The Hard Way – New to You (Q&A, and more …)

Matt Wilczynski leaves for California at the turn of the century. Full of musical dreams, most of which evaporate.

After 20 years he decided to make one of his dreams come true and he recorded New to You. Five songs that sound like a mix of The Beatles, Queen, ELO, Ben Folds, and Jellyfish.

The road to and the eventual realization of this EP is a special and emotional story.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

Well, this record took me 20 years to make so that’s hard to decipher. In a general sense, I would say that as I was teaching myself how to play different instruments growing up, I would usually just create my music, or add riffs or melodies to songs that I played along with.

I am extremely unsure of my voice, so when I heard the first mix of the first song recorded, and I didn’t cringe, that was a big moment. To make it even more of a “big” moment, I found out that I was going to be a father while wearing the headphones and listening to that mix the first time. My son turned one just yesterday.

How did this record come together?

I moved to California from Massachusetts on January 20, 2001, intending to make a record of the music in my head and become “the next big thing”. Instead, I ended up playing bass in a bunch of Los Angeles bands because it was easier to just be a cog in the musical wheel instead of the engine, and to be honest: I was deathly afraid of putting my music out.

After a stint working licensing music for TV and film (which was depressing), I started the first “Rock School” for kids in Los Angeles which led to the Non-Profit and work that I still do, namely providing music and art as a source of connection, purpose, passion and focus for at-risk and traumatized groups and individuals.

A big part of that gig included “helping” these young people to write their original music, of which there are hundreds and hundreds. That process stripped away the ego and gave me a healthier perspective about what art is.

The record itself was produced by Avi Durchfort, who has been one of my best students since the age of 11 and he was so encouraging – while being brutally honest. A lot of my students (who are now adult, professional musicians) play on the record, which makes it a full circle for me.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

I’ve always wanted to get honest, opinions about my work. The difference now is that I can hear the positive instead of letting it get drowned out by the negative. Previously, a compliment was an untrustworthy whisper while anything negative was a loud scream. I’m sure many artists feel the same way.

When the Los Angeles radio station KLOS asked to do a segment of my record, with listeners calling in to “judge” my music I said yes and took part. That is something that I would have NEVER EVER done before. Again, life experience, perspective, COVID, and my baby boy shifted my thinking. And, as it turned out, everyone gave it a thumbs up.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

I mean…I’m a middle-aged guy who made a record that sounds like a 60’s/70’s throwback from the ’90s. The fact that ANYONE has any interest is amazing to me. The fact that people like you CHOOSE to reach out to me to ask about these tunes is beyond satisfying. I’m taking Warren Zevon’s advice, and trying to “enjoy every sandwich”. With that said, my dream is to make a small run of 180g vinyl with the artwork (what you see in the videos are my drawings from my early childhood that my Grandmother put up in her “Matthew Museum….better known as the den). Then, I feel like I had actually “put out” a record. Right now, it’s just more white noise on the internet.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

Luckily, being creative is my “day job”, albeit in a very different form as I mentioned earlier. I still write music constantly for myself though. It’s not something I choose to do – it just happens. I feel blessed to still have “ideas”……but the honest creator will also tell you that it can make it hard to focus on the day-to-day when you have a leaky faucet of creativity constantly dripping. The other thing is….and you’re the first person I’m telling this…..I can’t play instruments anymore. This record very well may be the last time I played many of these instruments at this level due to a retiring spinal compression/nerve issue that now has been diagnosed with both carpal tunnel and arthritis. So, I’m especially grateful that I finally put something out,……but obviously, I wish I had done it sooner.

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

My band back home in Massachusetts played our first gig ever on a float being driven during a parade, playing live music through a leaky gas generator. We had to keep putting more gas in between songs. Every time we hit a bump or took a sharp turn, one of us would fall off the “stage”. Our drummer was violently ill, with a bucket next to him for the Exorcist-level vomit that kept coming out of him. All in front of a small-town crowd that came out for a parade. Little kids. Senior citizens. We were behind the mounted police (which meant we were driving through horse crap – and the constant smell of it) and in front of the Girl Scouts. ………I learned a lot that day.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

‘Never’ sounds about right.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

For many I think, yes. We recorded these songs “The Hard Way” (…….sorry) though. Real instruments, including violin and cello. The vocal harmonies were done with a group of us doing each harmony TOGETHER around the same mic. The difference is that it was all done at Avi’s apartment. No studio. No catering. No “man behind the glass”. I may have been too nervous to record that way…..I’m definitely too poor to record that way!!!!!

As far as getting it heard…..musicians like to say that “I just did it for myself”. Well, I did. BUT……I really want it to get heard because I think for the niche of folks who are still into the sincerity and work that goes into music like this will really enjoy it.

How do I get it into ears though? No idea. This isn’t background music or party music or music for a beer commercial….it’s music made for active listening by people who are sensitive and “get it”. Tall order.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

If you are an adventurous creator, recording means ANYTHING goes. The less technology you use, and the more you allow necessity to dictate where it goes rather than what app or plug-in came out this week the more of “you” will come through.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

I’ve only played live in other people’s bands playing other people’s music, which was fun, but ultimately a sexless marriage. I hope against hope that my nerve issues come to pass and my hands allow me to play these songs in front of an audience…….I suppose we have to move past this pandemic as well, eh?

IF my body and COVID allow The Hard Way to perform a concert, we will only play ONE show, and it will be a band made up of former students (who are all now pro adult musicians) and ex-band members. A mix of Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and Concert for Bangla Desh with Polyphonic Spree and ELO. All live instrumentation. I will switch between instruments. That’s the dream……but only one show.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

It’s not a put-on. The music and lyrics are very sincere. No hipster half measures. My life went into this. I moved to California on January 20, 2001. The record came out on January 20, 2021. My son was born on April 11, 2020. The pandemic started last year. I’m hoping that the sincerity and intent of purpose come across. I hope that an active listener can hear my passion and the sweat of over two decades of self-doubt and anxiety being brushed aside for the length of 5 songs.

