Hey, kids: remember last month, when we put out a “Calling All Questions” for Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs?
Well, here’s the thing: we thought we were going to get an interview with both of them on the line at the same time, but due to conflicts in their respective schedules, we ended up talking to them separately. Since we still got to talk to both of them, though, we’re still putting a mark in the “win” column…and you should, too, since it meant that we were also still able to ask them your questions. Now, at first, we were going to take the two interviews and combine them into one big piece, but in the end, it became evident that it would be a pretty disjointed conglomeration. As such, we’ll be presenting them independently…one this Tuesday, one next Tuesday…and since we talked to Mr. Sweet first, it seemed only fair to allow him to maintain his status and dive headlong into the fray.
Popdose: Okay, Matthew, are you ready for this?
Matthew Sweet: Iâ€™m ready to go! Now, did I hearâ€¦is it actually fan questions?
It is all reader questions.
And Iâ€™m using that as my escape clause. So if thereâ€™s anything that I may ask that offends you, then itâ€™s something a reader asked, not me.
(Laughs) Thatâ€™s all right.
Oh, you say that now, butâ€¦see, I say this specifically because the last person we did reader questions with got really, really upset by one question which was more or less intended as a joke. He did not, however, take it as such.
Oh, my God. Well, I have a pretty good sense of humor, so I wonâ€™t lose it.
I donâ€™t think weâ€™ve got anything here that would offend you, anyway, but I just wanted to offer the caveat, anyway.
Iâ€™ve never been offended by a question, I donâ€™t think.
Well, thatâ€™s good. Okay, then, here’s your first questionâ€¦
â€¢ Was there a nugget that you both loved and wanted to record for the new album but didnâ€™t because the song was just too obscure?
Oh, God, there were lots of things that were more obscure that we considered, you know, but there was just so much stuff and so many different kinds of stuff in the â€˜70s. Things we wouldâ€™ve loved to have doneâ€¦well, I wouldâ€™ve loved to have done more of the punk and new wave. I wouldâ€™ve loved to have done, like, â€œBlank Generation,â€ or something like that. I wouldâ€™ve liked to have doneâ€¦well, we did do a cover of â€œMarquee Moonâ€ thatâ€™s one of the bonus tracks. There are ten bonus tracks, and a lot of those areâ€¦well, thereâ€™s a Buzzcocks song (â€œYou Say You Donâ€™t Love Meâ€), thereâ€™s a Blondie song (â€œDreamingâ€), so there is some stuff from that era. But we couldâ€™ve recorded 30 songs that were just from that realm. I wouldâ€™ve loved to have done, like, the Stooges or something like that. But, you know, when Sue and I sing together, itâ€™s more of a poppy thing, and we kind of learned a little bit on the first record, I think, that there are certain things that work for us to do together and some things where we donâ€™t find the thing that makes it ours. (Hesitates) I didnâ€™t really answer the question very well. Dwight Twilley came to mind. I wanted to do one of those songs off his first record. There are so many cool things. Sue was a little older than me then, so she was really learning to sing and was into, like, Linda Ronstadt, but most of the things that we thought werenâ€™t normal and that people wouldnâ€™t expect us to do, we did. Like, say, the Yes song (â€œIâ€™ve Seen All Good Peopleâ€). We just got so excited about that. That was something that we both really loved, that group, and it was sort of radical to try and cover them, I guess.
Actually, that ties into one of the questions.
â€¢ Knowing that youâ€™re a big Yes fan, whatâ€™s your favorite album by them, and are there any other prog-rock bands that you liked from the â€˜70s?
Well, my thing was really the late â€˜70s, probably discovering most of the records quite awhile after when they came out, but let me think. Of Yes, I really liked The Yes Album, and I really liked Close to the Edge. As far as one of their more stretched-out things, I think Close to the Edge I really liked, but there were really many things I liked from Yes. They were really melodic and interesting, and I liked Andersonâ€™s thing, and Steve Howeâ€™s just unreal, and Chris Squire is such an awesome, unique bass player. I really learned to play from Chris Squire, playing along with Yes records. If I went backâ€¦I guess what Iâ€™m saying is that Iâ€™d probably find that there are other ones that I really extra loved. Fragile was the one I had first, because â€œRoundaboutâ€ was huge on AOR radio at the time, and as I got to be a teenager, thatâ€™s sort of how I learned about music. I didnâ€™t listen to radio a lot, but that was the kind of radio, I think, that kids a couple of years older than me were listening to, and I generally got my music from people a little bit older. (Laughs) Yeah, there was other stuff I was listening to. I was pretty into Emerson, Lake & Palmer, although I feel like they just sort of werenâ€™t as great, you know? But they were one of the other super-prog groups, and they were cool. I dig some of their stuff still. The big classic in high school was â€œLucky Man,â€ and that synthesizer sound, like a mini-Moog. Everybody who got a synth played that song. And I kind of got into Jethro Tull, but I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s really prog-rock. It was stuff that was kind of around it, at least. But Yes was really the group that I super-loved during that time. Oh, and I really liked Electric Light Orchestra, by the way. I started playing bass in 5th grade, but I was playing violin then, so I thought it was really cool that they had these weird electric violins and all that stuff. It was really awesome. (Laughs) I think I covered that one pretty well.
Yeah, that was pretty good. This next one is kind of related to the one I asked you a moment ago.
â€¢ Has there been a song that you really wanted to cover but that you couldnâ€™t make work and therefore had to abandon?
