Name: Matt Sweeney
Current Release: Superwolves with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy on Domino
Recommendations: Gotta See Jane by R Dean Taylor /Up In The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
While Matt doesn't have a website, you can keep up with his news on Instagram and Twitter
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Early music passions were inspired by dopey music albums and their images and, most important for me, a television show- all marketed to children: Beatles/KISS for inane and exciting imagery and recordings, Monkees on TV.
Then when I was 8 years old, seeing Debbie Harry on the Muppet Show gave me mature thoughts and made me realize I had to figure out how to be Kermit The Frog so I could get with Debbie Harry.
Here I am.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
That was definitely the case for me- learning rock music meant imitating sounds that appealed to me: lazy emulation. Then, in my 20’s as a member of Chavez I learned about listening to other instruments and finding a lane that compliments them. Those evolving restrictions led to new ways of listening and playing. I think my own voice developed further when I set to challenge myself by trying to learn something daunting that I was sure I couldn’t do, like fingerpicking or singing well.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I like myself a little more now!
Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?
It took a shape in Chavez that is still developing. Its most important quality remains knowing when to give it a rest, find space that allows music to happen, and that situation can ideally make my performance effective.
How would you describe your approach to interpretation? Where do you start and how do you develop your view on a piece, what are some of your principles and what constitutes a successful interpretation for you?
Thoughtful, I hope! I like to think I don’t have a set starting point or set ways of developing any view- I think I do everything with the audience in mind and pay total respect to the material at hand and then the interpretation happens.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Pretty random and not too deep as far as motivation goes- I make stuff up on bass and guitar and sing when needed. What’s nice is singing and guitar are ready made instruments that cannot be mastered. For me gear choices have always seem to be based on either what’s immediately available or appropriate or, ideally, how cool the instrument looks aesthetically.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I think music or any artistic pursuit is inherently about reaching a collaborative relationship between the audience and the work of art. Whatever it takes to get there can change- recordings and talking are generally all it takes to make my work happen.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
For me my work is about one work leading to another work, leading to another work, but maybe not in a discernible order, as opposed to “breakthroughs”. Superwolf/Superwolves work with Will Oldham is without a doubt some the most rewarding work- it seems to draw on all of my life and music experience.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Still trying to find strategies for staying out of the way of myself. Undistracted, confident, and in a room with someone I respect means a good state of mind to make music- alone, or with others.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
When good music hits me (say, The Gosdin Brothers’ “There Must Be A Someone” or Paul Brady’s “I Am A Youth That’s Inclined To Ramble”) I feel connected to life- and that is good.
For me bad music really hurts. When I hear bad music (say, Toto’s “Africa”) I forget what good music is. It makes me feel unmoored, agitated, even despairing.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Can one make works which are not works of art? My thoughts exactly!
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think Geoff McFetridge’s video for Superwolves’ “My Blue Suit” and Peter Doig’s painting for the Superwolves album insert poster are fantastic examples of the connections between sound and image and movement and tell us so much about how our senses work. All connected.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I think it’s my job to make songs that are useful to people.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Listen to music, the wordless answer is there.