Underwater Sunshine – Suckertree

The musical year 2021 has started well and one of the most beautiful releases appears to have been recorded in 1996. Underwater Sunshine’s Suckertree takes you back to the heyday of Modern Power Pop and sounds as fresh and exciting as the records released that year by the likes of The Posies, Fountains of Wayne, and Superdrag. 

Sweet Sweet Music spoke with John Nikolic about the extraordinary realization of this record, renewed friendships, and humbling learnings.

(Listen on Spotify)

I understand there has been hardly any contact between the band members in the last twenty-five years. What prompted you to start looking for the old tapes? 

That’s right.  There was very little contact but not for any reason in particular, other than typical life engagements.  Family, career, etc.  The last few years resulted in a few relationship changes, for me in particular.  This led me to contact old friends that I hadn’t spoken to in many years. 

I felt alive again when those doors were opened, which led me to think of the past.  I wanted to share my musical past with my new girlfriend but realized I had very little to share.  I had to ask friends and family for a copy of our first album.  I dug through old boxes to try and find photos, videos, etc.  I wished I could show her the latest music we recorded in 1996 but had never released. 

Next thing you know, I was reaching out to the guys for the first time in many years, asking where the old unmixed ADAT tapes were.  Within a month or so, we began the mixing process.

How and when was it decided to turn the songs on the tapes into a new record?

The original intent was to mix the songs so we could finally have it as a souvenir for ourselves and a showpiece to share with our family and friends.  Once we started the mixing process and heard the quality of the songs, we started thinking that maybe we could actually release it in some way.  We had no idea in what format or even how, but it all came together eventually.

And how did the record come about?

Originally, back in 1996, we wanted to get in the studio to record some 15+ songs. We were only 21 at the time, and hungry to get signed by a major label.  This meant getting our best songs onto a demo CD.  We funded the recordings by playing live shows.  We were headlining some major music venues here in Vancouver at the time.

The songs were recorded in a basement, on a very low budget.  Unfortunately, the process took longer than expected and we broke up before we could even mix the songs. 

The tapes of unmixed recordings ended up sitting in various boxes and storage spaces for the next 25 years. 

Were you pleasantly surprised when you found out how good the songs were or have you always known that?

Very.  We couldn’t believe how good the quality of sound was when using today’s technology to mix the tracks down. 

We are twenty-five on and the music world has changed completely. I can imagine that the current possibilities played a part in the consideration to release the songs?

We were all very uneducated on today’s methods of releasing music.  We had to turn to friends that were in the industry to get advice on how music was released nowadays.  We didn’t even know that CDs were becoming a much less desired product of music.  It was a very humbling learning process.

And now? What are the musical ambitions for 2021?

We don’t expect to do much since we all have families and careers.  We do however want to play some live shows, to get some of that rock n roll out of our 45+-year-old systems. We will have to wait until the current COVID situation allows.  It is quite unfortunate that we rekindled all of this after 25 years, within months of the COVID outbreak. 

The Posies, for example, had quite a large following here in the Netherlands in the mid-1990s. They still fill the smaller venues today based on that fame. ‘Suckertree’ can compete with the best work of The Posies. Don’t you ever lie awake about what the musical career could have been?

Well, thank you for that.  The Posies were a major influence on our music.  Oh yes.  We had those moments of thought.  I think we are all very happy with how things worked out in the end. 

And hey, it’s not often that 4 friends from youth get to unearth a time capsule like this 25 years later and share it with family, friends, old fans, and new.  How fun is that?!  

Jim Trainor – Staring Down The Sun (Q&A, and more …)

Jim Trainor’s new single “Truth” is a blast. It is also the opening song of “Staring Down the Sun“, his new record, which will be released on May 3rd (Futureman Records).

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Jim about happiness, the B-string tuner, the live version of Joe Jackson’s “A Slow Song” and those instrumental motifs.

Lyrics are too often taken for granted. What is the line of text or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember? And why?

Final line of the final song from the new album: “Search from the INSIDE.” To me, happiness is an inside job, and I try not to rely on outside factors for my own happiness. Maybe that will hit home for somebody.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Recently. I knew “Truth” was solid from the second I came up with the opening riff. It came so easily, and that’s a good sign when I write. I sat down with the guitar, and for some unknown reason grabbed the B-string tuner and detuned that string 1/2 step. Place my fingers on the fretboard and there was the riff. Couldn’t have been easier. Nothing forced. When I force a song, it tends to sound forced afterward.

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

Ooo, this will be tough. For rockers, I’ll go with The Weight Of Her (Butch Walker), And Your Bird Can Sing (The Beatles), Pump It Up (Elvis Costello), and I’ll Be You (The Replacements). For a ballad, I’ll choose the live version of Joe Jackson’s A Slow Song. That one hits deeply.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

I feel most fortunate that I can record and collaborate with artists from all over the world, right from my home studio. Over 25 of them are involved with my new album, and I have personally met ONE of them.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

Great question. For me, melody rules. So I would say to strip away productional aspects and focus on the melodies – not only the vocal melodies but all of those instrumental motifs, too. My phone contains over 2,000 voice files of melodies I’ve sung into it while hiking or driving, for example. Many of those find their way into songs, being played by various instruments.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Tough question. I’ll go with Neil Finn, Butch Walker, and John Lennon. I adore their songwriting and they have (had) no trouble writing rockers, ballads, and everything in between.