Yeah, I mean, there are quite a few that we recorded for this, some of them more commercial things that just didnâ€™t quite make it. We probably could make them good enough to make it, but we were so under the gun to finish it, and we had so many songs. I mean, we recorded something like 40 songs. But a couple of the thingsâ€¦you know, we did â€œDonâ€™t Fear the Reaper,â€ and that was really kind of cool, because the girl and the boy voice sort of singing it together, kind of low and ominous. That song is, like, ultra-creepy, man. (Laughs) We felt like we were kind of doing something with that, but we never sort of got there with it. We made a valiant attempt at â€œMore Than A Feeling.â€
But that didnâ€™t quiteâ€¦I mean, theirs is just so crazy. We tried, but we just couldnâ€™t really sing it high enough. Some of it is just so high that we couldnâ€™t even fathom it exactly. But we tried! There was some other really cool stuff, too, but Iâ€™m just trying to think. Most of the others we recorded ended up either as bonus tracks or on it. I know that, on the â€˜60s record, we tried to do an Easybeats song called â€œSorry,â€ but I donâ€™t know if we ever released that. Did we?
Iâ€™m not sure. I know the song, though.
I remember that one, anyway, from the â€˜60s record as being one that we couldnâ€™t exactly make work. I think sometimes things that are too crazy rock are hard to make work. But, you know, we did the Ramones on this one, and itâ€™s pretty cool. And then the classic rock stuff, Sue could really do. We kept substituting Sue all the time, and it was really cool. â€œHow about this song with Sue singing?â€ (Laughs) But, anyway, Iâ€™ve rambled off the topic, so I hope I gave some answer, anyway.
â€¢ Did you consider any Roxy Music songs for the disc?
Thatâ€™s a good question. It wouldâ€™ve been great for us to do one of those things off, like, Avalon or whatever. That was a really cool sounding record, and I do remember having it. I was always kind of interested by Bryan Ferry, but I canâ€™t remember if Sue and I talked about it. But we certainly wouldâ€™ve covered that. We probably thought about it after we already had 40 things. (Laughs) But we wouldâ€™ve! That couldâ€™ve been cool.
Well, actually, youâ€™d still be safe with Avalon, anyway. It came out in â€™82.
You know what? Thatâ€™s why probably exactly why we didnâ€™t do it, because Iâ€™m sure we brought that album up. It would be so cool for us to do a bunch of vocals on something from that.
â€¢ During promotional interviews for Sunshine Lies, you mentioned a few covers that didnâ€™t make the cut, including â€œWerewolves of Londonâ€ and â€œBeast of Burden.â€ What happened to those?
Oh, â€œWerewolvesâ€ could really be good, but everybody just kind of felt that it was too much like the original. I sang it, but it just wasâ€¦it wasnâ€™t too much, but it just didnâ€™t sort of have a thing that made it great. We did a bunch of weird background vocals with Sue that are kind of funny and cool, and once again, I think that would be come about if weâ€™d just set the time to wrap it up. That was one we were really excited about doing, because it was so fun to relive it, but for some reason, it just didnâ€™t quite make the cut in the end.
So that one was not actually finishedâ€¦?
Well, pretty finished. It just isnâ€™t, like, a final mix. It really just needs a final go-through. And with â€œBeast of Burden,â€ it wasnâ€™t even really that it wasnâ€™t super-cool, we just felt thatâ€¦over time, we realized how many other people had covered it, and there were other things that we just felt were more important to put on. But, again, that oneâ€™s pretty good. Itâ€™s got a lot of cool stuff on it.
â€¢ Will these additional covers turn up somewhere down the line?
I think they should. I mean, it wouldnâ€™t be very hard to finish them. Like I said, there are 10 additional tracks that are going to be iTunes exclusives or something, and those include a Gram Parsons song, â€œA Song for You,â€ and they have an amazing James Taylor song sung by Sue with me doing background vocals. Itâ€™s called â€œYou Can Close Your Eyes.â€ Itâ€™s really great, and Greg Liesz does the finger-picking. Itâ€™s really like a Sue solo thing, itâ€™s so great of her. And then there are all of the new-wavy things I mentioned. Thereâ€™s â€œI Wanna Be Sedatedâ€ and â€œYou Say You Donâ€™t Love Me,â€ by the Buzzcocks. You know, I wouldâ€™ve done XTC, and there were Elvis Costello things that we didnâ€™t end up putting on there. We did a version of â€œAccidents will Happen.â€ Itâ€™s really cool, and it had a cool vocal, but, again, it just didnâ€™t quite make it. It wasnâ€™t bad. But we have â€œPeace, Love and Understandingâ€ on the bonus tracks, which sort of hits both Nick Lowe and Elvis.
Did the Pillowcase EP come out on CD, or was it strictly on vinyl?
Good question. I thinkâ€¦God, I think it might be both, actually. It has to have been both. Someone told me theyâ€™re going to do one on this, but I was told that there wasnâ€™t going to be any vinyl.
Yeah, actually, that was another questionâ€¦
â€¢ Is there going to be another Pillowcase EP?
Well, that would be really cool. Ric Menck, who plays drums with me, he mentioned that they told him something about how maybe they were going to do one, but that was the first I knew about it, and it could just have been Shout kind of checking on what it would mean or cost. You know, I know that, a year ago, when I was putting out Sunshine Lies, everybody was, like, â€œVinyl, vinyl, vinyl!â€ But this year, they were, like, â€œNo vinyl!â€ (Laughs) So I just think that thereâ€™s this feeling like vinyl is selling really well, but the amounts are really, really small.
Several people asked approximately the same question, which was basicallyâ€¦
â€¢ Are you ever going to round up all of the various B-sides, rarities, and soundtrack inclusions onto one set for the fans?
I hope so!
For example, one of the Popdose writers said he thought he heard you guys doing â€œWith A Little Help From My Friendsâ€ on the â€œImagine Thatâ€ soundtrack.
No, that wasnâ€™t usâ€¦but that would be awesome! (Laughs) But we did do â€œGot To Get You Into My Lifeâ€ for that. And, you know, there are other things from the sessions from this record. We did do â€œVenus and Mars / Rock Show,â€ and thatâ€™s pretty awesome. Itâ€™s pretty cool, with Sue singing the basic kind of McCartney vocal while Iâ€™m doing the weird sections. Thatâ€™s pretty awesome, and thatâ€™s one that could see the light of day. I donâ€™t know why we didnâ€™t put that into the 10 bonus tracks. I guess just because there were others we wanted to put in. We also did â€œBluebirdâ€ by McCartney, which was pretty cool. Our friend Rosanna Arquette was dating McCartney at the time, and the theory was that he was going to play on it or something, because she was going over to England to see him, but that kind of never came to pass. But we ended up putting Lennon on it, which is cool. And Harrison, too!
