When I was 15 or so, I heard Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend” on the radio. It took me weeks to acquire his albums 100% Fun, Girlfriend, and Altered Beast (instant musical gratification hadn’t yet been invented), but by the time I’d heard “Sick of Myself” and “I Almost Forgot” 7,000 times, I knew that the only thing I was sure I wanted to do was to be in a rock and roll band. That is how Matthew Sweet changed my life.
Imagine, then, my disbelief and amazement when The Mates were tapped to open for Matthew Sweet and his band at the Birchmere on Friday, Aug. 23. And then the incredulity and (if I’m being honest) nervousness that arose when TVD suggested that Matthew and I interview each other—on the telephone!
The following is a transcript of our conversation, which plays out like a comedy of errors as Matthew and I spend many precious minutes trying to figure out how to actually conduct the interview. Misunderstandings and technical difficulty abound, but we still manage to work in some good discussion about vinyl, Kickstarter campaigns, pottery, and who’s actually opening Matthew’s show. —Olivia Mancini
Hi, is this Olivia?
It is. Hi, is this Matthew?
Great. Nice to speak with you, Matthew. So, listen, I don’t know if you had any ideas about how we can do this because I’m not sure what’s the best way. This is going to go on The Vinyl District, in some transcribed form, but I guess that means we have to figure out how to record it. Do you have any ideas on that?
Hmmm…wait, I thought there was going to be someone else transcribing it for us.
Hmmm…yeah, no. It’s just us on the call. How do you feel about Skype?
Skype? Do you have a way to record with Skype?
Well, I was thinking if we Skyped, then both voices would be in the room, and then I could just record it like that.
You have a way to record it through your computer?
I was thinking to hit the old voice memo function on the iPhone.
Ah, got it. Skype. Hmmm. Well, I’m kind of not presentable. I look like I just rolled out of bed…
And I was going to change my shirt for this but forgot. So, no Skype.
How about just speaker phone?
Oh, okay. I could do that. Here I am, firing up my Garageband. And I’ll just hit speaker on the phone here…Hello, hi, can you hear me?
Yes, but you’re very…faint. Sounds like the mic is kind of muffled.
That could be a potential phone problem, yes. I may have submerged it in water not so long ago.
That’s what it sounds like. Like you’re under water.
Ha. Okay. So that’s out.
Well, I have you on speaker phone here. Maybe I could record it on my end and then send it to you?
Yeah, I think that would work.
OK, doing a test here…hello, hello, hello. OK, that’s working. We’re ready!
Great. OK, I made some questions. I know we want to talk about vinyl because, after all, this is for The Vinyl District.
Yup. Everyone here likes talking about vinyl. OK, so I was looking through your discography here and it looks like you put out your most recent record…
Exactly, yes, Modern Art, out on vinyl in 2011, and you did the release before that on vinyl as well. Have you done all of your releases on vinyl, in addition to CD and maybe digital download?
That’s a good question. I don’t think everything has been on vinyl. There was a point in the ‘90s when I know we did sort of Girlfriend, Altered Beast, 100% Fun on vinyl. After that, I really don’t know if there was any In Reverse vinyl, and I’m not sure if there was anything for the Japanese record that was in the early 2000s, or Living Things, which was another one I made then. There was vinyl for the Thorns record, which I made with a couple other guys.
[Matthew talks about vinyl for several minutes]
OK, I have to tell you. I just discovered that our recording has stopped.
So, I’ve started it again. I don’t know why it did that. Maybe the phone went to sleep. I don’t know if you got any of that on your end. You could maybe recreate some of it?
OK, let’s just pick up with what I last remember I was saying. I think the important part was about Modern Art.
It was a situation where we mastered the record onto vinyl lacquers a couple of songs at a time because it’s better sound quality that way. So, we then recaptured with a high-end turntable back into the digital realm the sound of the vinyl so that the CD, any digital downloads, all are vinyl that you’re hearing basically. Albeit vinyl reproduced, but it sounds like vinyl definitely. So, that was a cool thing with vinyl we did on that.
Yeah, that sounds very cool.
And on Girlfriend, even though it was only 1990, 1991, I was getting nostalgic already about there not being two sides to a record. Because that’s how we consumed them—you got into one side or another and you found your favorite things, and eventually you get into everything on both sides.
So, at the end of the sixth song on Girlfriend, there’s a run-out groove sound of vinyl and on the seventh song it’s like putting the needle down. I’ve been talking about that a lot because we’ve been playing 20th anniversary shows for the last couple years on Girlfriend itself. I’ve always thought it was funny that I was nostalgic for vinyl so early in the switchover. So, that’s that. Is there anything else I forgot to talk about that we want to try to recreate?
Yeah, actually, I thought it was interesting when you said that in 1986, you only got to put out a CD if you were really popular.
Oh, yeah. When I started my career, you definitely got to put out vinyl and a cassette, but only the really high-selling things you got to put on CD. So, I don’t believe I got to put a CD out on my first record, probably not until my second.