THE ARMOIRES unmask themselves to present their new album INCOGNITO, a unique collection of the singles the beloved Burbank band has secretly released under fictional identities over the past six months in a playful gambit of experimentation with the pop music form and their own musical expectations. It’s out as a deluxe CD and on all digital platforms on April 1, on Big Stir Records.

Christina and Rex, founding members of The Armoires and owners of Big Stir Records, told the story behind the story to Sweet Sweet Music.

Now, that’s a story! How did you decide on this approach?

Christina: Well, unlike a lot of people, the two of us, as Big Stir Records, actually got even busier as the pandemic took hold last year. It seemed imperative, without the live scene happening, to do more and do better to serve and promote the records and artists on the label. We were grateful to have a focus and that responsibility, but between that stress and… well, just remember how much crazier the world kept getting from month to month last year. It was a lot… too much. We needed an escape, and re-learning how to be musically creative became our silver lining.

Rex: Very early on, Steve Coulter (of The Brothers Steve) invited us to contribute a track to this sort of instant, lo-fi compilation called Quarantine Sessions. The brief was to be fast, loose, immediate, visceral – we weren’t the slickest at home recording, so that suited us, and we did a track that sounded nothing like The Armoires, and yet it did. We’d also been tapped to do tracks for several tribute compilations from Futureman, SpyderPop, and Curry Cuts, and those were covers, of 20/20 and Andy Gibb and XTC and “Yellow River”,  that were going to be side by side with some real legends. So having started down the self-recording road… we figured we’d better get good at it. So we started upping our engineering game and taking on new skill sets in the studio (although we had some real pros like Michael Simmons and Nick Frater and Peter Watts mixing them). Somewhere in there, without any plans for a record, we started liking what we heard.

Christina: We were already in this headspace of not doing our own songs, doing atypical stuff for The Armoires, and I started gravitating to these older originals of ours, things we never finished or set aside because they didn’t seem right for the band, but I loved them. Things like “Magenta Moon” and “(Just Can’t See) The Attraction” and “Jackrabbit Protector”, just different stuff.  We went into a kind of “if not now, when?” mode. I’d ask Rex, “What about this one? Why didn’t we finish that?” And he’d always be like, “I don’t know, that’s so old or odd for us that it’s almost like another cover”. And my reaction was “Totally! So we do it just like Bowie, or X, or R.E.M. or Blondie, even though it’s our song!” I think that since all bets were off, we just took it as a challenge to do what was right for the song, and forget about what was right for the band.

Rex: So she sold me on that idea, of just experimenting with our own identity, but we were still like, what are these? Pandemic singles? Spare tracks for a rainy day? And then it was my turn for the brainstorm – like, wait a minute, we’re a record label, we put out a new single from a different artist every week, what’s to stop us from playing dress-up here, and just putting these out as a whole bunch of fake bands? Like one a month, starting on Halloween of course, ending on April Fool’s Day?

Christina: I was… not sure about that at first, but it became absurdist fun. Each pair of songs got its own fake bio and press release, and we made up characters to be the musicians. There were all kinds of little hints, like band members named after our pets, acronyms and in-jokes and references… it was like, how ridiculous can we get with this before someone figures it out? And crazy stuff did happen. My favorite was that Rodney Bingenheimer fell in love with the band that was literally cartoon characters, The Yes It Is! That seemed somehow perfect. A few of the fake bands ended up on indie Top 10 lists. French DJs loved the artier stuff, and we got to play up our countryside with my daughter Larysa’s bluegrass band, because why not?

The singles are very nice but the whole is even better than the individual parts, I think. Was that a bonus or did you expect that to happen?

Christina: It was mostly luck, but I came up with a way to frame it as an album. I wanted it to be like Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, where a real pop band gets experimental and weird, but you wouldn’t mistake it for anyone else.

Rex: Yeah, I mean, I sort of thought Revolver at first, since it was the first thing we’d recorded when we weren’t constantly playing live, but that’s a lot to live up to… Tusk seemed just about right, but, you know, less cocaine. Loose and weird and diverse and sprawling, but still melodic. Another thing that was freeing was just letting the record assemble itself as a journal of the singles, in release order.

Christina: Yeah, because everybody knows you can try a zillion ways to sequence an album and still not get it “right”! This way it’s a diary of what we got up to during the pandemic, and how we evolved over that time. So much happened last year that we can feel it as the album goes from track to track. I guess the safety net was that if we didn’t feel like it was working, there was nothing to stop us from pulling the plug after a couple of singles, and nobody would ever know, hahaha! But… we felt like it was working, and that empowered us to keep pushing forward, trying even weirder stuff, if it was fun. And it was fun.

In addition to a delicious record, has it also yielded other insights?

Rex: Well, it sort of validated a few of our core tenets – one being that it’s not worth doing a song if there’s not some kind of risk involved. We lived that to the hilt on these sessions. And another being that if you hit a brick wall, just get a sledgehammer. Develop the skill sets you need to do the next thing. I mean, that’s literally in one of the songs we recorded (“Awkward City Limits”), but we wrote that years ago. If there was ever going to be a trial by fire of that ethic, it was last year. We’ve reinvented a lot of wheels in a short time on a number of fronts, and we’re used to taking on new challenges.

Christina: But we embraced the flip side of all the pressure and hard work, too. We learned that you’re probably going to have more fun and quite likely do better work if you let go of expectations. Both whatever expectations anyone else might have for the band and even our own. It was freeing to not worry about whether or not the songs made sense for The Armoires… or made sense at all! My daughter (and our violist) wrote in the liner notes that we learned how to be ourselves by pretending to be other bands. She’s a smart one, Larysa. I think that sums it up perfectly.