â€¢ Whatâ€™s the criterion for choosing a song to cover? Do you have to both like it, or both at least hear something in it?
We need to both like it, yeah. Occasionally, there were songs that Sue didnâ€™t know as well. For instance, that Buzzcocks song, â€œYou Say You Donâ€™t Love Me,â€ or in the case of the â€˜60s record, the Marmalade song, â€œI See the Rain.â€ But she gets into things that Iâ€™m sure about pretty quickly. The criteriaâ€¦ (Laughs) â€¦is almost nonexistent! Itâ€™s completely spontaneous. Itâ€™s, like, â€œWhat if we did that song?â€ â€œYeah, letâ€™s do it!â€ You know what I mean? These records areâ€¦I donâ€™t know, itâ€™s hard to explain. We go at them like fans, but we never attemptâ€¦like, we could go make albums of all songs that nobody would know but that are really cool to us, but part of the fun of it has been that people know a lot of the stuff, and itâ€™s kind of this little party of enjoying these songs. So some of the stuffâ€¦I donâ€™t know. As many times as not, we leave off the most well-known things. It just depends. But itâ€™s very much just of the moment. One of us will call up and go, â€œOh, what about this song?â€ If we even kind of can see how to do it or we like the other personâ€™s idea, we usually go, â€œGreat!â€ But some things we donâ€™t know how great theyâ€™re going to turn out. Like, â€œSugar Magnolia,â€ the Grateful Dead song, we had done a little bit of drums for it and stuff, but we never kind of finished it â€˜til right near the end, and then it was, like, once we did, we went, â€œOh, my God, Iâ€™m glad we did this!â€ And thatâ€™s why we tried to finish as many things as we could, because thatâ€™s when you can tell which things really win. So we tried not to cut stuff out until the very end.
â€¢ Do you two have a lot of common interests? Or are you really different in tastes, and thatâ€™s what makes it a good collaboration?
We do have a lot of common interests. We like the same kind of stuff. We like melodies that are sort of melancholy. I think we both really like that, when thereâ€™s a feeling in there thatâ€™s some kind of little twist. People like Todd Rundgren. We both loved that kind of music. And the Raspberries or whatever. I think that I probably get more into a harder rock side of things that Sue exactly does, where sheâ€™ll lean a little more towards the pristine because of her voice. She can do these really pro vocalsâ€¦ (Laughs) â€¦and itâ€™s just gorgeous. Theyâ€™re really nice. I would use this as an example except that itâ€™s actually the other way around, but we were talking about Bread when we were picking songs, and Ric and I were championing Bread. There was a longtime thing with our band when we were touring where thereâ€™d be different factions having mock soft-rock groups, and weâ€™d been through this whole thing where we were saying, â€œSoft rock is cool!â€ And we can appreciate a lot of stuff on those records. But Sue was, like, â€œReally? We could do a Bread song and it wouldnâ€™t be too uncool?â€ So we did a Bread song, and then she fell in love with itâ€¦and itâ€™s great, and I loved her stuff on it, but in the end, I was, like, â€œShould we really put Bread on it?â€ (Laughs) So, um, I donâ€™t remember your original question nowâ€¦
(Laughs) Do you have a lot of common interests or are you really different?
Right! We really do. We like a lot of the same music things, and we both love when stuff is cool and weird. Weâ€™ve even foundâ€¦Iâ€™ve started recording the Banglesâ€™ new record, and weâ€™ve done three songs so far, and I get to play bass on it, and theyâ€™re so cool. Theyâ€™re totally ready to be adventurous and awesome! (Laughs) And they play really great, too! Thatâ€™s another thing about Sue: sheâ€™s starting to write more songs and has a really good sense when it comes to making up ideas that are sort of folky but also have that Beatle-y cool melody thing. Sheâ€™s never been really confident about it, though. None of them have ever been really confident enough about their abilities and writing, but when they work together and theyâ€™re here, itâ€™s awesome! Iâ€™m, like, â€œWow, theyâ€™re really great!â€ So thatâ€™s been a fun thingâ€¦and what made me think of it was that Iâ€™ll be playing bass on something, and Iâ€™ll play something crazy for one or two takes and do all of these nutty things, and then Debbi (Peterson) is, like, so into it. Iâ€™m all worried, but she digs it! They really like cool stuff, and so does Sue, and that shouldnâ€™t be a surprise. I always liked girl groups who were into jangly guitars and stuff. I love, like, the Shangri-Las and those early groups, and I love the Go-Goâ€™s and the Bangles. Their stuff is really cool, and itâ€™s awesome being involved with those people. All of them. Charlotte and Jane from the Go-Goâ€™s, we all like the same stuff. If someoneâ€™s cool and into a certain era of rock and a certain kind of music, you usually find that thereâ€™s a million things that you all love. In my case, Iâ€™m really lucky because Ric is, like, an insane record listener and collector, and heâ€™s just a constant stream of stuff thatâ€™s always one level more obscure. Lots of psychedelic freakbeat rock from the â€˜60s. There are still so many things that Iâ€™m getting into that so few people know about.
â€¢ Who plays what guitar parts in the studio, and how do you decide who plays them?
