The Best of Tomorrow, Today
Prolific pop-rock singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet's recent release is one of the best records of 2018. Don't miss it.
Just after Matthew Sweet graduated high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, he relocated to Georgia during the golden age of early '80s Athens music. Two years after his immersion in the burgeoning Classic City scene, he signed to Columbia Records and left for New York. Since then, the prolific musician has released a steady stream of pop masterpieces.
Some weren't overwhelmingly commercial successes, but after a fallow period on A&M, Zoo Entertainment swooped in and pushed his early to mid-'90s albums Girlfriend, Altered Beast and 100% Fun to massive commercial alternative radio hits, permanently establishing the soft-spoken songwriter as an in-demand performer, collaborator and producer.
Tomorrow's Daughter, his thirteenth release, is an appropriate follow-up to last year's Kickstarter-funded Tomorrow Forever. Both were recorded after returning home to Nebraska, while enduring the deaths of his mother and father. Released in May on his own label, the newest addition to Sweet's incredible catalog of perfect pop songs is definitely worth seeking out.
INsite spoke with the multi-instrumentalist by phone from his studio in Omaha.
As with your previous release, this album comes from a period of intense personal change for you, including relocation and heartbreaking loss.
Yeah, my wife and I had been in Los Angeles for twenty years. Then we decided we'd sell our place, take our nest-egg and move somewhere.
Was moving back to your home-state on the list of possibilities?
We'd thought about places near Los Angeles as well as in northern California and even Hawaii. In the end, we moved back here to Omaha where both of us have a lot of family.
In the middle of those changes, you were still able to produce a lot of material.
My mother died just after I ran the Kickstarter campaign for Tomorrow Forever and then, sort of at the end of that process last summer, my dad died. But in between, I had a really big, creative burst of stuff.
Were the songs a reaction to all of the things that were happening in your life at that point?
I think being back in Nebraska - though I grew up in Lincoln, which is actually about 50 miles away - but just being closer to where I first started playing music as a kid, I felt a solid base from it. I think being here has been creatively good for me. If anything, losing my mother slowed the recording process, and some of it is in the songs, but I think the real inspiration came from me just wanting to make music.
How do you stay creative and write mostly upbeat pop songs in the middle of such a period of sadness?
In the case of my mother, I'd just completed the Kickstarter campaign, so I had a fire under me. But it still took a few months to really feel like starting it. But then once I started writing it, I'd go with a feeling that maybe she was in there. But I usually don't have a traumatic event and then write some songs about it, I usually just get in the mode where it's all there as a stream of consciousness and I'm not really thinking about it. I'll just come up with little melodic ideas or riffs and I try to collect those. There's always enough of them that if I then go, 'These are gonna be the songs,' I can flesh them out and they'll finally become something.
So is this album a continuation of the Tomorrow Forever record or do you see it as a completely stand-alone project?
When I recorded Tomorrow Forever, I had a whole lot of songs. After making that album, it still left a lot of songs that I liked. So Tomorrow's Daughter is definitely another album that just happens to come from the same sort of wellspring. Some of the Kickstarter supporters who'd selected to receive demos heard these new songs. Because I'd started on it so late, I didn't really make any demos. Then I wanted to get it out in a timely fashion so that it's fresh for this year. Now that it's on CD and vinyl, it's gratifying to see it come to fruition as its own entity.
It's definitely not a B-sides compilation. The songs are just as strong as on Tomorrow Forever.
Thank you! I think it kinda lives in its own alternate universe from the other record. But there's a lot of the same players on both of them, so that makes it feel more like a band record.
It's good to see [Bangles' drummer] Debbi Peterson's name in the credits.
Oh yeah, [Sweet band alum and Velvet Crush drummer] Rick Menck had some health issues and couldn't make it at one point. So I asked Debbi if she'd come out here to Nebraska and record some drums with me. Power to her, she said she would and we just had a great time. We recorded a bunch of drum tracks, but my ideas were very fledgling when she came here. She had very little to go on. I'd get the chords together the night before and then we'd record them. She's great and it was a fun few days. But I've had a lot of good experiences with her.
Including your production on The Bangles'  Sweetheart of the Sun album.
Yes! They were really cool when they'd play together as a group. They'd cut backing tracks together and it was cool to be there recording them. They're a real, kick-ass band.
Of course, you and Susanna Hoffs have collaborated many times on several volumes of cover albums as Sid 'n' Susie.
We did a lot of stuff! We'd spent so much time together doing those records, we really got to know each other very well. We like a lot of the same things. Usually if one of us liked something, the other one probably liked it, too. Those records were really fun to do and it was sort of a guilty pleasure, putting ourselves into the shoes of the greats.
Now that you're in in Nebraska, maybe you can set up a little bed, breakfast and studio retreat up there.
I was amazed Debbi would even come out here. But it's also really easy for me to record from afar. I can send just a track to someone - and this is how I did a lot of the guitars on both albums - I'd send a stereo track with some singing and parts on it. They'd play their parts at home, send it back to me and I'd drop it into the session. It's great for the players because they can be relaxed in their own environment at home. But having said that, it's fun to record together. It works either way for me because I don't tend to give a lot of direction. I just want people to play what they feel. So it's like Christmas when somebody sends me their part.
Thanks to the internet and having your own label, your band and your audience are never very far away.
That's true. I'm not super social anyway. Even when I lived in Los Angeles, I barely went out and did things. So being here in Nebraska isn't much of a change in the social thing. It's easy for me to tour from here; you can fly anywhere in relatively short periods of time. I've lived in New York, I've lived in Los Angeles and I've lived down in Georgia. Now that I'm here, it's not a big deal like it might be for some people. I'm still writing and playing. Maybe more than ever.
I've always been in awe of your seemingly never-ending well of great pop song ideas. Where does it all come from?
You know, my ideas come in a stream that's not very business-like or technical. Writing the words might be the most technical thing about it. I make songs from bursts of ideas. Like, if I know I want to have ten songs and I've got Rick coming in to play drums in two weeks, everyday I'll have these brainstorming sessions where I'll just make up some ideas. By the time he comes, I can pick my favorites of those ideas and make them into a chord structure. The songs grow from that. It's still like magic to me because it's really not a technical thing. When you call it a well, that's a lot of how I think of it, too. It's a lot like pushing your hand down into a well and seeing what you pull out of it, you know? I just believe I can do it. You have to believe in it and then it just kinda happens.
Matthew Sweet is currently on tour. For more information and to order new music, visit www.matthewsweet.com.