Moving Back to the Midwest Has Helped Inspire Singer-Songwriter Matthew Sweet

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Good things are definitely always worth waiting for. That’s the general philosophy that singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet seems to be sticking to as he works steadily to complete his next solo album, which is being funded by fans who contributed to his Kickstarter campaign last year. Originally, the singer-songwriter had hoped to have the album out by now, but in a recent phone conversation from his home in Omaha, he says things are taking a little bit longer and the reasons for that are all good.

“I’ve got about seven songs sung and mostly done,” he says. “I’ve got another eight that are recorded backing tracks and I’m working on various lyrics and things. Or if it’s something I demoed, I’m still just working on [vocals and adding] some guitars and things. The thing is, this particular bunch of stuff, the 15 real tracks that I recorded with Ric [Menck] and Paul [Chastain] a couple of months ago, I’m still going to do one more batch, I think. It probably won’t be this many, but I’m still writing.”

Still, he thinks it’s “going to turn out great.”

“How can I not have at least half of the songs from [the initial recordings] if not more like 10 of them? And then if I do another 10, it’s just going to up the quality of what I end up concentrating to be the record itself. So I’m a little slow, I guess right now. I’m a couple of months late, but I’m trying to get the record finished. The latest goal is to get done by the end of August. The only time I’m touring is really these nine or ten days in July when we’re coming [to Cleveland]. I’m working a lot on it right now, but you know, it’s just this thing where I can’t rush it because I’ve promised it will be really good. And what does really good mean? If I rushed it, it might be just as good, but you know, the way I’ve always done it, I think at the best, is when I have a lot of material and I cull it down to the things that really seem to be working.”

Sweet admits that the Kickstarter deadline attached to this record is a different animal compared to record company deadlines that he faced in the past.

“The thing with record companies is there’s much worse pressure that they just wished you would be more successful or whatever,” he chuckles. “There’s much more of that at record companies, where it’s like they just wanted to figure out what to tell you to do to be different so you’d be more successful. That thing is gone, which is great, because that’s a different kind of pressure where you feel like you could never live up to it. The pressure I feel from the Kickstarter is more my pressure on myself to do a really good job, because it’s actually this giant group of fans that are sort of funding it.”

In the ‘90s, Sweet expertly mixed riff-heavy tracks like “Girlfriend,” “Sick of Myself” and “The Ugly Truth” with more introspective material like “Devil With The Green Eyes” and “You Don’t Love Me.” He’s continued to indulge both sides of that coin with his more recent albums and the new songs that he’s currently working on do have a specifically targeted focus, but it’s a game plan that should please fans, no matter which flavor of Sweet they might prefer.

“I think that this first batch, I’ve leaned more towards some less incredibly moody or morose kind of music and more of trying to get into having fun playing guitar and recording and having some attitudes about things,” he says. “Although it seems like those would be easier things to do, I will tend to do less of them usually, if I don’t do more songs. So this time, I’ve kind of weighed it more heavily towards extroverted songs I guess you’d call them in advance, knowing that I’ll get good ones if I do enough. I think I’ve saved a little bit of moody specialness for my last batch of songs, because I’ll know more what I need and that might help me kind of not have to do too many more.”

Sometimes, as Sweet reveals, it goes both ways.

“There’s songs that are like ‘Sick of Myself,’ where it’s something people can share in more easily, because it’s a thing that is upbeat and it’s only the lyrics that kind of subvert that feeling,” he laughs. “I love that, you know, when it can be both things. It’s just when you make bitchin’ rock riffs, it’s just not that kind of song usually, you know?”

Last year, he moved back to his home state of Nebraska, relocating from Los Angeles to Omaha, and the environmental shift has also brought some interesting things into his songwriting for this new album.

“It makes me think about my childhood more,” Sweet says. “Not in a way that I want to write songs about my childhood anymore than I ever have, but the feeling of what it was like when I grew up here and my view of the world and nature-wise, I really feel it. The changing of the seasons and those things, it’s just really different from what I’ve had for so many years. I’ve toured through seasons and stuff, but to be in a place where I really watch that cycle, it’s just kind of amazing. You know, when it becomes spring and when everything dies and it’s winter that’s really winter, it does give me some sense of just how I felt and how it’s just kind of these wide open spaces and sky. When I first left Nebraska, people would ask me, ‘How do you think it influenced you?’ And I would just say, you know, this really wide open sky just gave me a feeling that things could be anything. I had very little restriction to how I might imagine stuff. It never really felt like a good answer to it. But now I’m back here and that feeling is immediately what I want to say, even though it’s hard to explain.”

Sweet’s new zip code is a big reason that he’s headed back to Cleveland for his show at the Music Box Supper Club.

“We got offered a couple of things that are sort of outdoor summer things and it’s the first time since I’ve lived here that we’re taking advantage of doing a tour just in the Midwest, kind of around where I live. Which is really neat,” he says. “You know, we kind of almost never would have done that without also going to the Northeast and the East Coast. Being able to do shorter tours like this is really cool.”

Something else that he thinks is pretty cool is the recent Big Eyes movie from Tim Burton, which traces the history of artist Margaret Keane and her husband Walter Keane, who attempted to take credit for her art. As a longtime collector of Keane art, Sweet was thrilled to be involved with the project.

“I was a consultant on it, with Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. That’s been a big, big thing for us, because we’ve been collectors for 20 years and we got to go see them filming it and be really involved in providing artwork for it and helping them sort through the massive amount of stuff they reproduced for it, the historical context and stuff,” he says. “That’s been this amazing thing that happened. I don’t benefit in any way, other than it’s been a fun hobby of ours and it’s surreal to us that the movie got made with Tim directing it and Amy Adams, who we always dreamed would be the best Margaret. It was just kind of like it wasn’t happening. And there’s another strange thing about it, which was that the minute we knew that movie was being made, it was like, I looked at [my wife] Lisa and I’m like, ‘Our work is done here!’ It was like, we really could leave Hollywood, because this labor of love that we wanted their story to be a movie also had finally happened.’”

He has at least one final thought regarding Cleveland.

“I’m excited to go there. You know, it’s been long enough that I could get in the very long line for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he points out. “I don’t know how you do it. I know you have to be 25 years [removed from] your first record, but I’m past that. Because my first record for a major was 1986. It’s not really something I care about, but when I think of Cleveland, I have to bring it up.”

Matthew Sweet, The Orange Peels, 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main St., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $20 ADV, $22 DOS,
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