“What I love so much about vinyl is it made the record seem more important.”
Crowdfunding can be a slippery slope, especially for established artists. But noted singer/songwriter Matthew Sweet was determined to deliver something special to the scores of Kickstarter supporters who pitched in over $55,700 to fund the album that eventually became the forward-thinking melodic riff-fest Tomorrow Forever, available now via Sweet’s own Honeycomb Hideout imprint in various formats.
In addition to the 17 tracks that fill the Tomorrow album proper, Sweet delivered another 21 demos to supporters only for a total of 38 new songs, all of them worthy of the man who’s penned such catchy alt-rock gems as Girlfriend, Divine Intervention, Sick of Myself, and Time Capsule.
“Beyond the 17-song album is a satellite record called Tomorrow’s Daughter, which is only for the very lucky early people who bought the demo downloads,” Sweet confirmed to Digital Trends. “Eventually, I’ll release that properly, and put it on vinyl and CD. But yeah, it’s quite a lot of listening,” he concluded with a knowing laugh.
Digital Trends called Sweet in his home state of Nebraska to discuss knowing when music is the right length, the benefits of interacting with vinyl, and how to create soundfield-challenging stereo mixes.
Digital Trends: Tomorrow Forever clocks in around an hour, but it didn’t seem over-long to me at all whenever I’ve listened to it. Most of the songs are fairly concise in terms of length, and the record feels like one of those classic ’70s-style double albums where no song is wasted.
Matthew Sweet: Oh, that’s so great, and so nice of you to say. It makes me excited to hear that it doesn’t seem too long, because when we put it together, it didn’t seem too long to me either. I spoke with someone else yesterday who said the exact same thing you did — it didn’t seem long to them, even with 17 songs on it. So if three of us agree, then that makes for good odds. (chuckles)
We all have so much music to listen to these days, and seasoned listeners can tell pretty quickly if an album feels too long, and you wish it was over faster or edited differently. As an artist, you always seem to have the right awareness about how an album should flow, and what the side breaks should be for vinyl. Is that just a set of instincts you’ve always had when making music?
I guess so. I don’t think of it ever having been hard to sequence a record. In a weird way, it does it to itself. There are always those top few songs everybody reacts to the most, but a lot of it is, “What works after what?”
“One really cool thing about the modern age is the extra stuff now sees the light of day.”
However much you think about it, it’s not as useful as sitting there and trying things to see how they seem, coming out of one song into another song.
As far as the lengths of songs and albums go, I find if something is too long, I can lose interest in it. We’re all probably worse about that in today’s faster pace. But there are things that are amazing that are long and take their time — and because they do that, they’re so great.
What pops into mind is the Neil Young song Cortez the Killer [a 7½-minute track from 1975’s Zuma], which I’m thinking of adding back into the set as an encore song when we tour this year. It’s a great example of something that very much takes its time, but it’s still classic for what it is. I guess maybe it was a different era when it came out — where losing yourself in something was also appealing, and you didn’t need it to be wrapped up anytime soon.
Neil has a knack for knowing how to do that, especially when he’s playing with Crazy Horse. To me, you’re a spiritual brother of his on tracks like Bittersweet, which I feel is a lost Neil Young song, in a way.
That’s cool. I never thought of that. But I do love him, and our appreciation of him is unconditional, because he’s so great.
By the time we get to the last song, End Is Near, I’m practically yelling, “No, I don’t want it to be near!”
(laughs) Well, I could have made it go longer, but then it becomes a different thing. It just came to the length it was naturally. What helped me was knowing I was going to release most of those songs that didn’t make it on there [to the Kickstarter supporters].
There were ones on the cusp that could have made it onto the album, and that’s one really cool thing about the modern age. All that extra stuff usually sees the light of day now, whereas maybe in the classic rock time, more things remained buried.
I like the archival aspect available to listeners and fans of artists today. I also like the care you’ve taken in preparing the 180-gram vinyl version of Tomorrow Forever.
What I love so much about vinyl — besides that it’s what I grew up with as a kid — is it made the record seem more important. It gave you more of an introduction into that artist’s life. And then when you went into your room to play the record, it was your private world where you explored the art part of it. Because they were only so long per side, you could digest one side at a time at a rate that was pretty manageable.