Well, it just depends. I mean, you know, our friend Greg Liesz lives right here, so whenever it was something where we thought, â€œWow, someone needs to be great to play that,â€ we would get him. My guitar player Pete Phillips, who plays lead with me, he was great to have play on the Mott the Hoople song (â€œAll the Young Dudesâ€). I mean, he totally made the sound of that! So it just depends. Usually, I play guitar to guide the drums, and then we sort of build it up, with some of the stuff on this record, Sue sang guide as well and sometimes played. But Iâ€™ll tend to build up the bass and the guitars and, on this record, I guess I did all of the keyboards. I wouldnâ€™t say nothing was challenging, because it took something like eight hours to learn â€œHello, Itâ€™s Meâ€! (Laughs) I had to do it by ear. But it was really cool, the way he plays!
So does Sue not play as much guitar on the records as you do, then?
Not as much guitar, no. She does a lot of percussion stuff. But she does play guitar on it. Sheâ€™s really good at the jangly 12-string. She played that on quite a few things. But we got so that either I did the lead guitar stuff or we had some sort of a guest, like Greg or, as in the case of â€œSecond Hand News,â€ Lindsey Buckingham played lead on it. Or on the Yes song, Steve Howe plays the lead guitar.
â€¢ How do you quell speculation about Volume 3 focusing on indie rock, electro, punk, new romance, power ballads, and dance of the â€˜80s?
Thatâ€™s cute. (Adopts fake angry voice) Fuck off! (Laughs) Well, you know, we just think â€œthe â€˜80s,â€ you know? In the beginning, I donâ€™t know what Sue felt about the â€˜80s, but I kind of felt, â€œWell, that might be kind of tough.â€ But then I realized that I graduated from high school in â€™83, so, really, everything that came out new during that time from 9th grade through graduation was in the â€˜80s! (Laughs) So, in fact, we found many things where we had to ask, â€œWas that in the â€˜70s or in the â€˜80s?â€ So I think it would be easy for us to do an â€˜80s thing. It may focus on a different kind of music, maybe more in the realm of the stuff that we didnâ€™t end up exactly putting on the â€˜70s one. I just think there was a lot of stuff then, a lot of groups that were cool to us because of our age. And, of course, Sue was starting to make it then!
On that noteâ€¦
â€¢ If you do decide to do the â€™80s album, would you consider putting your stamp on a Prince song, or would the â€œManic Mondayâ€ connection be too obvious?
Oh, Prince would be great! I think it would be great to do Prince. He was so amazing. To me, he was a real beacon, just because of the way he was creative and did a lot of stuff himself and worked a lot. He was adventurous. Those things are really cool to look at the records he was making. In a way, I think he sort of took that idea of Thriller, where he was expanding beyond just an R&B record or whatever, but he really did it. That stuff wasâ€¦well, heâ€™s just so awesome. Heâ€™s really got the goods.
â€¢ Was it intentional that the Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie albums donâ€™t contain any versions of R&B songs, and would you consider tackling such material in the future?
Oh, we could do that material great, Iâ€™m sure. It was more that we tended to move toward material that we were more familiar with and could do quickly. But it would be awesome. Itâ€™s less our realm, but I know itâ€™s full of stuff that I know would be so beautiful.
â€¢ When you do the â€˜80s album, you should do some TV theme songs, given how well youâ€™ve done them in the past.
(Laughs) I was going to say, â€œWell, Iâ€™ve done that.â€ I have a gold record for doing a TV theme song, for â€œSaturday Morning.â€ Itâ€™s so awesome. I mean, itâ€™s awesome that so many people bought that record, but itâ€™s also awesome that I was able to get a gold record from that before the regime change, as it were, because the more time went on, the harder itâ€™s become to collect them. The people who were there when you sold the records werenâ€™t there when you got them, and you had to work on them to get yours. (Laughs) Iâ€™m not really into gold records. I have a pile in the back drum room. I only thought of that one because I just cleaned it out and saw it and went, â€œWow, I canâ€™t believe I have this.â€ But as far as covering themâ€¦no, we probably wouldnâ€™t put a TV theme on there. What we should do, though, is do movie theme songs. Sue is really good at those!
This one’s not really a question, but…
â€¢ For the â€˜80s album, you should consider the Beach Boysâ€™ â€œSomewhere in Japan.â€
Oh, I donâ€™t know if weâ€™d do Beach Boys from the â€˜80s. I just think thereâ€™d already be so many things to choose from. But tell them I gave them a withering laugh! (Gives withering laugh)
â€¢ Arenâ€™t you just covering ground that Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart have already covered?
(Nervous chuckling) Uhâ€¦yes? Wait, what has Barry Manilow done?
Heâ€™s also done a series of cover albums.
Oh, yeah, okay. Well, then, definitely yes. (Laughs) I mean, thatâ€™s the answer! The covers thing is funny to be doing, at least for me, because I never cared about covers. I really only wanted to do new songs of mine, always. And even before we did the first covers record, I was trying to get them to just do a Sue solo record and weâ€™d write it together and Iâ€™d produce it. But they said, â€œWell, we really want to do something thatâ€™s more of a novelty.â€ And I was halfway poo-poo-ing that idea, but I really wanted to do something with Sue, and she was really excited about it, and it was a chance for us to do something in my house. So we did it, and itâ€™s actually been an awesome experience. Iâ€™ve had to learn so much stuff that itâ€™s got to be good for my engineering, first of all, and then to do so much work and to be needing to make our voices work together, it just kind of gets me a little bit out of my world, in a way. Itâ€™s been really great, perspective-wise, for me. When I go back and do stuff on my own, I feel stronger than ever. I think also that I never really learn all of the songs of the world, you know? (Laughs) I went straight to writing and had this kind of empty hole. I remember one time I was standing with Brendan Oâ€™Brien, maybe during The Thorns, and he can play, like, any song in all of rock history on any instrument. Heâ€™s a complete hot dog with that kind of thing. He was playing something, and he said, â€œCome on, play along,â€ and I was, like, â€œI donâ€™t know how to play that.â€ â€œOh, come on, what are you talking about? Quit fucking faking it!â€ He thought I really knew them, but I really just donâ€™t know that many songs. So it was cool to go back to all of these songs to see how human they are, the production of them and the people performing them. I mean, even when they were becoming stylized, they just didnâ€™t fix everything, and every single thing wasnâ€™t done to a grid. That makes those records exciting and almost raw and daring-sounding! (Laughs) Itâ€™s kind of amazing. And, also, just to kind of see how basic music is and how simple it usually is, even when it has a huge impact. Itâ€™s been really cool. I feel more a part of it all than I did before, whereas I used to feel kind of alienated. (Laughs) So I think itâ€™s a good thing to do, even if itâ€™s a sort of a strange thing that Iâ€™ve come to be able to end up covering 80 songs or however many weâ€™ve done.