And then, lo and behold, by five years later, the norm is to do CDs mainly, and cassette. Mainly that, but there may have still been some vinyl. I don’t know how much though because we did a deal to put out vinyl for Girlfriend, Altered Beast, and 100% Fun, through a specialty vinyl company. That must have been around 1997 or so. So I guess those didn’t come out on vinyl at all until we did those special pressings.
Yeah, I could see that. Vinyl going specialty in the mid-90s. I know I wasn’t buying any vinyl then.
Yeah, yeah. Now, I think there are many places where you can have vinyl made. You can do a lot of things that used to have to be really custom, like weird shapes and weird colors and it’s all pretty doable these days. It is something I’d like to experiment more around with. And I definitely will do vinyl with my next album. I think I’m going to do a Kickstarter campaign, sort of in the next month. And so one the tiers will definitely be some special vinyl stuff.
Cool! Would you be doing a Kickstarter for the release itself? Like, this next one will be an independent release?
Well, the way I understand it, is that when you do something on Kickstarter you kind of own it outright yourself. So I think you can, in fact, go later and do a distribution deal or whatever, you don’t have to technically set up everything yourselves, but, yeah, it’s likely to be independent and generally me, even if there’s something that sounds like a label that distributes it, if that makes sense?
So, it will be indie, and I have some friends who run this label called Burger Records down in Orange County, and it’s kind of a hotbed of young groups, some of which are a little bit like power pop, kind of what my legacy is, so I may do some vinyl things with them that are limited edition just for the Kickstarter.
Yeah, I could see the Kickstarter fans getting into a limited edition vinyl.
I mean, I’m doing a lot of different things for the Kickstarter. I’m doing a whole 3D object thing tied in with it. You know, I’m known as making pottery some. Sometimes I sell it at show and I’ve had an Etsy store before. I don’t have one right now, but I got interested in the idea of producing some of my pottery forms in other sorts of mediums, like making a bronze cat instead of one that is made of pottery…
[I’ve gotten access to] a 3D printer, like a huge one that’s like, a billion dollars…and now I’m learning this software where I can design things—3D objects—and I’ve gotten a small home 3D printer, so I’m going to make a couple tiers where you get some sort of object, whether it’s a homemade 3D printed thing, or on the high end, you can get some sort of special thing made out of bronze. I tend to specialize in cats, so I’ll probably do some sort of cat in that form. And it makes it fun for me to do something that it is sort of hobby-like with some sort of goal in mind of producing a thing, an object.
Very cool. So it’s like making art to support your art.
I didn’t know you did pottery. That’s very interesting—have you been doing the wheel for a long time?
Yeah, I throw a wheel…I started doing it maybe around 10 years ago. It’s just something that’s been awesome that I love to do.
Yeah, I was curious how you got into it because I’ve had a lot of people tell me that throwing pots is very calming, very centering.
When it’s happening correctly, it’s really not very different—for me, anyway—than working on music. You get in kind of a zone where you don’t know what’s happening and all of a sudden there’s something there. The difference with pottery that’s cool is that you have an object afterward. For better or worse, you live with that moment…I always feel like, I can’t even imagine how I did it. And that’s really how I’ve kind of always felt about music. It’s humbling, pottery. Some days, you know, you could never do it, and then other days, you’re a master. I say a master loosely, obviously.
Yeah, I know I have music days like that where I think, “I’m crushing it right now! This sounds like real music!” And then other days when I can’t even make my fingers go on the strings properly.
So, I wanted to ask you, what can we expect at The Birchmere show? Have you played there before?
Oh, yes, we’ve played a bunch of times and it’s always awesome. So, it better still be awesome.
Guess what? It’s still awesome.
We love everybody there. We love the place, we love the people who work there, the people who come there are always awesome.
Agreed. Well, I don’t want to get crazy fan on you, but I hope that you’ll play some of the new stuff as well as some of the 100% Fun and Altered Beast for that show. Because, well, I guess I must have heard “Girlfriend” on the radio in the earlier ‘90s, and before I knew it, I’d snapped up all three records I could get my hands on. Definitely a big inspiration for me.
Oh, that’s awesome! Well, are you going to able to come down there?
Well, actually, I’m playing with you.
Oh, you’re playing with me!
I am totally playing with you. I’m in the opening band.
Wait, how did you get to do this?
The interview thing?
Yes! Yeah, yeah.
Well, this cool site, The Vinyl District, often does a format where bands who are playing together interview each other.
Oh, I get it! See, I didn’t get the memo! So, I was going, “She’s obviously a musician,” but, no, I didn’t know.
Ha, ha, I thought that might be the case here.
Well, that’s okay. Maybe it’s better that I didn’t know because I might have been embarrassed to say several things here. Ha! That’s awesome, though. So, you’ll definitely be there.
Absolutely, I’m super looking forward to it.
Looking forward to meeting you, too. This is too funny.
This is pretty good, yeah.
Well, thanks for doing this and for talking to me. I feel like this should be called “Two musicians try to figure out how to do an interview.”
“Two Musicians Try To Figure Out How To Do an Interview”
Featuring Matthew Sweet and Olivia Mancini