How will 2021 look like for the band and for the label?

Christina: For the band, we haven’t yet unmasked ourselves, but there’s the weirdness of promoting a record we didn’t know we were going to make! But we’ve got a good story to tell. Whether or not we’ll be back out there playing live any time soon, we don’t know. Until the pandemic, we gigged and toured relentlessly. It all seems like way more than a year ago, and we haven’t even really learned any of these new songs. It’s starting over, yet again!

Rex: And yeah, Big Stir Records, we’re incredibly busy, with a lot of really exciting stuff. Our record is the fourth one we’ve put out on 2021, and the first three – The Stan Laurels, Dolph Chaney, and Chris Church – I’d have to say that those guys all also reacted to the limitations of the pandemic in ways that we related to, creatively. They all, in one way or another, let the new reality guide their processes, without fighting it… looking for the silver linings or letting The Force guide them (hahaha), and I think you can hear that on their albums. Coming up there’s a record from The Forty Nineteens called New Roaring Twenties which is just so relentlessly positive and punchy that you have to love it. And without saying too much, we have some cool stuff coming up from legacy artists, new to the label, and more from our core artists, too. We have the entire year charted out, which is a relief after how seat-of-the-pants 202o was. It’s full of great stuff, an amazing variety. We want to be reliable, but not predictable. We’re not strictly a “power pop” label, and you’ll see that for sure.

Christina: We’re already back to presenting live shows of a sort, via the live streaming monthly Big Stir Concert Series that’s been kicked off by Irene Peña and the folks at Musicians Unite! Together, Wherever. Irene’s also taken over curating the weekly Singles Series, which is a good thing because the promotion of the albums has come to require everything that Rex and I have – there’s more to do the better we get at it, and we never want to give it less than our all. There’s a feeling that having survived 2020 and even having grown from responding to all of that, we should be able to do just about anything. And we have this record of our own that we love as a result of it all, too. It was a horrible year, but beautiful things came out of it. That’s what we’ll remember as we move forward.

The Lodger – Cul​-​De​-​Sac of Love (Q&A, and more …)

The Lodger return with their first album in over 10 years, Cul-De-Sac Of Love. If you are looking for ‘bright, harmonious hooks and memorable melodies‘, look no further.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Ben Siddall about how the new record came about.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

Well, I think I knew I was onto something when I first started trying to make a noise on a guitar when I was 7. It certainly caught my imagination. I wasn’t completely aware what that something was until late 2003 when I wrote a handful of songs including Getting Special and Many Thanks For Your Honest Opinion and I thought – wow, these actually sound like me.

How did this record come together?

The Lodger had just over ten years off and in the meantime, I was teaching myself how to produce, recording other bands, playing with other bands, and generally sorting other aspects of my life out. Around the end of 2019, I was scanning through some old hard drives and realized I had about 40 songs I’d never really done anything with so using the wonders of Whatsapp, me, Joe and Bruce got our heads together and whittled them down to a smaller number and decided we would at least record them for posterity. We managed to meet up to record the rhythm tracks just before the first lockdown and we realized we rather missed doing this band.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

To me, it is completely irresistible. Not just with writing music and words but more generally learning new things and keeping a curious mind. I’ve always got some new creative projects that I’m obsessing over.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

This is a great and very difficult question to answer! If they have to be alive then it could make things tricky… perhaps Stephin Merrit could help make some of my lyrics even more acerbic and bitchy. I’d like to watch someone like Paddy McAloon or Andy Partridge at work because they seem to have a frequently complex but non-muso flair to what they do and I sometimes worry I’m a bit too schooled in my chords and harmony and overthink it.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Every single time I write a song I have to believe it could stand on its own as an A-side or I kind of wouldn’t bother. Of course, there are times when you don’t hit the target but I tend to throw those ones away and nobody hears them! 

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

That would depend on who I making it for. You would usually make a compilation cassette for a new friend or a boy or girl you’re chasing – it’s a perfect way of saying “this is me”. It’s a chance to say so much without words.

A strong opener is essential. Something that grabs you straight away. Maybe Sandy Nelson’s Let There Be Drums. Most of my compilations have Different Drum by someone on it, loads of good covers of that.

I watched the whole of the Sopranos recently so perhaps The Dolphins by Fred Neil could feature somewhere.

This question is too difficult for me!

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

Lots of fun to be had. Record production is the ultimate musical expression I think. If you write the music and words, that’s only half the picture. If you can see it through from those moments when you’re fumbling around trying to find the right chords or the right sentence to when you’re adding the final tambourine hits on the chorus or doing something daft like pulling all the tape out, stamping on it and then feeding it back in again then you’re doing your job properly. Or being brave enough just to delete the whole thing and start again if it’s rubbish. Music is all about taste and record production is putting all your finest ingredients in the pan, serving it up, and hoping your guest doesn’t get food poisoning.

Star Collector – Game Day (Q&A, and more …)

Game Day‘ is Star Collector’s fifth album. Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Vic Wayne about how this record came about.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

I think I knew I was on to something when the songs just flowed out, one after another. I think as a writer, this is a good signal to dig in. For a Power Pop record, it’s a pretty intense one lyrically… Musically, the band gave the tunes a right ass-kickin’, and I knew from the get-go that our current personnel would come through with the mod-tastic goods but stay true to the emotional centers of the songs, whatever they may be.

How did this record come together?

Some powerful, chaotic, life-altering shit went down in my life and it was a bit foreign to me, honestly. I found that writing was a way out of the darkness. It’s therapeutic…and being creative also just feels good, like you’re doing something meaningful, even if only for yourself initially.

