood as well. It’s more just a feeling where I’m not satisfied or I’m looking for something. That’s when I get into that mood.
BW: “Not When I Needed It” has beautiful a capella vocal a la “Pet Sounds.”
MS: That song was really satisfying because it came together just exactly how I thought of it. That’s something I’m into. I’m a big Brian Wilson fan and I like those kinds of harmonies. I don’t do them very often, I guess, because I don’t get very into working on that. But before I made this record I really though I want to try and do a lot of harmonies on it so I ran with that.
BW: Seems like a good, busy time.
MS: Lately it’s gotten more intense. It’s a really huge tour up here. It’s been a really big deal. The “Sick of Myself” video was number one on Much Music, which is like the MTV of Canada, so we’re enjoying kind of a good time in Canada.
This article first appeared in The Saratogian