MATT MATTHEWS INTERVIEW:
July 8, 2007
As the vocalist for Detroit rockers Sweet Teaze, Matt Matthews came close to reaching the big time in the ‘hair band’ 80s. With the help of their independently released Do It Till It Hurtz the band managed to land a major label deal, but with the arrival of grunge Sweet Teaze quickly became an afterthought. Some of their old recordings have finally seen the light of day with the release of Groovin On The Backside and Matt talks about that album, the good old days and life after ‘hair’.
SR: You just released Groovin’ On The Backside. How did you get convinced to release these tracks at this time?
MM: We all wanted the material to get released but we didn’t think that there was an interest for the material. Then we started to get emails from friends and CD collectors about our first album “Do it Till it Hurtz”. Apparently there was a scene for ‘Hair’ bands and rare releases of their material. The (guitarist) Ray Eveland’s son Randy had been in a chat room and in that chat room he had stated that there were no more copies of “Do it Till it Hurtz” but there is unreleased material by the band. This lead to a string of emails eventually finding there way to me. I was put in contact with Dave Moors at Suncity Records (www.suncityrecords.com) and here we are today.
SR: I think Suncity did a great job with the album, how pleased are you with the way it came out?
MM: I am extremely happy with the work and final results that Suncity Records did on this release. They exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds. They worked closely with me on the artwork and took a bunch of pictures I emailed and created a professional insert. The audio mastering came out great considering the recordings were starting to degrade as they rotted in my closet. I was happy to see that the lyrics made it into the insert.
SR: Do you think this release will spark a reunion for the band?
MM: I currently play in a cover band PHX (www.phxband.com) in Detroit and Dave Press (drummer) from Sweet Teaze just joined on. Ray Eveland stopped in at one of my recent shows and Ray, Dave and I kicked out a few old tunes from both CD releases. It brought back a lot of memories and it sparked our interest in trying to put something together. We have talked about putting together a reunion show if there is enough interest, but that is about as far as we took the idea. The remaining members of Sweet Teaze and the old crew members keep in touch mainly through emails and the occasional get-together at a local Pub.
SR: Why do so many artists such as yourself play in cover bands these days as opposed to going into clubs with your own material?
MM: I enjoy performing in front of an audience. There are more clubs in Detroit that hire bands to play cover tunes than to play originals. Playing cover tunes never really bothered me because I always was able to book “one-off” shows and play originals. And the cover tune shows offer better cash…….
SR: Could you picture yourself writing songs with the guys again?
MM: Yes, Ray and I worked well together. It would be interesting to see what style of riffs we would write all these years later.
SR: Why do you think so many 80s rock bands such as Sweet Teaze are returning these days?
MM: There is still a large group of people that are into 80’s music. They are not just made up of people that lived through the decadent years, but young teenagers that like the riffs, style, and attitude that the 80’s band represented. The 80’s “Hair Band” style of music is still very much alive and there are hundreds of internet based stations that crank out those tunes to devoted listeners all over the world. Even here in Detroit, WRIF (101.1FM) dedicates 6 hours of their programming to the genre each week.
SR: It wasn’t so long ago that ‘hair bands’ were ridiculed, was it difficult for a musician like yourself to get taken seriously during those years?
MM: At the time I only felt ridiculed when around other musicians that didn’t understand what the music was all about. It made no sense to hang with a bunch of negative people so we would just hang with the people that enjoyed the music and were into that scene. I feel that ridicule is the result of envy and jealousy and at that time “hair bands” were a target because the genre dominated the music charts.
SR: Give us a little history on how Sweet Teaze came together.
MM: It was the Summer of 1987 and Dave Press and Ray Eveland crashed my birthday party looking for a singer for their new project. At that time I was a drummer in a Detroit band called Stone White, and the thought of being a front-man was both intriguing and scary. I took them up on their offer and two weeks later I was practicing a bunch of cover tunes. It wasn’t long after that when we started to write are own original music.
At that time we were a 5 piece band and our musical styles started to clash. Original bass guitarist Kevin Breselin and rhythm guitar player Rocky Watt had left the project and we began looking for a new bass guitarist. Mike “Snake” Edwards approached us in a club one night and that locked down the Sweet Teaze line-up for the next eight years. Some of the early recordings of the CD “Do it Till it Hurtz” have Rocky Watt doing the backing vocals.
