So I'm sitting opposite Matthew Sweet and we're grinning at each other. He's a delight; warm, open and still driven by the passion that has produced a stunning body of work that is unmistakably his. Mr Sweet also has a new solo album, his first without major label support/interference. Kimi Ga Suki X Raifu is released on a small Japanese label and recorded, as with the last few Velvet Crush albums, using his home studio set-up and guess what? It's just staggering. I'd say it's one of the finest albums of his career so far, which is no small thing. He's just itching to tell me about it and I'm equally itching to hear about it. I really think your new album is superb. How did it come about?
I started flying again, I hadn't flown for like eight years. The last time I came to England was on the QE2 and that was a whole lot scarier than flying, in ways you couldn't imagine. And that whole experience started me flying again. When I was last in Japan, a couple of years back, I had just got out of my long term record deal with Zoo. I had to turn in this "Best Of' and I was free. I had completed my bonus tracks for it and I was just waiting for the clock to tick out. So while I was in Japan I was going: "I'm totally free, I can do whatever I want!" So then I got an offer to do a record there and I just thought, "Why not, you know?" Because I could. So I just made it in my house. For years I said I would make a record in my house so it was cool that I finally did. I didn't make it any special way, I just tried to make it well rounded so wrote all the songs really quick. Richard Lloyd was in town playing with Television so I called him up and said "Come over and play" They are so freaked about that in Japan because it's like the original Girlfriend line up with Richard, Ric Menck and Greg Leisz and they love it! It's just my loving album for Japan. I have rights for the rest of the world, it was supposed to be after a year, but they've had it a long time already, so I think we got them to say maybe after November So maybe next year I'll put it out.
So as an exclusively Japan only album how did you go about putting on any bonus tracks that Japanese C.D.s are famous for? They were freaking out about that! They couldn't get their heads around it.There's a hidden thirty second track that I made for the end of it, like a little tag thing and they wanted to bill that as the bonus track. I said, you can't saw that, it's not a song and no one's supposed to know about it, it's like a special treat. We had several e-mails about this and in the end I had to lay down the law. No you cannot say it's a bonus track! I came up with special language for them, okay you can say it's a special bonus message to my Japanese fans, trying to make it something small. But they couldn't handle that and I was, look the album's not coming out anywhere else, you don't need to attract the fans that way.
You co-wrote the opening track "Stumbling Through The Dark" on the new Jayhawks album Rainy Day Music. I wrote a couple of songs with Gary and sang on two or three tracks on that record, which I think is a great album. You know Gary was really unsure about taking a pared-down line up out on the road, he had to be talked into it, but once he saw the audience reaction to the first few shows he was really won over to playing like that.
The mighty Trip Shakespeare
I wanted to ask you about one of my favourite bands of all time,Trip Shakespeare, who sing the harmonies on one of your early albums? It's funny because I was just thinking about them yesterday because they had a harmony thing going, not unlike what The Thorns are striving for. When I first saw them I could not believe how great they were. I really like Matt, the more troubled Wilson brother. Dan went on to Semisonic and they got really popular. Matt really had the great songs, his solo album Burnt,White and Blue is really superb. I helped Trip Shakespeare get their deal with A&M, for better or worse. I heard on the NYU radio that they were playing in the student lounge, like now and I was really close and I remember Ric had gone crazy about them. So I got a cab and nobody's there, about 20 people, and they were mind-blowingly great. I called my A&R guy Steve Lebowski and said. "If I was fucking you, I would sign this group that I just saw." I hired them immediately to sing background vocals on my record but Steve hated it and it got suppressed somewhat. I gave him demos by them and he hated them too. But he finally got to see them live and he was like- "Oh My God!" And they signed them to A&M then and there. They were a great band, artistic and very imaginative with this crazy kind of Old English slant to the lyric, kind of "Ye Old Lady" Like weird folk songs.
You've got album in the can with Van Dyke Parks? Yeah. When we were writing The Thorns record, in the second week I was starting to go out of my mind with the process. One night I wrote this batch of song ideas and then I got up early in the morning and finished all the lyrics for it and stuff. Back home I had Ric Menck come over and we cut an album's worth of tracks.Then at Brian Wilson's 60th birthday party I ran into Van Dyke. We had met a few times over the years and his wife, Sally, made this crack to me. I said something like, "Oh we must really get together for dinner" And she said. "Oh yeah Matthew, like we were going to have dinner together for the last eight years." So I felt really bad and said. "Okay lets really nail this. Set a date and have dinner" So we did that and I remembered the date but they forgot all about it.. So we ended up going to dinner and during the meal Van Dyke said. "You know, you gotta let me play the accordion on something of yours." And I thought- you're so weird, what do you mean, why the accordion? But then I got it into my head and said. "Okay, why don't you come play piano and accordion and organ and all these sort of things?" Then he wasn't sure he could make it but he started coming over, and he'd hang out and it was awesome. He was amazing, just to hang out with, even not doing music. He made me feel so much better about my life and all these things going on. Then he played all this incredible, crazy piano and organ stuff all over this record and helped me to make it what I was imagining it to be. I was in a really creative frame of mind at the time, almost to the point where now I feel disconnected to it. It was such a moment when we did it.
I just finished mixing it recently and I think it came out really good. It's called Living Things and it's got a lot of weird, moody stuff on it. It's a little like In Reverse but with a lot of acoustic based stuff but still it's more rock, more aggressive than The Thorns but still dreamy. Songs about animals; one about a dead dandelion, a sort of surrealist song.That one's, almost like, you know, modern classical music can be so atonal sometimes.Van Dyke did that kind of trip on the track and so captured the feeling of what it's supposed to be. I'm going to put that out and I'm going to put out the Japanese record, I just haven't quite figured out how I'm going to do that, but it'll be soon. I'm going slow and looking at all the options of what to do for those records. Even if they're not really great, or not really regarded like real records of mine immediately, I really love the feeling of just doing it for myself When you deal with labels you have to put on your fucking armour. You have to figure out where to make your stands. Although there are great people at labels who work harder than anybody I've ever met, to get the music out there.That's why The Thorns is such a mind trip. Sony like it for some reason. I don't know why, but I aint complaining. So I got one foot in the indie camp and one shackled to the man and I can't work out which one's gonna save me.
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"I see in the near future a crisis approaching. It unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. The money powers preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me & the financial institutions at the rear, the latter is my greatest foe. Corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed." -Abraham Lincoln, (letter to William Elkins, Nov 21, 1864)