â€¢ Now that youâ€™ve covered all of these songs, what are the chances of an original Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie album?
Hey, thatâ€™s a good idea! Thatâ€™s a really good idea, except how would we really live up, yâ€™know? But that is a pretty good idea, and it could happen. But right now, weâ€™re kind of doing Sue solo and me solo and the Bangles, which is a pretty full plate. And we donâ€™t even know if they want to do the â€˜80s album. The record industry is continuing to dissolve, so every little thing is going to be a labor of love. It makes it kind of fun and exciting to make records now, because for us, itâ€™s sort of renegade, you know?
Okay, now Iâ€™ve got a series of questions from various people, all of which are about touring, so Iâ€™ll just ask them back to back and let you tackle them en masse.
â€¢ Any chance of a tour behind the new album?
â€¢ Any chance Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie will tour the east coast other than major markets?
â€¢ Will Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie come to Australia for a tour?
â€¢ Any chance of UK dates?
â€¢ Any chance of touring Japan?
Wow. Okay, well, thereâ€™s always a chance of any of those things, especially if someone offers money that makes it work. Sue is in a reallyâ€¦she has a lot of Bangles shows, one-offs and a few dates in a row, sometimes a couple of weeks, so sheâ€™s even more strongly in the mode of going and playing than I am. Although Iâ€™m back into it now because I toured last November and I toured a week this summer, and Iâ€™m doing another festival in early September. Now, we have Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie shows coming up, but theyâ€™re acoustic and theyâ€™re more like small venues, just the two of us on acoustic and maybe a third guy. Of those, so far we only have three booked. Oneâ€™s in New York, oneâ€™s in Philadelphia, and oneâ€™s in Chicago. Those are in early September. And weâ€™re working on doing some more: DC, Atlanta, and some places on the east coast that are more south. Weâ€™ve talked about trying to do some west coast, but the west coast would more likely be in January, I think. Iâ€™d like to do west coastâ€¦ (Laughs) â€¦so we will be out there in some incarnations of one or the other or both, but these acoustic shows are probably the way that youâ€™re going to see the Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie thing. Now that we have two albums, we kind of have enough that we can make a good set. God, I donâ€™t know how weâ€™re going to do itâ€¦ (Laughs) â€¦but weâ€™re going to start rehearsing soon. We have a three to five song thing at the Grammy Museum here in L.A. later this month, so weâ€™ll start with those three to five songs that weâ€™re going to learn for that. It sounds like a cool thing: itâ€™s a Q&A audience thing, and then you play a few songs. Thatâ€™s actually on the day the album comes out, I think, which isâ€¦July 21st?
Umâ€¦maybe? Thatâ€™s one problem with being a critic: you get advance copies and lose track of when things actually get released.
I know. And the artist never knows either. They move the release dates around all the time, and itâ€™s usually my fault. (Laughs) â€œWell, weâ€™re gonna have to move it back another week!â€ â€œSorry!â€ Letâ€™s seeâ€¦as far as Japan, I would love to go there. I would love to go there again myself, because weâ€™ve just had nothing but a good time going there. England? Sure. Weâ€™ll come to England.
We actually got an E-mail, and I donâ€™t know if it was an agent or not, but just a couple of days ago, we were asked if we would come and do a Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie tour with an Australian band backing us up. Sue was immediately, â€œSure!â€ And I was, like, â€œI think so,â€ but Australia is a long and stressful thing to do, so I guess weâ€™ll go slow on that. But, again, I want to go to Australia again and play with my band! I was there with the Thorns, but I havenâ€™t played there with my band in almost 20 years. Well, okay, it was 16 years. But when we were down there with the Thorns, it was all, â€œWhen are you gonna play?â€ What I wish we could do is for Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie play and I could play, if we could just make it a whole thing.
â€¢ Will there be a Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie live DVD in the future, so that fans in the areas where you arenâ€™t playing can still get the live experience?
Thatâ€™s a good idea! Yeah, probably there will be. I mean, I suppose. Actually, I donâ€™t know. (Sighs) Oh, my Godâ€¦ (Laughs)
â€¢ I love Volume 1, the song selection and performances are fantastic, with your voices complimenting each other wonderfully, but I do have one complaint: itâ€™s too darned loud and compressed. It would be so great to hear more depth in those recordings. Any chance of mellowing the next record?
(Laughs) Thatâ€™s pretty funny. It sounds like itâ€™s from my mastering engineer! The answer is â€œyes.â€ Itâ€™s very much less that way on Volume 2. The more I learn, the more Iâ€™m able to kind of get it to sound the way I want it.
Okay, now weâ€™re getting into questions that are more about your non-Hoffs projectsâ€¦ (Laughs) â€¦but I also know how long weâ€™ve been talking, so whenever you get sick of answering, let me know. I can always send you anything thatâ€™s left via E-mail.
No, weâ€™re okay. I donâ€™t have an interview after you.
Well, just keep me posted if youâ€™re starting to get over it.
Iâ€™ll try to be faster with answering these. (Laughs)
â€¢ Iâ€™m a huge fan and have been listening to Girlfriend for 18 years. I love the 2-disc Legacy set, and I was wondering if we can look forward to any other 2-disc sets in the future for any of your other albums.