The recording process was the other end of the spectrum… great fun! Our longtime drummer, Ringo, moved away in ’18 so we were fortunate to have current stickman, Adrian Buckley, who we’d known for years, just slide in. Big bonus is that he’s also a damn fine recording engineer so, once the beds were done at a big studio here, I produced, and we overdubbed with him at the controls.

My younger brother, Adam, who’d also filled in for us on bass when we were ‘bottomless’ many times, (ie: our first tour to Europe), came on board and was simply brilliant. His playing is a wonderful cross between Bruce Thomas & Entwhistle, with a superb sense of melody (see Macca).

Steve, my longtime guitarist/vocalist/co-writer, really brought the guitar-goods like a champ, and I hacked away like the mediocre guitarist I am.

Haha… It was tops to have both Adrian and Ad sing on it too as they both have great voices that complimented mine & Steve’s nicely.

We also had Kevin Kane (Grapes of Wrath) play a blistering guitar duel with Steve; and Evan Foster (Boss Martians, Dirty Sidewalks, Sonics) co-produce a track with me and sing on it.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

Well, if you mean once the record was finished… we felt pretty sure which songs would work as singles, which are the first 2 we did videos for, “Rip It Off” and “Game Day”, the title track, plus the one we’re working on like little Energizer Bunnies right now (okay, to be fair, it’s mostly Steve doing the vids… I’m about as technically proficient at video work as I am at playing lead guitar… “and the answer is none… none more proficient” *cue “Big Bottom*).

What always fascinates me is which songs people gravitate to on albums. One that surprised me a bit is all the love for the song “Green Eyes” we’ve received. Obviously, it made the cut to be on the album but didn’t call that one. What does feel good is that pretty much every song so far has shown up in different folks’ faves, so that tells me it’s not a couple of singles plus so much filler! Haha.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

With the way the industry is today and from my little corner of perception, success to me is that we completed the record, and it sounds like it did in my head when the songs were written (better, in fact).

After that, because it’s an important record for me personally, and for the band after a fairly sizable break between albums, success is what it accomplishes emotionally and creatively.

After that, getting played on radio and having reviewers appreciate it is just the gravy, but still worth considering the cause, I mean, if you put blood, sweat, and fears into recording for a year (after writing and rehearsing for 2 more), you kinda want people to hear it. If not it’s, “if a tree falls…”. I will say that the Power Pop community has been stellar in supporting it so far and we’re most grateful, and that includes, of course, Sweet Sweet Music!

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?  

Like the urge to purge after too much tequila; or the urge to cough after your first teenage smoke; or the urge to share your first sexual experience with your best friend; or the urge after your first big coffee in the morning…haha.

Seriously, though, it’s been incredibly strong these past few years. Aside from the aforementioned heavy inspiration in my life, the lockdown has allowed me more time to write.

I think I’ve got about 5 new ones done and another 2-3 co-writes with Steve so I figure about ¾’s of our next album is written already. Now, getting into the rehearsal room is another thing altogether…

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?  

Great question. I’d say for me, yeah. Ultimately, music is an emotional ride. As a word guy who loves language, it’s essential.

Musically, though, the pure joy of hitting the chorus in Katrina & The Waves’ “Do You Want Crying?” or the way you can’t NOT sing along to the tail of “Hey Jude”; or the way my brother, Adam’s (solo) song, “Rainy Day”, can bring me to tears every fucking time; or how the sheer ferocity of “The Real Me” (The Who) can make you wanna jump around the room playing air guitar with a Hot Wheels track… damn… and, as a dad, don’t even get me started on “Cats In The Cradle”!

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?  

Well, aside from my own band, I’m gonna cheat & do this in categories as it’s WAY too hard to pick just 3:

3 who’ve passed on: John Lennon (no reason required), David Bowie (think it’d be ethereal and expansive), Adam Schlesinger (that pop sensibility!)

3 living Brits: Paul Weller (from ‘All Mod Cons’ through to ‘Sound Affects’… kinda my musical bible right there), Pete Townshend (see Paul Weller), Jimmy Page (riff-tastic-orgasmic, and I write the words!), (cheat) Glenn Tilbrook (that pop sensibility part deux and I write the words again!), would’ve added Noel Gallagher, Richard Ashcroft & Ian McCulloch but somehow I think the clash of “who writes the lyrics” might be an issue. Haha.

3 living Americans: David Fagin (Solo, ex-The Rosenbergs) (that melodic sensibility – big fan), Dave Grohl (feel like it’d be non-stop laughter and still get results), Dave Pirner (whether it’s vogue to dig Soul Asylum or not, I’ve always been a fan of his writing)… “3! 3! 3 Daves in 1!”

3 living Canadians: Kevin Kane (Grapes of Wrath – who I did co-produce & co-write with on our ‘Flash-Arrows & The Money Shot’ album – great talent and a personal connection); Mark Bandola & Rob Vandeven from The Lucy Show – super band no one knows, originally from Canada though they did live/record in the UK), Craig Northey (Odds) (you guessed it… that pop sensibility once again!)

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

My #1 is, unquestionably, The Jam at Kerrisdale Arena here in Vancouver, their last North American date before they split. My teenage mod band et them, I  got a pound note autographed… childhood dream, really. I actually got to relive my story in the book, ‘The Jam – The Day I Was There.

After that, 4th row on the floor to see The Kinks as a teen, or the jaw-dropping visual extravaganza that was KISS in their heyday when I was but a pup!

Lyrics are too often taken for granted. What is the line of text or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember? And why?  

I’ll give you 2: From “Start To Shine” from our ‘Flash-Arrows & The Money Shot’ album:

“Ain’t it obvious to you?

