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Matthew Sweet: “Solitary Man”

by Keith Valcourt

For decades now Mathew Sweet has been delivering consistent albums full of power pop-tinged rock and roll.  His 1990s albums “Girlfriend,” “Altered Beast” and “100% Pure Fun” are now considered modern classics on par with The Beatles.  Yeah, he is that good.   For his 15th ever studio album “Catspaw” Mathew Sweet found himself completely alone.  Every note on the 12 track near masterpiece was written, recorded, performed and mixed by Sweet himself.  Yes, even the lead guitar parts. But this is not a lock down quarantine record where he had to do it all alone.  This is an album he made solo by choice.  The only thing he did not tackle on the release were the drums (Ric Menck handled that) and the mastering which was done by Bob Ludwig.   I caught up with Mathew Sweet from his home in Nebraska to discuss the freedoms of doing it all by himself.

Photo by Evan Carter

Q: Where are you living these days?

A: I live in Omaha, Nebraska. Right in the center of the country basically. I moved from California to fifty miles away from where I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Q: Why did you move from Los Angeles?

A: After about twenty years of living in Los Angeles my wife and I felt like getting out of the super big city. We looked at all kinds of places to move to but there were none where we knew anybody. Then we came up with this crazy idea to move back to Nebraska in where we both grew up. I have family here. We get to be around family. Because of the internet it isn’t really a huge change for what I do. When things return to normal I will leave from the Omaha airport when I go on tour instead of Los Angeles.

Q: Did that change of location change how you write songs and make music?

A: I do feel like it has made my foundation more solid. I used to not be able to remember the past that well. People would say, “Remember when we did this as kids?” and I wouldn’t. Being back here makes me remember. A lot has come back to me about when I first started making music. I like to tap into that feeling again.

Q: Did your love of cats inspire you to name the album “Catspaw?”

A: I love everything cat. The album isn’t really about cats or anything. Even though it got one on the cover. That is a stock photo of a sassy model cat. The title came from a combination of things. I was watching something on Netflix and heard the term “Catspaw.” The word also reminds me of the episode from the original “Star Trek” series. The main meaning is “Something or someone that comes down with finality. As in a Catspaw.” I thought, “That sounds kind of like life.”

Q:  The assumption was because you were in quarantine you had to record an album by yourself.  But you did this before the pandemic? 

A: I think in a way it’s like I’m almost always in quarantine.  (Laughs) I’m a self- imposed homebody.   I made it mostly in the summer of 2019 and got it together late in 2019.  Then in early 2020 we mastered it with an old friend of mine Bob Ludwig. We finished it in the first week of March 2020 right before the pandemic came crashing down. The only bright spot of 2020 for me was that I had this album in the can so we were able to set it up. 

Q: Why did you decide to record, produce, mix and play everything by yourself? 

A: I’ve always done a lot of things on my records by myself.  I should point out Ric Menck, a long-time friend and drummer of mine, both live and on record, is playing the drums on this album.  I couldn’t do the drums.  I’m not physically anywhere in the category with Ric to do that myself.  Maybe someday.  I had it in my head to try and play lead guitar on the album.  I’ve never done that before.  To me that is the biggest difference. 

Q: Was that daunting? 

A: I didn’t know what it would be like or if I could even do it.  Then when I got into it I had a lot of fun and it felt like it kind of worked.  I wasn’t sure what other people would think. I feel like I accomplished the thing and now I can play lead whenever I want to.   

Q: Your solos on his album remind me of some of the solos by past collaborators like Richard Lloyd. 

A:  I have definitely been influenced by the guitar players I have worked with in the past.  Particularly Richard Lloyd. 
I think it is the way he attacks playing lead guitar. That is something that really got ingrained in my mind.  I never learned to play guitar from him.  I wish that I had. 

Q: Was this the easiest record you’ve ever made? 

A: I don’t think of records as hard to make generally.  Making this one was pretty easy.  The hardest thing about making a record is getting over being self-critical. And just letting the album flow and come out. 

Q: You used a Hofner Bass on all tracks.  What is it about that bass that makes it your go to?  

A: It has sort of a punky sound and a low frequency kind of effect.  You can make it pretty loud and it still sounds good up loud. It has flat round strings on it that give it a late 50’s and early 60’s retro sound.    

Q: This is your 15th album.  Do you ever go back and listen to your old albums for inspiration? 

A: Very rarely have I gone back to listen to things. Really only if I’m forced to.  If I’m somewhere and something of mine is playing and I can’t run out to avoid it.   

Q: You made 3 great records of covers with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles, are there any plans for an “Under The Covers” Volume 4?  

A: I am able to say yes.  We have been talking about doing an album of nineties songs.  I need to talk to Susanna about it a little more seriously.  Maybe we will run a crowd sourcing or something to pay for it.  I think that a new album is going to happen. I know Susanna wants to do it.  And I want to do it.  

Mathew Sweet’s new album: “Catspaw” is available now wherever you get music.  “Challenge The Gods” is a selection from that album encouraging the listener to take risks, and ‘rise above.’

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Keith Valcourt

Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More

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