Matthew Sweet wishes his records were as loose as Neil Young’s



By Steve Newton

When Matthew Sweet checks in from his L.A. abode for an afternoon chat, I’ve got a fair supply of questions lined up. I want to uncover the acclaimed pop rocker’s thoughts about his place on the Another Roadside Attraction megatour, which comes to UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium on Thursday (July 13); I want to get the goods on his work with famed producer Brendan O’Brien on the current 100% Fun CD; I want to pry into his penchant for strange and foreboding lyrics.

But most of all, I want to know about the album he has on his lap in 100% Fun’s 20-year-old cover photo. I had a lot of albums on my lap in 1974, but none that featured the big-monkey cover art of the disc he’s pictured with. I’m concerned that it might be some quintessential ’70s-rock item that snuck past me, even though I spent all the spare cash I could muster on music back then. (All my teenage pals had nice cars; I had nice records.)

“Oh, it’s like a King Kong soundtrack,” explains Sweet with a chuckle. “I was into monster movies and I used to get this magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. I think I ordered away for it out of that.”

Sweet’s youthful interest in scary creatures shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since his demented appearance on the lurid cover of last year’s odds-and-sods EP Son of Altered Beast showed a keen appreciation of the horror/sci-fi genre.

“It’s a thing I was really, really into as a young kid,” says the Nebraska native, “and I have kinda felt it resurface a lot lately. I’ve been starting to relive all my original dreams and loves of my life, you know, ’cause when I really got into music I lost sight of some of those hobbies I’d been into. As I’ve gotten older and into this profession where I have to express myself, I’ve tried to get them back into, like, the artwork and the videos and stuff. I’ve kind of gotten back in touch with the whole monster thing through that.”

Even without shoving any creepy crawlies in people’s faces, Sweet has managed to freak a few folks out with his often bizarre lyrics, which rarely tend toward sweetness and light. As a matter of fact, he chose the title 100% Fun in sarcastic response to the people who kept telling him how dark and weird the songs were on his 1992 release, Altered Beast.

“That’s part of why I liked the title,” he says. “Ultimately, when it kinda stuck in my head, it was because I thought it made an interesting contrast to some of the more sober themes in the music. And something about the combination made me think about the title almost in a melancholy kind of way, like, ‘One hundred–percent fun—did you ever have it?’ You remember those moments where you kind of do, but it never really lasts, and you are always trying to find it. Maybe it doesn’t exist.

“But [the title] also does sort of fool people. It makes them think the record’s real cheerful, which I think has kind of helped sales. People go, ‘Oh, yeah, one hundred–percent fun! I like it!’ ”

100% Fun still features enough of Sweet’s semitwisted lyrical concoctions to keep folks guessing, but the actual music roars along with a distinctly straightforward, rockin’ vibe, thanks in no small part to the raging electric guitars of Richard Lloyd (Television) and Robert Quine (Lou Reed, Richard Hell and the Voidoids) plus the slippery pedal-steel and electric lap-steel guitar of Greg Leisz (k.d. lang). And having a hotshot producer like Brendan O’Brien at the controls didn’t hurt, either. So far, the in-demand knob-twiddler has hit it big with Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the Black Crowes, and Stone Temple Pilots, to name but a few.

“When I heard Brendan’s records, I agreed with, like, the aesthetic of them,” says Sweet, “but they also really impressed me in this bewildering way. I would always hear things by whatever band he had worked with and I would say, ‘Why does this band sound so great? What do they do to get that kind of sound?’ Even if it wasn’t the kind of thing I was into that much, I was always impressed by records he’d worked on. They didn’t offend me—like he never had some, quote, ‘production’, unquote, sort of style that jumped out at me. The band just seemed really powerful and really maximized sonically.

“So I mentioned to my manager that I’d like to do a record with Brendan O’Brien, and he kinda laughed at me, ’cause Brendan was just so sought-after at this point. But it turned out he was a fan of mine, and we very much hit it off in the studio. He likes to work really quickly, which I like to do, and it’s just nothing to him to make great-sounding mixes in, like, half an hour. He just sits down there and does it.”

With O’Brien at the helm, Sweet manages on 100% Fun to create glorious guitar-drenched pop tunes with simple melodies and gorgeous harmonies. Most of the songs hang raggedy and loose in the best Neil Young tradition—which isn’t surprising, since Young is one of Sweet’s all-time rock heroes. He recorded a dandy version of Young’s “Don’t Cry No Tears” for Son of Altered Beast.

“Sometimes I’d almost react against it,” says Sweet of his Young love. “I’d be like, ‘Come on, Neil Young isn’t the only guy I like; I certainly like John Lennon or Brian Wilson or Gram Parsons all equally as much, if not more.’ But then again, I listen to Neil’s stuff now after having gotten off it for a while since the whole Girlfriend time, and I’m like, ‘Wow, he’s so great.’ I wish my records were as loose as his.”

Although Sweet may know his stuff when it comes to Neil Young, he’s not so up on another of Canada’s most valuable rock gems. He’ll be taking part in 10 shows on the Roadside tour as it wends its way across the country, but when the Straight spoke with him he still hadn’t heard one Tragically Hip tune.

“I don’t know their music, I must admit, but I’m planning on getting a CD or something before I come up there, so I can comment more intelligently on them. We met their manager and their road manager, and they seemed really nice, like the main goal was gonna be lots of fun for everybody, so I think it’s gonna be pretty cool.”


To hear the full audio of my 1995 interview with Matthew Sweet subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 275 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Peter Goalby of Uriah Heep, 1983
Lenny Zakatek of the Alan Parsons Project, 1983
Marc Storace of Krokus, 1983
Chris Whitley, 1991
Buddy Cage of New Riders of the Purple Sage, 2006
Bill Elm of Friends of Dean Martinez, 1995
Simon Townshend, 1983
John Bush of Anthrax, 1993
Aldo Nova, 1983
Steven Adler from Guns N’ Roses, 2011
Mick Ronson, 1989
Tom Morello, 2011
Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers, 1993
Colin Hay of Men at Work, 1983
Mark Kelly of Marillion, 1986
Luther Allison, 1995
Lee Rocker from the Stray Cats, 2007
J. Geils from the J. Geils Band, 2006
Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, 1997
Jason Newsted of Newsted (and Metallica), 2013
Marshall Crenshaw, 2013
Dan Hartman, 1984
Sean Costello, 2006
Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, 1998
Tommy Stinson from the Replacements, 1993
Brian Blush of the Refreshments, 1997
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, 2003
Craig Northey of Strippers Union, 2021
Melissa Etheridge, 1990
Joe Jackson, 2003
Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, 2001
David Ellefson of Megadeth, 1992
David Lee Roth, 2003
Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
John Popper of Blues Traveler, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Ellen McIlwaine, 2001
Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks, 2012
J.D. Fortune of INXS, 2006
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
Jeff Healey, 1988
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Roy Buchanan, 1988
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joe Satriani, 1990
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
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Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
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Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
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Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
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Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
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…with hundreds more to come

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