For the first three years the band built our following around the Detroit scene. Playing clubs like Harpo’s, The Ritz, New York New York, Blondies, The Token Lounge, Free Spirits, and The 300 Bowl. After playing every club in the Detroit area we decided to shop our music to any label that would listen.
SR: How much of a difference was it to go from drummer to frontman?
MM: It was a big change. I was able to hide behind a drum set. I could be sick with the flu and it would be hard for an audience to tell the difference in my playing…but as a singer I was wide open, all eyes on you and all ears listening to every crack in your voice. I had to concentrate more on my health as a singer. Watching what I ate or drank, and how much sleep I got. Partying too hard would greatly affect my performance. When I was having a bad night singing I would wish that I was playing drums again. Being a singer does have its perks…
SR: What do you remember about the recording of Do It Till It Hurtz?
MM: I recall a lot of long nights and days. We were doing shows at night and the next morning we were headed for the studio and recording individual tracks and doing final mix-downs. One Saturday night we had played a show in Flint Michigan, partied all night and then at 5am we shoved everybody at the party into the van and drove to Ann Arbor Michigan and laid the vocal tracks for Street Wise. One of the girls got her singing debut on that song. I have great memories of recording that CD…but when you are in the studio for 12-16 hours a day it can take its toll on your sanity.
SR: Why did you release the CD independently, were there no major labels knocking at your door?
MM: At the time it was our only option. We had shopped the material to every label that would listen. The market for that genre was saturated. When we didn’t get any bites we decided that we should invest in CD’s, tapes, artwork and distribution ourselves. We started our own independent label and worked out a distribution deal will local music stores and took our show on the road. A lot of our early sales were out of the back of my car. That tour took us to Florida where we got our deal with Capital Records. Without taking that extra step and releasing “Do It Till It Hurtz” we would have never been able to get “Groovin’ on the Backside” recorded.
SR: I’ve always wondered if releasing an album by yourself can be profitable? Did you manage to sell most copies and make some extra cash with it?
MM: Private sales of independently released CD’s can be profitable. There has to be a demand for it so it forces the band to play a lot of shows and promote themselves. It can be a lot of work. But once you get a little hype on your band it can go a long way on your sales. I think we gave away about as many CD’s as we sold. At the time it was about getting the music out there so we could get more attention to draw a label into listening to us.
SR: It obviously worked, because you got signed to Capitol. How did that come about?
MM: We had saturated our own market so touring was a natural next step. We were playing in Orlando Florida when we got a call from our manager stating that we had to be in Daytona the next day for a battle of the bands. We were added to this bill as a late addition and we could sense a bit animosity toward us as we set up our gear. We delivered a high energy set the only way we new how, hard, driving and in your face. The prize for winning this contest was studio time and the funds were being provided by Capitol Records. This was a great break for us and at the end of the night they announced us as the winner. Tensions were high backstage so we decided to leave in typical Sweet Teaze fashion (cause a scene…drink all their beer and make a break for the back door). That was a long night of partying and all I remember from that night is hotel security letting themselves in our room because the people below us were complaining about the noise and that a group of “long haired” guys were peeing off the balcony…Don’t figure!
That summer (1990) an A&R rep from Capitol Records flew into town to see how we were progressing with the studio work. We recorded all the new tracks in the same studio (Schoolhouse Studio, Ann Arbor Michigan) and we used the same producer Pete Bankart. The first installment that we won at the contest was enough to record 4 songs so this visit was to determine if Capitol Records was interested in the material and to see if we could get a contract. We played a showcase at The Ritz while the A&R rep was in town and one month later we had a Demo contract and additional funds to finish recording.
We finished the final tracks the next year and we were patiently waiting for more information from the record label. The music scene started to change and Grunge had a stronghold on what the labels were looking at. As weeks turned into months we feared the worse and then we got a call from a representative from Capitol and they stated that they dissolved the team that had been signing “Hair Bands” and our contract would expire without a deal or a tour. So all of the material was put on a shelf.
SR: How frustrating was it to sit around waiting for a word from Capitol while watching the face of popular music change?
MM: At first you are excited because you are finally working with a label and after weeks turn into months you begin to question if anything is going to happen with your deal.
To the Record Company music is a business, to the musician, music is an art, an expression that they want to share with the masses. After about a year of waiting we realized that the deal had went flat and we started to rethink the direction of the band.
SR: What direction did you end up taking?
