Sweet escorts "Girlfriend" tour back to Milwaukee
It has been about a decade since Matthew Sweet performed at Shank Hall, but he will return on Monday, Sept. 17 to perform his 1991 "Girlfriend" album in its entirety.
The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $25. Summer Twins are set to open.
"It'll be awesome," says Sweet. "It has been a long time."
Sweet, who was born in Lincoln, Neb., moved to Athens, Ga. in the mid-80s where he collaborated with Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of REM. He was also in a band, Oh-OK, with Stipe's sister, Lynda.
Sweet was later signed by A&M Records, moved to New York, made two records, got divorced and was let go by A&M.
Soon after, Sweet signed with Zoo Entertainment (later Volcano Entertainment) and in 1991, released "Girlfriend," his third album and the one that's considered to be his artistic breakthrough. Sweet went on to release 10 more albums, two with Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles, but never achieved the same commercial success as he did with "Girlfriend."
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the album, Sweet decided to go on tour and perform it live in its entirety. The first tour did so well Sweet will embark on a second tour, with the first stop at Milwaukee's Shank Hall on Monday.
OnMilwaukee.com recently chatted with Sweet about living in Athens during the flourishing '80s music scene, his upcoming album with Hoffs and his decision to tour again with "Girlfriend."
OnMilwaukee.com: What was it like living in Athens in the mid-80s with so many famous or soon-to-be famous musicians and bands?
Matthew Sweet: I never saw myself as much of a scene-maker. I'm this kid from Nebraska. I only lived there for two or three years.
I went there because I knew people in Athens – Pylon – and I was a big REM fan. I got one of their drum sticks when they played in Lincoln and they were (not famous yet and) really excited that some kid in Nebraska had the 45 of their first single, "Radio Free Europe" with the B-side, "Sitting Still."
I wrote a letter to (REM producer) Mitch Easter (after Stipe put the two in touch) and asked him where I should move and he suggested Boston, New York or Athens.
I had a great time in Athens, but I left when there was an influx of people, after REM had gotten huge, but before it got really catty. I was able to be really happy-go-lucky when I was there.
OMC: When did you start to take music seriously?
MS: When I was 13 I started playing bass with some people who were in college. A New Wave cover group called The Specs and we did (songs by) The Jam, The Police, The Yardbirds. I sang "My Generation" by The Who. We did proms and stuff; it was awesome for me. I got to party with college kids when I was 13.
I was in other bands. A prog-rock band, Spectrum. In Athens I was in The Buzz of Delight with David Pierce who was the kingpin of the scene at the time. And I was in Oh-OK (at the same time) with Lynda Stipe. I also worked with Peter Buck and Michael Stipe. I played on stage with REM.
Then, A&M Records thought I should be a solo artist, so they moved me to New York. I made a couple of albums. Then I made "Girlfriend" in 1991.
OMC: "Girlfriend" was your third album – your breakthrough album – and it came at a very emotional time in your life, right?
MS: Yeah. I got married really young, the first time, and divorced after six years. I got married again, several years later in 1993, and we've been married for 19 years.
OMC: Do you have any kids?
MS: No kids. We tried to have them, had a few failed IVFs, and we could have adopted but it was just very expensive. My wife works for Mike Myers and we realize now there are some things we wouldn't be able to do if we had kids. But it's not that we didn't want to have kids.
OMC: Tell me about the album you're working on with Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles?
MS: It's our third album. We're starting to work on it this fall and hopefully it will come out next year. It will have '80s covers like "Standing Still" by REM. Also, The Pretenders, XTC, Marshall Crenshaw, Roxy Music, Squeeze. Maybe "How Soon Is Now" by The Smiths.
OMC: How did you decide to tour and perform the "Girlfriend" album live?
MS: In 2010 I realized that the 20th anniversary was coming up, and I thought about touring the album. So I tried it a couple of times. It worked out well, but it was a lot of work – with the bonus tracks there are 15 songs – and I had a lot to re-learn. I was often saying, "What was I thinking?"
But it was so great to see people relive that era. A lot of people found themselves during that era. They got into first relationships and made tough decisions. It brings something back for a lot of people, and for me. It feels very natural.
I know there's a trend for bands to do entire albums, and Cheap Trick doing it was an inspiration.
OMC: So how are you different touring on the same album but 20 years later?
MS: When "Girlfriend" first became successful, I had never toured very much. It was all pretty new. I was never a "look at me" person and so I felt conflicted and introverted. Now, I am more open. I connect more with the audience. It makes touring so much better.
And we aren't playing it safe. We really rock out and have a great time. Before, I had to drink two or three beers and look at the floor while playing live. Now, I can really get into it.
OMC: Has technology made a huge difference?
MS: Yes. Before the Internet, we knew so little about the group other than what was on the front and back cover (of the album). Now you can know everything – a shoe size if you want.
I'm not really into social media – I just never took to it – but I did get a Facebook account so I could get Spotify. But I love technology for making music. I'm a crazy Mac person from way back. It has allowed us to make such high quality music in our homes. I remember when I made "Girlfriend," I said to myself, "I want one little box that does everything."
OMC: What are your goals for the future?
MS: I don't really think about music this way. I roll with the seasons. I guess I would like to make more music for TV and movies, but I really just want to keep making music and see where it goes.
1991 at Shank was a great show. I would rather hear Sweet's new music.
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