Don’t need no shrink to think it through

You’re lying naked with the truth

Start to fade or start to shine

And go further out… further out this time…”

(Pretty much my mantra about doing what makes you shine with this one little life we’re given).

And: From “Game Day”, the title track from the new album:

“It’s Game Day and I’ve gotta be strong

Game Day splayed out on the lawn

It’s Mayday and the Sirens’ Song

Now there ain’t no losin’ at all”

(It encapsulates all the pain and turmoil that brought me and this album into the light after much darkness. It’s deeply personal but I think many can relate that sometimes we find clarity in having to make hard, frightening, life-defining decisions)

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Haha… “There’s no way to answer this dangerous question and maintain my country’s humble politeness!.. HOWEVER, gun to my head, I feel if this were an earlier era in popular music, both “Rip It Off” & “Game Day” from our new album couldashouldwoulda… I felt like they had that magic when they were being written and the band made them even better, but, really what the hell do I know? I’m just some guy… standing in front of a girl…wait…

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Yes, a thousand times yes.

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

Geez, are they really?? Hmmm… the only format more sonically questionable than 8-tracks. Let me mull on this one…

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

I absolutely love the process. It can be ‘pulling out hair, chunks at a time’ occasionally when, for example, a mix is just eluding you, but hearing your songs come together (right now, over me… sorry…) really is a magical mystery tour at times (a Beatles Two-fer!).

Especially so when you’re working with really fine players who just make it pop, as they say… nothing like it. I’ve been mighty fortunate to have Steve as the Starsky to my Hutch all these years, and working with my brother Ad again, well, you do the math. Brothers, man. Adrian is a killer skin-basher and engineer too, and having guests like Kevin Kane, Evan Foster (and previously Paul Myers) come in and bring their magic is the icing on the musical cake.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

Playing live is such a different animal than recording or writing. For us, it’s a way to let loose the scissor kicks, turn up the amps, and experience the immediacy that only performing can bring.

It’s breaking strings, breaking sticks, having your guitar strap fall off mid-song, guessing at your harmonies when the monitors aren’t cutting it, and falling into the drum kit after an ill-timed jump. It’s the danger of putting yourself and your songs out there to be judged by the audience, but, hey, Death or Glory! (I’m really riffing on song titles now… watch out).

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

I would say musically we straddle genres, even if our main thrust is kinda mod-based rock/power pop. We always sneak bits of garage, new wave, arena/riff-rock, folk, and splashes of prog into the mix so a bit unpredictable, I suppose. You’re not getting 10-12 of the same formula every song after song. Lyrically, I really put a yeoman’s effort into making sure each line, each word chosen is the right one (for me at least) much to Steve’s chagrin when it comes to harmonies (haha)… and, unlike straight pop music, I tend to write about a lot of deep, personal shit. To me, ‘if it don’t mean somethin’, it don’t mean nothin’!

They expect ‘the roaring 20s v2.0’. What kind of party are you looking for?

One that plays “Lips Like Sugar”, “Start!”, “The Real Me”, “She Said She Said”, “D’You Know What I Mean?”, “Better Things”, “Good Girls Don’t”, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and “Bittersweet Symphony” so I can sing along at the top of my lungs, and then hits “Love Shack” HARD! Haha. Hey, maybe that’s my mixtape right there!

The Tisburys – Sun Goes Down (Q&A, and more …)

‘Sun Goes Down’ sounds like a greatest hits. Ten songs and it’s all good, very good. The same quality you heard, for example, on Paul Kelly’s early records.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to singer-songwriter Tyler Asay.

Your music reminds me of Paul Kelly’s earlier records. Are you aware of his music? If so, makes sense? If not, who are you influenced by?

Yes, I know Paul Kelly! I’ve yet to go deep on his music but I bought a used copy of his greatest hits at the record store I work at (Main Street Music in Philadelphia) because “Love Never Runs On Time” came on and immediately fell in love with it. I definitely know what you mean, The Tisburys and my songwriting are influenced by artists like Kelly, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and anyone who can deliver a message within 3 minutes with a beautiful melody. 

Other influences include indie-rock from the mid-2000’s such as Wilco, Sharon Van Etten, and The National. I’ve always been drawn to the artier side of rock, and lyrically there’s a lot of abstract themes that are intended to be dug into to pull your meanings from. Also, I love cool guitar solos so there’s a lot of those on the record played by our lead guitarist John Domenico. 

‘Sun Goes Down’ has that Greatest Hits feel. You didn’t accept any fillers?

It’s not that I don’t accept any fillers but I believe that with all great records, every song could be a single. That’s how I treat every song we work on. If it doesn’t have a memorable hook or something to say, then it most likely won’t go further than the initial writing phase, or I will keep working on it until a hook reveals itself. That mindset goes back to my first favorite band (The Beatles). 

Going forward, I believe in building a catalog of great songs that in turn create their own world within the music. All the artists I look up to are constantly trying new things and referencing their older work while pushing forward so I’m looking forward to doing that ourselves. 

How did Sun Goes Down came about?

It originally started as an EP that we began recording late in 2019 after we finished our previous record (Wax Nostalgic), but the pandemic gave us extra time to take stock of what we were doing, adding more songs, and flesh out the arrangements. We recorded most of the album remotely by emailing tracks back and forth with our engineer and mixing via Zoom, but I think it turned out pretty well regardless.

The song that sparked this whole album was “Fading Light,” which was written when we were finishing up Wax Nostalgic, and I originally wanted to put it on that album but it felt more like the start of a new era for us. “Fading Light” ended up becoming the pseudo-title track and the rest of the album was built around it. For this record, we tried to replicate our live show as best as possible (which is funny because we weren’t in the same rooms when it was recorded).