MM: The band started to breakdown after the deal fell through so I started another project with a band called Motherload (www.myspace.com/motherload2006).
Give it a listen. It is a bit more aggressive than the Sweet Teaze music. I still jam with the guys in Motherload and we are working on material but we are not pushing the product to the masses. Just a group of guys that still have a passion for music.
SR: I’ve asked artists this question before, Do you think a musician loses his credibility among 80s hard rock fans when they changed their sound during the grunge years?
MM: In most cases, YES. Fans can be rough on a band or a songwriter when they experiment with different styles. People reject change especially when they relate to a certain style or genre of music. But as a musician you begin to experiment with different sounds and styles as you grow. This usually pisses off a lot of the die-hard fans and they begin to call you a sell-out. This ‘conflict of interest’ leads to a lot of infighting with your band mates. Do you change with the times or do you keep releasing the same style of music? Every band has to make that decision as they grow. I think that every band changes over time. The bands that have survived and still release gold records just have found the middle of the road that keeps their fans happy.
SR: How difficult is it to find that middle ground? It must be a hard thing to be able to do.
MM: It was a very difficult choice to make. Everybody in the band thinks they know best on what direction the band should go. We hit a stalemate and then the band broke up. We never found the middle ground. There was no third album recorded to hear what our new sound/style would have been.
SR: Seeing as you released Do It Till It Hurtz independently, it would be easy for you to re-release. Are there any plans for that?
MM: It’s a matter of supply and demand. I would consider re-releasing Do It Till It Hurtz if I felt there was enough demand to payoff the expense of re-releasing. I have been waiting to see how the release of Groovin’ on the Backside pans out.
SR: How have sales been so far for Groovin’ On The Backside?
MM: I had talked with Dave at Suncity Records and sales were good for the first 3 months of the release. We were around 1000 units at that time.
SR: What are some of your most memorable and outrageous stories of life on the road?
MM: Of all the small tours that the band did…I think one of the most memorable and odd events is we were scheduled to drive all night from Florida to Tennessee. On the way there our equipment truck quit running and we were forced to leave it on the side of the road at 2am and find a rental truck the next morning. We drove to the next town and searched for a place to sleep. There were six of us crammed into a van with our suitcases and not enough cash to rent a room. We had already been driving for about 20 hours, exhausted we pulled into a large parking lot that did not have any street lights so we could catch a few hours of sleep.
That morning we woke to the sound of a Rooster crowing in the distance, we emptied out of the van and found a sign that said “Welcome to Tupelo Mississippi”. Through the morning haze in the distance about 50 yards from where we had parked was a little white house and another sign that said “The Home and Birthplace of Elvis Presley”. Amazed we all walked to the house, sat on the porch, got the acoustic guitars out and played a few blues tunes, sat on swing, skateboarded around the property and took a few pictures before anyone showed up to kick us out. Ironically we rented a truck and drove back to the place were we left our truck and began to transfer the gear from one truck to the other. Once all the gear was transferred I tried to start the truck and it purred like a kitten. Bewildered I decided to take a chance and drive it to the next show. And the kicker is that the next show was in Memphis just down the road from Graceland. Coincidence??…or an eerie visit from the King?
SR: Of all the songs you have created, which are you favorites and which ones do you wish would disappear?
MM: Of all of the Sweet Teaze tunes recorded my favorites are…Groovin’, Never Was A Good Boy, Heartless Woman, Do It Till It Hurtz, and How Do You Say Goodbye. The song that makes cringe when I hear it is “Drive Me Crazy” from our first recording…..I hear a bunch of vocal imperfections that turn my stomach…..
SR: Do you have any regrets about the way your music career turned out?
MM: At the time when the record deal fell through I was taken back. But I decided to keep pluggin’ away at music. After all these years of playin’ bars, clubs, and concert halls I still enjoy the main reason I got involved with music and that it performing live. Twenty years later and I still get a rush when I perform. If I had a chance to do it all over again I would. Thinkin’ back to that time I would only change how we marketed the band, since 99% of the record companies only see a band for their return on their investment.
I can say that I don’t miss livin’ out of a suitcase though….
SR: What final words would you like to say to the Sweet Teaze fans?
MM: I would like to say hello to all of the fans that have supported me and the band over the years. I hope you enjoy the new release. And to any new fans…..Enjoy…Keep Rockin’…..Peace….
Thanks to Matt Matthews