That would be awesome, but thatâ€™s really up to Sony Legacy or whoever put that out. Theyâ€™d have to do it, but they have that catalog, and Iâ€™d love to see it. Iâ€™d love to see the Altered Beast out next, I guess. Speaking of extra tracks, when we were talking about the Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie stuff, there is just so, so much stuff demo-wise that was never released. I mean, really, a lot.
â€¢ Which covers of your own work have you heard that you loved and/or loathed, and who was responsible?
I really havenâ€™t heard that many! Iâ€™ve heard about some, but I havenâ€™t really heard many. But, you know, I would never put anyone down whoâ€™d cover one of my songs. Iâ€™d be, like, â€œMore power to them,â€ because I understand what itâ€™s like! (Laughs) The only one I really remember is Jamie Waltersâ€™ â€œWinona,â€ and that was so long ago. I just know it wasnâ€™t a smash and it didnâ€™t make me a hit. But he was a very nice guy. I met him a couple of times.
â€¢ Matthew, you were once considered the guy who resurrected power pop. With the new batch of very young stars in the genre, do you have any specific advice to them, perhaps sage warnings of certain pitfalls and perils that they might not have a mentor to guide them through?
Yeah, the sage warning is that the pitfall and peril comes if you do power pop! (Laughs) Itâ€™s, like, the kiss of death! But, you know, I never really tried to think of it in terms of a genre. I knew I really liked power pop, but that was never a title I went after. Certainly, Iâ€™m extremely flattered who thinks I did anything for any genre of music, and I love all of that kind of stuff, and I loved it when I was a teenager. Probably it now has more of a likelihood of being more commercial, because there have been those kinds of groups where, you know, even stuff like Green Day is kind of power pop, right? So itâ€™s more normal now, I guess. The groups that we liked that were power pop, like Cheap Trick and the Raspberries and all that kind of stuff, were a little more fringe, you know what I mean? More than they probably would be now. But, yâ€™know, loads of people loved Cheap Trick when Live at Budokan was out. Oh, God, I just donâ€™t know exactly what to say on this one, except to do music because you want to music and not because of the genre and its popularity. The pitfall is that itâ€™s hard to do music your whole life, even if you have success, because you have to keep wanting to do it and finding the inspiration to do it. To me, Iâ€™ll always go back to a very personal side of just needing to do music.
â€¢ Before Sunshine Lies was released, there was a preview to the album under the title of Rock Bottom which had a few tracks that didnâ€™t make the album. Will these tracks ever see the light of day? Because they sounded awesome.
Well, okay, thereâ€™s a song called â€œBad Assâ€ that we really loved. My managersâ€™ kids got really into it, and it was just this really weird, cool thing, but for whatever reason, the label just really, really didnâ€™t want it to be on my record. They didnâ€™t think anybody would understand that it was funny, even though everyone in the world says â€œbad assâ€ all the time. And it was sort of like a fish out of water, and in the end, I did leave it off of the album, although it wasnâ€™t because they were asking me. It was because I was convinced thatâ€¦well, of course, at the time, we were going to make an EP featuring a bunch of the strange shit that I didnâ€™t put on the album. There was another song called â€œStick Itâ€ that was kind of a nasty little thing. So, now, at least some of those songsâ€¦I know â€œBad Assâ€ is on the vinyl as an extra track, but I donâ€™t know if that got released in another medium. All of the stuff Iâ€™ll release, though. If someone gets it together and says, â€œWow, letâ€™s release this so people donâ€™t miss out,â€ then Iâ€™ll do it. Iâ€™m kind of in a period where I feel like Iâ€™m going to make another record really quickly, but at some point when Iâ€™m more in between, thereâ€™s a load of that stuff that I could put out. I want everything to see the light of day eventually. I mean, it kind of does, anyway, right? If you gave it to someone, itâ€™s out there somewhere.
â€¢ What draws you to your collaborations when working with songwriting or singing partners?
Well, in the past, I never really went out seeking songwriting or singing partners, as weird as it sounds. What drew me to it was being asked, usually. (Laughs) I donâ€™t get out to do it very often. If I had time or Iâ€™m around themâ€¦I mean, the people whoâ€™ve asked me, like Hanson, I met them through a good friend of mine, and we went to dinner and they asked me if Iâ€™d do some writing with them. And I was scared and horrified, just because Iâ€™m always horrified to do co-writing. Itâ€™s not my natural thing to push my ideas on other people, so Iâ€™ve always felt kind of impotent into those situations. But Iâ€™ve learned do it a lot better. In that case, we had a friend in common, andâ€¦wow, most of the other times Iâ€™ve done it have been with, like, girls from the Go-Goâ€™s or girls from the Bangles, and usually the stuff doesnâ€™t really get used! (Laughs) So I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t feel like Iâ€™ve really done a lot of successful co-writing. I guess in the Thorns was really the most co-writing I ever did, and we got to know each other to where we had sort of a system where we got through it. But itâ€™s never exactly easy. In the Thorns, we would each bring an idea, and then weâ€™d all work on that, so that everybody felt that they had things that were theirs.
Within the question, I should mention that they specifically cited your work with the Bridges. How did that come about?
That came about through my manager, Russell Carter, whoâ€™d heard them. In fact, he sent me something through MySpace really early on, and I was, like, â€œOh, thatâ€™s kind of cool, they sound sort of like Fleetwood Mac with the way they do their vocals.â€ And then a couple of years later, I was in a publishing meeting at EMI, and the woman who was running west coast said, â€œYou know, Matthew, you should produce a young girl group or something and work with harmonies.â€ And Dan, this friend of mine who was working there, had a very close relationship with Capitol, and he was in on this meeting, so she said, â€œYou and Dan could take it and put it out on Capitol and produce it.â€ So I asked Russell, â€œHey, whatever happened to that group of girls? I kind of liked the way they sounded!â€ (Laughs) And heâ€™s, like, â€œYeah, that could be really good! Let me see what theyâ€™re up to, and Iâ€™ll send you some stuff.â€ So he sent me this tape from their basement that wasâ€¦it was like theyâ€™d put it on a DAT or a MiniDisc, and it had no IDs. It was just 45 minutes of them playing songs and talking in between them, like, â€œOkay, guys, letâ€™s do this one!â€ (Laughs) But it had just this amazing music and writing on it. So they came out here, and I just did demos with them for the better part of a year, and after the first batch, they got signed to Capitol instantly. Everyone there was in love with them. And then on the following Monday, they fired the head of the label and closed up shop. (Laughs) And then we did more demos and got them a deal with Verve, who put quite a bit of money into them, but itâ€™s just hard to sell records, especially when youâ€™re new.