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

Success can look different for every artist, but for me, I think it comes down to staying inspired and creating connections with people. As long as we keep making records, each one will be better than the previous one, and hopefully, more people will connect with the songs. My favorite thing to do is write songs, so for someone else to hear a song I wrote and sing it while they’re driving with the windows down the way I have with the songs I love, then I know I’ve done my job. 

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

While I do miss playing live, the aspect of music I love the most is songwriting and building an album in the studio. We recorded it all with our friend Justin Nazario at his home studio (Sound Splitter Studio in the suburbs of Philly), and we have such a good relationship with him that making music was laid back, relaxed, exciting, and fun. After quarantining for a while and we knew we were safe, I would go to Justin’s to get final mixes together for the album. We would be mixing in John or Doug’s parts and jumping up and down with the musical surprises that kept jumping out, especially on songs like “Young & Decent.”

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

The pandemic halting live music has been tough, but it has given me time to rethink how to go about performing. I miss playing for crowds and all of our friends singing along to our songs, so I’m going to appreciate it when they come back, but I’ve been able to take stock of what we had and how to improve it going forward. Our shows have always been about just going up there and having fun, whether we’d been well-rehearsed or not, but I am looking forward to really dialing in the live sound and sounding tight on stage. There’s still going to be some antics, and we do enjoy jamming quite a bit, but we’re going to tighten up the ship. But to get back to that feeling of playing music with my friends again, I can’t wait.

Chris Church – Game Dirt (Q&A, and more …)

Chris Church’s new record Game Dirt will be released by Big Stir Records on March 27.

Game Dirt sounds different than for example Backwards Compatible or Limitations Of Source Tape, but what else would you expect from a musical chameleon.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Chris about how the new record came about.

All song titles consist of one word. There must be an idea behind that?

If you want to call “just being sassy” an idea… Seriously though, I think if one were to put on one’s disbelief suspenders for just a moment, it would be possible for one to excavate at least a chunk of meaning from reading the titles in order. If so, then, yes, you’re absolutely right, it IS a concept album! Or maybe a series of acronyms for the insane.

Every time I hear ‘Learn’ I start singing ‘Breakin’ rocks in the hot sun I fought the law and the law won’. Weird how the mind works or not so weird?

I’m sure I ripped off somebody. Might as well be Marshall Crenshaw’s favorite rock star ever to have been murdered by gangsters.

Your sound changed a bit or quite a bit, didn’t it? I think I hear Nick Lowe might have inspired you every now and then and I haven’t thought I heard that influence before.

I don’t know if I have a “sound”. I guess if I’m doing pop rock I probably am somewhat identifiable. I’ve done music in lots of genres, from progressive metal to goth pop to folky Americana to experimental to pure crap. I don’t know what I will end up doing next. I suppose one of the reasons Game Dirt sounds different than my last few is that I played all the instruments, and I’m not a very good drummer. I had a vibe in mind, and I only worked on the songs that felt elastic enough for me to shape as the mood dictated. There are several different versions of some of them. As for the Nick Lowe comparison, I’ll say two things – thanks, and I wish!

How did this one come about?

I got busy in my studio recording almost daily after my job was ended due to covid. I don’t think any of the subject matter is directly related to the pandemic, though. It’s just a bunch of songs. It was great to not be “on the clock”, though. I felt free about it. I also worked a lot on other things, including an album my friend Ben Gibbs has made in the studio with my wife Lori Franklin producing. It’s fantastic and I can’t wait for people to have a chance to hear it. It will give off a similar vibe perhaps, as it was recorded simultaneously, but it’s a whole other animal. I’ve done quite a few things down in that basement studio over the last 9 months or so, but I have started a new job, so who knows what’s next?

You should be proud Chris, you are writing quality songs and have been writing them for a long time now. Is it harder to get a compliment than it is to give one?

No! (Haha). Seriously, I appreciate that. I want to like stuff, and I still like a lot of my stuff, so that’s pretty much what it’s about for me. I probably should care more about what people think, but I think I have gotten a little better at appreciating positivity. It’s not a big deal.

Matthew Sweet – Catspaw (Q&A, and more …)

Catspaw is Matthew Sweet’s fifteenth studio album. And, as with every good record he delivers, the quality of the songs is compared to the quality that can be heard on Girlfriend or 100% Fun.

That good? Yes, that good!

The sound is slightly different though. As New Noise writes: ‘The sweet-as-honey melodies are still there, but the music is a little slower and the vibe a little darker.’.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Matthew Sweet about how Catspaw came about.

You made Catspaw almost all by yourself. What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

 I think when I started playing lead guitar, it made me happy. I was having fun!

How did Catspaw come together?

It really wasn’t so different than I would usually approach a record, except I had decided to play lead myself. The instrumentation was also very basic.

People talk about your guitar sound. Proud of how your guitar sounds? It determines the overall sound (and I hope you take that as a compliment). Was that what you wanted?

Sometimes I think the guitar sound comes mostly from how and what you play. I try lots of different amps and guitars (I used Novo guitars on this), but they all seem to usually work.

When you release a new record, it is usually compared to 100% Fun or Girlfriend. Often they write ‘his best records since …’. Most of the time it is a compliment. Do you take it as a compliment?

Yes, I do. 

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

I don’t know if I ever really ask for opinions, other than what people like. Once a record is released, I get an idea from the reaction.

You manage to keep the quality of your songs very high, for a very long time now. Do lyrics and melodies always come easy or is it hard work?

It sounds strange to say, but it’s really the easiest part for me, not what I would call hard work. Maybe happy work.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for Catspaw?

Success these days to me is just making a new record. I think I would do it regardless of what it brings. But I do like hearing if people have good feelings from it.

