Matthew Sweet Plays the Holland
By Kyle Eustice
Omaha is full of “undercover celebrities.” You might run into Warren Buffett at Mark’s in Dundee or Conor Oberst at a show at Sokol Auditorium. As of December 2013, you may now have had a few Matthew Sweet sightings. Originally from Lincoln, Sweet catapulted to international recognition when he released 1991’s seminal album Girlfriend. Although originally a bass player, Sweet learned to write songs on guitar. “I couldn’t sing and play bass,” Sweet notes. “It freaked me out. I needed to play guitar to write songs, but I played bass on my records.” Girlfriend celebrated its 20th anniversary on October 22, 2011, the same day Sweet’s Modern Art album was released. His most recent work is a collaboration with The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs, 2013’s Under the Covers Vol. 3. Sweet makes a rare appearance at the Holland Performing Arts Center for the Hear Nebraska Fundraiser March 28 with So-So Sailors.
Shout Weekly (Kyle Eustice) So we are distant relatives. You’ll have to come over to my parents’ house so we can all hang out.
Matthew Sweet: We can talk about The Beatles and you can be bored.
[Laughs] Oh I won’t be bored. I can talk about music all day.
It’s cool to see younger generations that know about that stuff.
I loved The Bangles in 5th grade. How did you team up with Susanna Hoffs?
Susanna and I have known each other for a really long time and I was a Bangles fan when you were in the 5th grade. I loved that it was a girl group. The music was just cool. I liked that they had that retro, ‘60s thing about them. I met Sue early in my career. I think I sang on a solo thing of hers. When Girlfriend started happening, I played an acoustic show at a place called The Cave in Santa Monica. I was pretty wound up. She came to the show and brought Mike Meyers as a guest. We ended up having dinner after the show. We were fans of his SNL stuff; Wayne’s World and all that. We became friendly with them. Mike was coming up with the Austin Powers character and I got to know Sue better. Fast forward, somewhere before Susanna and I started doing these records, The Bangles were doing a show called Bangles and Friends. I was talking to Susanna in the hallway and told her I would love to produce something for her. She met this label Shout Factory and their dream was for us to do covers together. I had never done it a lot, but I really wanted to work with her. Then we just kept doing more and more. We couldn’t believe we did that many. We became really good friends.
I remember meeting them at an in-store at Homer’s when I was a kid.
Homer’s! That’s a blast from the past. I used to drive up from Lincoln to get certain imports I couldn’t get. I liked Dirt Cheap in Lincoln, but Homer’s was bigger.
My Dad is a huge Beach Boys fan, too. I think you’d like his house. There’s a lot of cool memorabilia around.
Unlike The Beatles, who I had no access to, I got to be around Brian Wilson a lot. I know the Mike Love Beach Boys, too. They all connect to The Bangles. The Cowsills, who had a great hit in the ‘60s, the little kid in it was John and he was the drummer. He is married to Vicki from The Bangles. John has played with The Beach Boys a lot over the years.
I’ve interviewed Mike Love and Al Jardine, but I’ve never talked to Brian Wilson. What’s that like?
I have been able to speak to him a lot. The first time I met him I was interviewing him for some magazine. He was very stilted and uncomfortable. He would talk to me normally, but then might jump up and leave the room suddenly [laughs]. I did a 2001 Radio City Music Hall Tribute to Brian. I got to do some things with Brian. We did a Letterman thing, too. We got to do “Good Vibrations” with Brian and his band. Through that, I got more of a feeling for him. I also worked with Van Dyke Park. Unlike Brian, he remembers everything and is more of a pleasant person. The thing that Van Dyke impressed on me the most was that Brian knows much more than what he would let on. Brian was a really cool guy. He wasn’t just a “nut.” He was cool and cutting edge when they were doing those records. I’ve seen Van Dyke and Brian get together, and he acts more normal. He has a lot of challenges. I’ve been to dinner with him and he loves to eat so he’ll talk about prime rib. That’s the most excited I have ever seen.
What was the most memorable moment with him?
One moment I just remembered is when we were doing those rehearsals for the tribute show, we had a break and everyone had left the room. Brian was at the keyboard playing this haunting melody. As I was leaving, I said, ‘Wow that was really beautiful.’ He said, ‘I know, it’s “Blueberry Hill.”’ But you would have never know. He made it his own.
Do you ever pinch yourself when you’re getting to hang around music royalty?
It’s one of those weird things; you’re excited, but there’s nowhere to go with that kind of thing. Nobody really wants to hear about it. You’re either going to try to brag about it or it’s just a personal thing. I pinch myself a little bit, especially a while back. Getting to know Brian or Van Dyke happened over a period of years, though. They are really great people.
Did you know other members of Brian’s family?
I hadn’t flown for eight years. I had a horrible fear of flying. In my career, I flew so much, I had a nervous breakdown. That’s when we did “100 % Fun” and “Sick of “Myself. During that time, I didn’t fly for the rest of the ‘90s. The trips overseas really freaked me out. I had to fly back to New York in order to do the Radio City thing. They said they would put me in First Class with Brian and I agreed to do that. I though, ‘If I go down, I’ll be with Brian.’ I can be like the Big Bopper with Buddy Holly; forever associated with some great genius [laughs]. Everybody knew I hadn’t flown forever and was horrified. His daughters, Carnie and Wendy, were super nice to me. Brian hates flying more than me and couldn’t even speak the entire time. There was nothing comforting about having him there at all [laughs]. My point is, there was a really strong family feeling there. I fly all the time now.
You celebrated the anniversary of Girlfriend and released Modern Art the same day. How did that feel?
I didn’t feel like my new record was challenged t that. It was a specifically approahed thing. It wasn’t like Girlfriend so I didn’t feel like it had to live up to that in some way. It felt amazing that it had been that long. What made it more amazing is when I went on tour. The people who were in love with it back then were coming and reliving. I never got tired of it. It was touching.