It’s hard to explain the sound of vinyl, but it has a way of mashing everything together in a pleasing manner. Even I’ve gotten back to getting a ’70-ish stereo together so I can play my test pressings on something that’s actually cool, you know? (chuckles)
That’s good to hear. You’re literally having 100% Fun again, to borrow an album title of yours…
(laughs) It’s fun to do it — being locked into putting the needle down and listening to a certain amount of things, until you physically go over to lift it and change it. It’s kind of cool, and I’ve never really let go of the idea of how sides of a record matter. I’m always imagining taking in a certain amount of songs at a time.
Newer vinyl listeners are getting into it differently than you and I did. I wonder if it has even more impact when they realize, “Hey, I’ve got this 20-minute side I have to pay full attention to, because I have to physically change it, or flip it over.” I think they found out they like the experience even more than they may have thought at first.
“It’s hard to explain the sound of vinyl, but it has a way of mashing everything together in a pleasing manner.”
Maybe so! There is a lot of nostalgia to it, and there’s a novelty thing to it as well. There’s also the aspect where you can go to junk stores, flea markets, and garage sales at people’s houses, and find lots of vinyl still. That adds a fun angle to it for young people as well, I think.
They get into searching for certain albums, and they also get into Record Store Day now too. I always like seeing the huge cross-section of age groups and what records people choose on RSD. You see kids pick up a 38 Special or LCD Soundsystem record, and you wonder how they discovered that music to begin with. Where was their entry point for it?
Sometimes it can be a happy accident. They check out the look of it, and then they pick things that way. Before moving to Minneapolis last year, my drummer, Ric Menck, used to work for Freakbeat Records in Los Angeles, a very well-thought-of vinyl place. For a long time, he had been my connection to that sort of world — seeing the kids and seeing their parents come out for Record Store Day. It was really a big event for them and their store.
I think it shows it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to people still wanting to buy physical music product. And certainly it’ll be great to hold Tomorrow Forever in hand in its vinyl form, and interact with the packaging and the whole presentation of it. I mean, the cover artwork alone…
It really shines in the vinyl form, yes. The Kickstarter supporters got it first, but we were late getting it to retail because we found a typo on the spine — there were two M’s in Tomorrow. I almost wasn’t that upset about it because I thought I’d just tell people, “Oh, there’s an extra M there for Matthew!” (both laugh)
That reminds me of The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle (1968), where they misspelled the word Odyssey in the cover artwork with an e instead of a y, but they just left it as is.
Yeah, exactly — perfect example! However, everybody wanted to get it right, so we fixed it.
As to the sonics of Tomorrow Forever, you’re taking fine advantage of the stereo field here. There’s a lot of left-channel guitar work and a lot of right-channel guitar work, via some really hard-panned material. It’s a bit of a signature sound for you, actually — and we hear it right out of the box with the first track, Trick.
Yeah, well, I’ve always liked to do that, and I’ve always had a propensity for it. In the beginning, I would listen to Beatles albums like Revolver (1966) that were mixed in stereo, and not even by The Beatles themselves — somebody else mixed it in stereo [Geoff Emerick and George Martin, essentially], and just “decided” where to put things. Nobody had really figured out stereo yet, but I always really dug the idea of being able to showcase one thing by putting it only on one side.
In a lot of cases on this record, the stereo feel is happening because there are multiple guitar players doing the interplay. There’s a lot of it with John Moremen and Val McCallum where they’re going back and forth, but it just depends. Sometimes there’s more of a wash of things everywhere, while the stuff that’s simpler is a little more stark in stereo.
Your vocals are doubled on many of the songs. How come you like doing that so much?
I just think that, over the years, I’ve come to appreciate what it is to have a voice that doubles in a pleasing way. It doesn’t always work that way for people, but for me, it creates a pleasing sound, and I probably do it now more than ever. There are a few ad-lib things where it’s just one vocal, and I just didn’t bother to go in and double it.
I really like the sound of the double-tracking. The way I do it is, I’ll sing something, but I won’t listen along to it when I double it. I’ll just sing it again without hearing the first one I sang. And most of the time, they work perfectly. It’s some kind of easy, magical way of doing it that quickly makes it sound pretty pleasing.
It also helps me quickly do some vocals that may not be perfect, but it’s enough to build up the song. In the end, I’ll keep some of them because I’m used to them and I like them, and some of them I’ll re-sing because they bugged me all along. But being able to double track them all on my own makes them all go down a little more smoothly.
Usually, I like my double tracks closer together and not too loose. It just comes down to whether something bugs me or not. If I get used to things and I’m not thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to fix that” each time I hear it, I’ll allow stuff that’s pretty loose. Only if it drives me crazy is when I end up fixing things. (chuckles)