They were #1 on MTVU, MTVâ€™s college video thing, and it was for weeks and weeks, with hundreds of thousands of hits on their videos and downloads of their songs, butâ€¦the actual records donâ€™t sell! Itâ€™s so freaky. But those guys are great, and Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™ll hang in there and do really well, because theyâ€™re very talented. But, again, I just met them through someone I knew, and their own talent was what got me interested in them. It was a great thing for me, because it was one of the first times I ever produced anything that I didnâ€™t really play on, so Iâ€™m glad I did it. It wasnâ€™t the easiest thing in the world for me or for them, but weâ€™re totally in love with each other. They opened a bunch of dates on my tour last fall, and we just had the best time. They would sing with us, and it was awesome.
â€¢ Whatâ€™s the relationship between your songwriting and the process of choosing musicians for your albums? Youâ€™ve worked with quite a few sets of musicians, and itâ€™s been reflected in the sound of each record varying somewhat significantly depending on the backing band.
MS: Well, the basic band is usually me and Ric. I mean, I play bass and guitar, Ric plays drums, and thatâ€™s kind of always a given. Then thereâ€™s other guys, but it tends to be almost as much whoâ€™s around and who Iâ€™m talking to as anything else. I know all of these guys and I know I like what they do, and since Iâ€™ve lived in L.A., Iâ€™ve done less work just because of location with guys in New York, although Ivan Julian and Richard Lloyd did play on Sunshine Lies. They werenâ€™t around. Theyâ€™d just be coming over whenever to play on stuff. Greg ends up playing on a lot because he lives out here and heâ€™s around, and he can do all kinds of instruments that add so much texture or ethereal things and do them so beautifully and in a really freeform, melodic way. So he does the things that I really canâ€™t do. Thatâ€™s usually the case with guys who play lead for me. I get people who can make a thing totally different than me.
â€¢ Are there any unreleased Thorns tracks out there?
Good question. I donâ€™t know! I donâ€™t remember how many of the demos they released back then. My first thought to you asking that is that, no, thereâ€™s not that much stuff. We didnâ€™t over-record for the record by very much, I donâ€™t think. Most of what we did went on it. We mightâ€™ve over-written, but even thenâ€¦ (Trails off) I donâ€™t know exactly. We did it quick, because we each brought in three or four songs that we felt like we were connected to, and thatâ€™s pretty fast to do. You write some lyrics, change a chord around or whatever, and thatâ€™s it. I think we just didnâ€™t spend a super long time writing more music. The whole thing was really fast-tracked. I mean, I went down and wrote a song with Pete (Droge) and Shawn (Mullins) on Friday, and on Monday, it was, like, â€œWe want you to be a group and make a record.â€ (Laughs) It was a weird time, because it was so fast, and I was very conflicted about it, because I was, like, â€œI donâ€™t really know these guys, I donâ€™t know their music, what will people think of me?â€ But then we sort of got it together and were able to do it, and we were going to make it really exotic at first, which wouldâ€™ve been cool, although we probably wouldnâ€™t have sold as many records, I guess. And then when we made the record with Brendan, he really was hooked in with the brass at Columbia and was very much, â€œWeâ€™re going to make a huge record!â€ And we didnâ€™t really do anything to make it feel like that, but it was a little less esoteric than we probably wouldâ€™ve done, and that sort of splintered us a little bit. In the end, though, we just didnâ€™t really make any money, even though we worked really, really hard for it. It was the point at which they would spend a huge amount on your record and touring, but they wouldnâ€™t give the artist any money anymore. The funny thing, though, was that, even though it wasnâ€™t that successful, they wanted us to make another record. But we just couldnâ€™t come to an agreement with them, because we wanted to make it ourselves and pocket some of the money, and they wouldnâ€™t agree to that. They wanted us to have some sort of outside producer. And, you know, we might not have sold that many records, but we sold enough that, if weâ€™d sold that many now, weâ€™d be at #1! (Laughs) We had a video that did quite well on CMT, actually. And it was kind of a kick, because it was something kind of out of the ordinary. And I ended up getting into some early folk-rock and stuff, and I learned to play dulcimer, so it was a cool experience for me. But it was a major fish-out-of-water situation. Still, without doing that, it wouldâ€™ve been much harder for me to the Bridges thing, let alone the Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie thing, becauseâ€¦I had to learn to work with others. I was very much the â€œdoes not work well with othersâ€ kid, you know? I just didnâ€™t know that territory. I just knew how to do stuff when I was on my own.
â€¢ I love the Thorns album and the Volume 1 album. With so many great collaborations, have you ever thought about doing a package tour with a few folks, kind of like a power pop Traveling Wilburys?
