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Matt Sweeney: ‘Everybody talks about The Velvet Underground. Nobody listens to The Velvet Underground’


Musician and record producer Matt Sweeney talks to STROMBO on Apple Music Hits about the impact and importance of The Velvet Underground, the ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico’ album, his cover of ‘European Son’ with Iggy Pop, and the upcoming Apple Original ‘The Velvet Underground’ documentary film. Kurt Vile also chats with STROMBO about the influence of Lou Reed.

Matt Sweeney On Covering ‘European Son’ With Iggy Pop…

That was worth considering, because of the nature of that song, which is that it’s an eight-minute, really difficult song. It’s like their most fun and most difficult song, in some ways. So then I figured I should ask Iggy, because I had been thinking about how the only person who I’d be interested in hearing Lou Reed lyrics from is Iggy Pop.

So I asked Iggy, and weirdly, he said yes, and there was no back and forth. It was like, “Yeah, that sounds cool.” And the timing was interesting, because it was late February of 2020, that Iggy happened to be in town and just everything lined up. So we got together in the studio the day before f****** lockdown happened.

So now I kind of had two things, which is like, “All right, this is Iggy singing the Velvet Underground, which is a f****** huge deal.” And then also, we’re playing this kind of chaotic song in the day before our lives are about to get ruined. All we know is that a cough is a bad thing, and so that’s why the song ends with Iggy coughing. Of course, that’s really f***** up. I mean, it was a dark… It was very deliberate. A statement or an appropriate sound for the time.

Matt Sweeney On Why The Velvet Underground Should Be Listened To More Rather Than Only Talked About…

The Velvet Underground are my favourite band. I should have started by saying that. I have a peer group that feels the same way about that band, and so I’m pretty intense about the band. But what’s interesting about the cover thing is that in the Eighties, when I first heard about them, it wasn’t because I had any access to the records, because I didn’t, it was always people talking about them. So when I say you’re not allowed to cover The Velvet Underground, it’s also important to really do The Velvet Underground a service, and at least talk about them or bring people’s attention to them, because there’s another funny thing about The Velvet Underground, which is that they’re a band that’s talked about way more than listened to. You know, everybody fucking talks about The Velvet Underground. Nobody listens to The Velvet Underground, I feel like, which is really f***** stupid, because they’re a way more interesting… I mean, they’re a really interesting conversation, I guess, in the abstract, but they’re way better to listen to than to talk about, which is saying a lot, because they’re one of the most interesting bands of all time, as far as just the story goes.

Matt Sweeney On The Velvet Underground’s Original Self-Titled Album…

I think that that’s why this banana record is such a big deal to people, is because it stands for something more than it. For people who are lazy thinkers, and for people who are very intense thinkers, that banana record is more than a record. It’s a dream of New York in the 60s.

Matt Sweeney On The Apple Original ‘The Velvet Underground’ Documentary Film…

This record that we’re talking about, which is this Velvet Underground tribute record, exists because of the Todd Haynes movie that’s about to come out. It’s about this moment that was happening in New York. And also, what’s particularly intriguing about The Velvet Underground, more so than a lot of other 60s bands, is that the way that they were documented was by avant-garde cinema. There is not a single straight performance of The Velvet Underground that you can watch. The only people who were shooting them, were people who were using cinema in this experimental way. Which is also why there’s so much mystique to the band. And I think that Todd Haynes’s movie shows that that is actually a f***** good thing. That it creates so much. It makes it better. It is just the merch, and the mystery, and the excitement. Particularly The Velvet Underground, because they were a visual band. They were doing it in a totally f**** different way. Their visuals were so f*****compared to everything else that was happening at the time.

Matt Sweeney On The Song “Heroin”….

The main point of that lyric isn’t about being a junkie, it’s about wanting to nullify your life. That’s a heavy duty statement to make, and zero people, I’m pretty certain, we’re saying that kind of shit in the 60’s. It’s such a powerful thing because that’s something that f****every single person feels at a certain point. So that’s the other thing that I like about the Velvets is they’re weirdly friendly in a very real way. It’s like, “Okay, if you’re going to walk into this room with us, we’re going to admit a bunch of shit. We’re going to admit to certain frailties and to certain things that might be uncomfortable in other rooms, but this is where it’s at.” That mixture of vulnerability and just nasty power is so great on their part, and I still think unmatched, because again, there’s this sweetness to match the saltiness, for sure, with these guys.

Matt Sweeney on The Velvet Underground’s Experimentation…

Their music was done in an environment where nobody was fucking with them and they were allowed to pursue sounds and subjects and recording techniques and stuff that nobody else would have done. So again, they are your dream art school. They’re the coolest people you’ve ever met, who’ve done all this f**** work. They’re not nice, but they’re really there for you. I love that about them. I can think of few bands that are that complete in that regard, that have this mixture of we don’t give a f*** what anybody else thinks except for you. We’ve done all this work for you. There’s a whole understanding that the larger culture sucks. People are trying to fucking tell you that a bunch of shit is cool. It’s not, and you know it’s not. Look, here is something that’s cool and we’ve worked really hard on it. All that’s really undeniable about them.

Kurt Vile On The Influence of Lou Reed…

Lou was one of my earliest, of all the classic influences. And it’s funny too because he basically influenced all those Nineties bands, people like the Pavements. I remember one record in particular, I got it because the cover looked cool, turned out it was ‘Street Hassle’ and talk about an epic eleven minute song. Street poetry, street play. He was gritty. Lou was the streets. He went from The Velvets out, just expanded – sometimes successfully, sometimes very strangely. Albums like ‘Coney Island Baby,’ ‘Street Hassle,’ then he’d do something out there like ‘Metal Machine Music.’ He was a difficult guy who wouldn’t compromise. He was the greatest.

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