Matthew Sweet moved to Athens, GA at the urging of his pen pal, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe in the early 1980s. Sweet honed his craft in the flourishing alternative rock scene playing with Oh-OK, Lloyd Cole, the Golden Palominos, Buzz of Delight, and recording two critically-acclaimed solo records before emerging in 1991 as the leading figure of the American power pop revival with the release of his watershed album, Girlfriend.
Like his British counterparts Teenage Fanclub, Sweet adhered to traditional songcraft, yet subverted the form by adding noisy post-punk guitar and flourishes of country-rock, resulting in an amalgam of the Beatles, Big Star, R.E.M., and Neil Young. Recorded with guitarists Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine, Girlfriend became a word-of-mouth critical and commercial hit over the course of 1992, with its title track reaching the Top Five on the Modern Rock charts. For the next five years, as alternative rock was the dominant commercial force in rock & roll, Sweet became a very popular concert attraction and solidified his reputation as the premiere alternative pop singer/songwriter. His next two records, Altered Beast (1993) and 100% Fun (1995) were both critically acclaimed and successful albums, with the latter reaching platinum status and making many year-end best-of lists.
Sweet continued to evolve over a string of well-received albums in the early 2000s. In 2006, he joined forces with Bangles frontwoman Susanna Hoffs to record a series of covers from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, Under the Covers, Vol. 1–3. Sweet’s music has appeared in numerous films, television shows, and games, including Austin Powers, Guitar Hero II, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Simpsons, and Scooby-Doo, among many others. Sweet was a lead consultant on Tim Burton’s Margaret Keane biopic Big Eyes in 2014. His 15th studio album, 2021’s Catspaw (Omnivore Recordings) is guitar-driven: 12 songs, lean and consistent, direct, and notably darker than Sweet’s recent song-cycles. Apparent in tracks like “Best of Me” and album-opener “Blown Away,” the inner-turmoil harkens back to the angst of 1993’s Altered Beast. But where Beast was the self-interrogation of an artist in his mid-20s, Catspaw is the confessions of a career artist, mature and assured in his craft and achingly transparent in his confrontations of aging and the search for meaning. “I’m trying to get my head around getting older, I want to let go, I want to tell the ugly truth … I want to do all kinds of different things in my head and they really popped out in these songs.”