It would be awesome! I would love to do that, and I do think about that. In fact, Iâ€™ve done it more and more during this interview. First, you ask if Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie tour, then I think about how awesome it would be for me to go there, too. It would be awesome to be able to connect them. If we could get a Sue solo record done and then go out and do, like, where I could play, then she could play, and we could do stuff togetherâ€¦? That would be awesome. Or Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie with the Bangles, or me with Sid â€˜nâ€™ Susie, or me with the Banglesâ€¦ (Laughs) â€¦and the Thorns would be great, too. I donâ€™t know how Pete and Shawn would feel about it, though. Itâ€™s funny, because I was the big drag in the beginning, and then they were sort of bummed at the end, so it was kind of a weird scene for that reason. But I love those guys, and I would do it with them. Iâ€™ll do whatever! Itâ€™s just great to be around still and continuing to make music, and itâ€™s awesome to have made a few friends and have gotten out of my house a little bit, because if I hadnâ€™tâ€¦ (Starts to laugh) I mean, Iâ€™m a hermit, anyway. You can ask those people. As it is, Iâ€™m still greatly challenged, but itâ€™s been more fun for me to have friends. And even with that question about who I have playing on things, itâ€™s, like, once I had Richard Lloyd play with me on a record, I had a friend who was also into it! I could share it with somebody!
â€¢ What album were you listening to in the picture you used for the cover of 100% Fun?
Itâ€™s actually a monster movie soundtrack thing. Itâ€™s the story of â€œKing Kongâ€ on an album. I guess I had several albums from some series where it was monster stories that youâ€™d listen to on a record. I remember my friend up the street from around that time had the â€œHaunted Mansionâ€ double album from Disneyland. I didnâ€™t make it to Disneyland for a few more years, having grown up in Nebraska, and my family didnâ€™t travel the world like his family did, but weâ€™d go up and listen to the album in the dark. I always liked monster stuff. I was into Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and all of that stuff. So, yeah, that was my album: listening to â€œKing Kong.â€ Itâ€™s funny when you look at it, because of the way itâ€™s held sort of makes it look like a phallic thing, with King Kong hanging on it. I was kind of amused by that when it came out. I mean, it wasnâ€™t the reason I used it. (Laughs) I just liked it because I looked so happy. Kurt Cobain killed himself and said, â€œLifeâ€™s not 100% fun anymore,â€ and I was, like, â€œWhoa, what a line to set!â€ Life was hard for me at that time, when I started to have to tour and all of that stuff, because I suffer from bipolar disorder, and I was untreated for many, many years, and it was just murderous for me. So it was one of those things where I looked at that photo and said, â€œWell, heâ€™s happy there!â€ It was like Ren and Stimpy, with the Happy Helmet.
â€¢ When I listen to 100% Fun, Iâ€™m reminded of the debut album from Emmit Rhodes. Was that record an inspiration for you at all when making it?
No, it wasnâ€™t, but Emmit Rhodes is really cool. Man, he really sounded like Paul McCartney! The first time I ever heard a couple of his albums, it was, like, â€œWow, he really got the McCartney thing down!â€ I mean, more than Badfinger, even. But heâ€™s awesome, and heâ€™s done lots of really cool stuff. Sue knows a lot of that stuff. They covered â€œLiveâ€ in the Bangles. Thatâ€™s Emmet Rhodes, right? Or at least the Merry Go Round. So, no, it wasnâ€™t an inspiration, but I like that. It was very poppy. It was a healthy record. I was kind of a little out of it at that time, and Brendan was veryâ€¦it was like a freak going to make a record with a jock. (Laughs) He just got me into it, and we had fun, and it was more instant gratification. He liked to do a mix right then and make something sound cool. I think he really did influence me in terms of being around him while he was engineering and the way he liked to hear sounds and make it exciting for himself. I do have the feeling that I picked up something from him that I use on my own. Not so much the moves, but how he would go after this impact.
â€¢ Will we ever get a Ming Tea album?
I doubt it. I mean, never say never. We shouldâ€™ve done it then, and we almost did. We had actually written other songs and stuff, and we even did a show where we played probably eight or ten songs. The problem became that New Line didnâ€™tâ€¦I mean, you have to remember that Austin Powers had never existed before, it was brand new then, and they were really concerned that people would just be confused by this record, and they didnâ€™t want it to compete with a soundtrack album. So even though Mike really wanted to it, and that always wouldâ€™ve guided whether or not we did it, it just never came to be, unfortunately.
â€¢ You and Susanna are both on the side of the music business where the primary support comes from longtime fans and big breakthrough comebacks donâ€™t seem to happen for anyone anymore. Do you feel liberated by not having to jump through the corporate hoops anymore, or do you miss the attention?
I feel liberated, and Iâ€™m sure Sue would say the same thing. The amount of press that comes, even when youâ€™re just starting to have success, is just huge. Itâ€™s not that the people are awful or mean. Everyoneâ€™s just trying to do their job and have some success. Itâ€™s just that the unspoken pressure is weird. If youâ€™re the artist, youâ€™re supposed to come up with whatever. In my case, I just felt like they never got what they wanted, in terms of something that would really be commercial for them. I never attempted to make things commercial, because I didnâ€™t even know what that would be! (Laughs) It was just kind of, like, â€œIâ€™m going to do my thing, and hopefully somebody will like it.â€ It is something I think about it. Itâ€™s weird to think about the fact that it just never seems to happen for anyone, where youâ€™ll come back, so you pretty much have to do the grass-roots thing. So thatâ€™s what weâ€™re hanging on to, trying to find some area where we can still do it and make enough money to make it work. It doesnâ€™t feel like people donâ€™t care about music, so thatâ€™s really heartening, and there are always going to be younger people, and Iâ€™m sure more and more will become interested in older things. Whatâ€™s older doesnâ€™t seem old now, though, you know what I mean? I mean, fifteen years ago just doesnâ€™t seem as different as it did when you were looking back from 1980 to 1965. Everything great seemed to have happened in those 15 years, and it doesnâ€™t exactly seem like thatâ€™s happened in the past fifteen years.
Well, thatâ€™s it. Youâ€™ve survived!
Yeah, but wait until you get the call after the interview. Oh, youâ€™ll never have heard such anger! (Laughs) You know, thatâ€™s one thing: these interviews are a way that we can interact with the world, and thatâ€™s why I try to be so patient. I donâ€™t have to do nearly as many as I used to have to do, so itâ€™s kind of easy now! I feel bad for you, though, having to sift through all of this stuff! (Laughs) Sorry!