When do you decide to start recording a song? Any specific Matthew Sweet-quality-criteria?

I kind of record the good and the bad without judgement. I never know which ideas will blossom into something nice until it’s happening.

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

I don’t think of the world or its reaction, only how I feel. Then I just put it out there. I like emotions, it’s hard for me to imagine not putting them out there. I guess I feel more comfortable with that than if I tried to hide them.

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

We had a huge outdoor gig in Chicago in the mid-90s that was memorable just for the vibe and its incredibly huge crowd. The newspaper had the headline ‘’the Pope, the Bulls, and Matthew Sweet” which I guess all happened that weekend.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

I don’t think I ever thought that in my life!

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Yes of course. But it’s the part I enjoy most, so it’s ok.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

Creating something out of nothing is magical. It’s what art is all about.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

To see and share with others what the music has meant to them is humbling and satisfying. I love to think it’s helped others in their lives.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

Once the music goes into the world, I really have no control. People are free to make of it what they will. I am extremely grateful to get to do what I do at this age.

Being a one-man-band, did that bring ultimate freedom, or was it mainly a logical way of recording because of the situation the world is in?

I recorded and completed the record before the pandemic hit, even though it does seem to fit with its isolation.

I started out, before I ever made records, on my own multitracking, so it was really like a return to when I started in a way.

They expect ‘the roaring 20s v2.0’. What kind of party are you looking for?

The 20s were incredible. But fascism was also on the rise. I’m looking for the good side, freedom, and hope!

Omnivore Recordings is proud to announce the release of Catspaw—written, produced, recorded, mixed, and entirely preformed (save ferocious drumming from Ric Menck of Velvet Crush) by Matthew at his home studio. Mastered by Bob Ludwig, the Hofner bass and Novo guitars sing and howl, harkening back to classics like Girlfriend and Altered Beast—all while retaining the hooks that dig into the listener. Well, like a cat’s paw.

Thank you, Cary Baker (at Conqueroo)

Midnight Drags – Bad Business (Q&A, and more …)

Following on from his debut 2016 record, Long Way Back Down, Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Lucas James returns in 2021 with a new project, Midnight Drags, and a new album Bad Business. Co-produced by esteemed Australian guitarist Ash Naylor (Even, Paul Kelly) and mixed by engineer Matt Wallace (Faith No More, The Replacements).

Power Pop, Classic Rock, a bit of Soul, you can hear it all on Bad Business. Nine strong, very catchy stories.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

I think the moment I thought these tracks were pretty solid was when the band got together and first started rehearsing the tracks, until then I had only heard them an acoustic guitar (which is generally what I write all my songs on) and although I was happy with them I couldn’t hear the finished product in my head. The first few jams were exciting and the songs started to take on a new life altogether. I think that’s when we knew we might be onto something a little cool. 

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

First and foremost, success for me is being proud and 100% happy with my music when it is released. Secondary to that is other people enjoying the album. I’m not looking at sales figures or streams as markers for success really (although it’s cool to get a few dollars here and there!) .. it’s just really nice when somebody you don’t know says ‘I love this song!’ when talking about your music. 

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

I think earlier in my songwriting journey I was much more reluctant to be 100 percent honest in my lyrics and kept things a little more superficial but as I’ve gotten older I’m much more comfortable being honest about my feelings and insecurities with myself and others. I still write songs about ‘characters’ but they usually have a little me or somebody I know in the story as well. But a wise man once said ‘don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

I think so yes.. anybody can make music, anytime and anywhere with the way technology is now.. you can do it on a phone, tablet, or laptop and make something really special. Bedroom producers are taking over and I think it’s pretty cool. Back in the day, you could only produce decent-sounding music if you had access to some type of recording equipment which was usually found in recording studios so it was a costly exercise.

Getting music heard is another thing altogether, that side comes down to a mixture of word of mouth, pr/promotion, and/or luck but the number 1 thing is, having good songs! But, you might be one of the lucky ones who put their first-ever song on Soundcloud and the world goes bananas for it and you sign a mega-deal with a record label and eat caviar and drink champagne for the rest of your life..? 

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

Tough question, but I’ll try…

My Old School: Steely Dan

I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘the Dan’ lately and I love them so much, I could have picked any of their songs but I do love the feel of this one.. very fun and as usual, the musicianship is off the charts.

Friday On My Mind: The Easybeats

This is an Australian band from the ’60s and I seriously rate this track as one of the best pop tracks ever written. It’s a complex and interesting chord progression that builds tension throughout with the euphoric release of the super hooky chorus. Killer song. Fun fact, the band included George Young on guitar who was the older brother of Malcolm, and Angus Young who went on to form AC/DC.

I Was Made To Love Her: Stevie Wonder

Just an awesome song, everything about it makes me happy.

Southern Girls: Cheap Trick

Again, I could have chosen at least 10 or more other tracks but this is so much fun… Cheap Trick was a big influence on my and my music.. they were heavy yet very poppy and they were a ‘fun’ band that didn’t take themselves too seriously… I love that about them.

Just: Radiohead

What can I say, Radiohead is amazing and this song of The Bends has everything. Jonny Greenwood is a guitar god!

released February 26, 2021

Lucas James – Vocals, Guitar, Synth, Percussion
Ash Naylor – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Warren Booth – Bass
Brett Wolfenden – Drums

Additional Musicians
Sefi Carmel – Strings/String Arrangements
Daniel Frankel – Piano/Electric Piano/Perc
Wez Prictor – Piano
Hugo Lee – Saxophone
Bill McDonald – Bass on Tracks 2 & 5
Nate Barnes – Drums on Track 5

Recorded at Hot Bias Recording Studio
Mixed by Matt Wallace
Mastered by Lucas James