TUNED IN to Matthew Sweet

February 1, 2009 10:17:24 AM PST
Our featured artist this week is Matthew Sweet. He is a legendary alternative rock artist who had a string of hit songs such as "I've been waiting", and "Girlfriend". He is currently on tour in support of his latest release entitled, "Sunshine Lies". He also produced music for our recently featured artists, "The Bridges". We caught up with him at The Trocadero, in Philadelphia. He played a great set for a packed audience.

Here is his biography?

"Of the significant bands and artists to emerge in the '90s, Lincoln, Nebraska-born Sweet is the odd man out. During a decade when cynicism, overstatement, and mean-spiritedness ruled, Sweet found a sizable audience by expressing himself with unselfconsciousness, subtlety, penetrating honesty and the sheer joy of constructing something cool.

While so many of his contemporaries disdained rock & roll's past, Sweet has deftly channeled it, picking up where his inspirations from previous decades had left off. A sophisticated aural architect, Sweet absorbed the work of '60s rock's three "Bs"?the Beach Boys, Beatles and Byrds, along with '70s avatars Neil Young and Big Star?with such a deep understanding of the spirit as well as the craft behind the music of the old masters that he was able to use these timeless palates in a fresh, highly personal way.

Sweet is that rare artist who seems directly and intimately knowable through his work, causing his audience to feel a close bond with him?to put them on what they think of as a first-name basis. Sunshine Lies gives the artist and his fans a reason to get reacquainted, while also providing uninitiated music lovers with a perfect introduction to an altogether captivating body of work from an artist who remains as vital as ever.

Looking back on the creation of the stunningly accomplished new Sunshine Lies, his tenth studio album and first for Shout! Factory (hitting July 22), Matthew Sweet asserts that never before has he felt "so unencumbered." This newfound freedom he's experiencing stems in part from the intersection of rapidly advancing modern technology and the ancient art of pottery, Matthew's part-time passion for the last several years, bringing an elaborate immediacy to his creative process?which is why Sunshine Lies is such a kick in the head.

While Sweet has continued to make provocative and extremely personal albums during this decade, he hasn't sounded so charged up in at least that long. "Now, I feel really free when I work," he says, not trying to hide his elation. "It's easy and I have a good time. This record has come together in a way that it feels like this special little trip with some magic in it?moments where, to me, it gets crazy-great."

Without warning, this consummate artist just may have made the album of his life, not by consciously trying to recapture the brilliance of his three milestones, Girlfriend, Altered Beast and 100% Fun, but simply by following his big heart, while hot-wiring the process between inspiration and execution so that there's no longer any distance between them. With tongue only partly in cheek, Matthew describes the new record's sound as "power-pop-folk-rock-psychedelic-melodic-singer-songwriter-type stuff." That turns out to be an accurate general description, but the real intrigue is in the details. By turns achingly melodic and drivingly visceral, Sunshine Lies swirls with relatable emotion and bad-ass attitude, seamlessly incorporating the artist's expansive aesthetic from one end (poetry) to the other (noise).

On Sunshine Lies, Sweet intermixes his distinctive brand of shimmering folk rock ("Byrdgirl," "Daisychain," "Around You Now") and signature goosebump ballads ("Feel Fear," "Pleasure Is Mine," "Back of My Mind"), with the album's primary impulse, what he refers to as "the crazy songs." These are heady, arrangement-based pieces where anything goes in terms of tone, texture and performance?the mindblowing "Time Machine," the balls-to-the-wall "Room to Rock," the brawny "Flying" and the Who-like "Let's Love."

As usual, Sweet (guitars, bass, keyboards, Mellotron, lead and harmony vocals), who produced and mixed the LP at his own Lolina Green Studios in L.A., is surrounded by his longstanding triumvirate of guitar aces: Richard Lloyd (Television), Ivan Julian (Richard Hell & the Voidoids) and everybody's go-to guy, Greg Leisz (six-string, 12-string and slide guitars, pedal steel). The only other player on the record is equally familiar: drummer Ric Menck (Velvet Crush), who anchors every one of the new album's 13 tracks. Additionally, Susanna Hoffs and Matthew's wife Lisa sing backup vocals on the title cut.

Sweet describes the character of the album as "very direct, but seen through the eyes of nature, or rather modeled on its beauty, chaos and freedom." He introduced the theme of nature on 1999's In Reverse and fully embraced it on 2004's Living Things, an intimate, largely acoustic outing. "Living Things is more like a book of poetry to me," he says, "whereas this record is more whole in the sense that it more fully explores my preoccupations with nature and the universe." Complementing the organic feel of the music are the striking macro photographs of Brian Valentine, a.k.a. Lord V ( HYPERLINK "http://lordv.smugmug.com" http://lordv.smugmug.com), which grace the cover and package.

Sunshine Lies was created in two distinct phases, one of them quite recent. After turning in the original version of the album to the label early in 2008, and finishing his production of the debut LP from the sibling band Bridges for Verve, Matthew found himself struck by a new burst of inspiration. He grabbed Menck, banged out the three new songs that had appeared fully formed in his head and realized they fit perfectly onto the album, so he made the necessary moves to work them in. "What's funny," says Matthew, "is the new songs ended up being a ballad, 'Pleasure Is Mine,' a crazy poppy song in 'Time Machine' and a rock song, 'Let's Love'?so there's one more of each."

He decided to open the album with "Time Machine," a wild psychedelic swirl encompassing a purring Mellotron, eerie sound effects and an otherworldly vocal chorale. The tough-and-tender "Let's Love" begged to be placed between the supercharged "Flying" and the spaced-out title track, a glorious Byrds-Beach Boys hybrid pitting Leisz's ringing 12-string arpeggios against billowing harmonies, while "Pleasure Is Mine," centered around one of Matthew's most poignantly unguarded vocals ever, slid naturally into place immediately after "Sunshine Lies," providing the record with its most goosebump-inducing transition.

As for the album's visceral component, "When it rocks, it rocks its ass off," Sweet says with satisfaction. He's not kidding. The aptly named "Room to Rock" hits with brute force, "Flying" features a ferocious guitar duel, as Julian tears off madcap lines through spinning Leslie horns while Lloyd rolls out riffs as big as boulders, and "Daisychain" gets airborne from Sweet's overdriven, crazy-beautiful, "Eight Miles High"-like guitar overtones, so heady they leave vapor trails.

While all this detail will be endlessly involving for Sweet's hard-core fans, what's most striking about Sunshine Lies is that it's FUN?yes, 100%?and this sense of fun powers the record through all of its musical, psychological and metaphysical twists and turns."

Please enjoy the performance video from his show at The Trocadero

You are now Tuned In to Matthew Sweet

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