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Simpatico - Interview with Jason Sweeney

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 13 / 1 / 2002



Simpatico - Interview with Jason Sweeney

intro

If you don’t own a copy of Simpatico’s debut single release ‘The Postal Museum EP’, then I would urge you to buy one. It has a freshness and an originality to it that becomes more and more evident wi


If you don’t own a copy of Simpatico’s debut single release ‘The Postal Museum EP’, then I would urge you to buy one. It has a freshness and an originality to it that becomes more and more evident with each listen. It was released on Matinee, the Washington label which has also been responsible for releases by, among others, Airport Girl, Harper Lee, The Lucksmiths and Sportique. In simple terms ‘The Postal Museum EP’ is four tracks of delicate indie pop with simple guitar lines, catchy tunes and drum machine backing, but it is this policy of keeping it simple, that is definitely Simpatico's beauty. It also helps that the vocals are fantastic! Simpatico is essentially a solo project for Jason Sweeney. Before embarking on Simpatico, he was the singer/guitarist and songwriter with the Australian group Sweet William, who have also recorded for Matinee. Jason was joined in Sweet William by Louey Hart on guitar, Karl Melvin on bass and drum machine Dr. Rhythm. Sweet William released two superb EPs on Matinee , although they also recorded tracks for other labels. The first of these, the 'Dutch Mother' EP was released in November ’97 while their second and final single, the 'Lovely Norman' EP, was released in Dec ’98. Jimmy Tassos, the head of Matinee, was so impressed by the 'Dutch Norman' EP that he started up his label just so that he could release it. Simpatico began in early 1999, shortly after Sweet William split. During his years in Sweet William Jason lived in Adelaide, but early in 2000 he relocated to Melbourne. Jason is also involved in several musical projects outside Simpatico, which are more electronic based, than Sweet William and Simpatico, both of whom have a C86 and indie pop style sound. These are Other People’s Children, 'Prettyboycrossover and Par Avion. As you may have guessed from these band names, Jason is gay. This, and his use of drum machines, has drawn ‘The Postal Museum’ EP comparisons with the Magnetic Fields, although I can not hear many similarities between these two bands' sounds. “I loved and still love Sweet William, and what we managed to achieved in such a short time" Jason tells Pennyblackmusic in an exclusive interview. "In many ways I’m sad that it all stopped, but it did and in circumstances it really had to. Simpatico is totally enjoyable for reasons that have mainly to do with the freedom of doing whatever, whenever. Not that Sweet William had necessary constrictions - it’s more the creative and music making process - who is involved, when to record, how to record and so on. It is also a project that falls outside of my other more electronic focused outfits, and as it is is based around guitar written songs , it is closest in its way of working to Sweet William.” Working as a solo artist does have other advantages as well for Jason, particulary with regard to his lyric writing. "I can be a little more upfront with the gay stuff in lyrics and in sleeve design" he says "I’m not implicating anyone else in my sexual preferences this time! In the context of playing live, however, it seems that Jason will be forced to recruit more members for a proposed US Tour. “I actually don’t enjoy playing live in a solo context" he reflects. "Because it ultimately means it has to be me, a guitar and a minidisc - and a casiotone if you’re lucky! I like the dynamics of playing live with one or two other people." It means there are more people to blame if it all goes wrong!” he quips. ‘The Postal Museum’ EP, which is Simpatico's first widely released offering, continues and develops the link that Jason established with Matinee during his years in Sweet William. “ ‘The Postal Museum’ EP is really special because in many ways I wrote it all for Jimmy at Matinee. I wrote 3 of the 4 songs while I was staying at his house in Washington DC in December 1999. I recorded them in Adelaide, Australia with one of my closest friends, Mark. We recorded it all to hard disc over a few weeks in January 2000, just before I moved to Melbourne. The title of the EP has references to both the actual postal museum in DC and is also a kind of dedication to all the time I spent in post offices sending packages to people like Jimmy…as if somehow I’d been creating this entire archive of postal items. At one point I was sending up to 2 packages a week - actually nothing much has changed! I spend the majority of my meagre income on the Australian post. They should sponsor me!" Recording with Simpatico in the studio has proved to be a very different experience to recording with Sweet William. “I always saw the actual rehearsing and recording of songs in Sweet William as a total collaboration. I only wrote guitar parts, lyrics and vocal melodies. Louey would interpret her own guitar and vocal parts and Karl wrote all the bass lines. These are what made the songs complete. With Simpatico I pretty much write everything and occasionally invite friends to play parts (keyboards, samples…), which even though I suggest ideas become new written components. The recording process is quite variable for Simpatico, whereas Sweet William recorded everything they did with one producer. Peter Hill. I suppose one day I’d like to have a full time bass player and keyboardist - but at this stage it tends to work best as a record-by-record project as I’m also spending a lot of time with my electronic outfits”. Despite the fact that Jason has recorded and released material for several different labels it is clear that Matinee has been very important in establishing his musical career. “Jimmy has been ever so important in my musical life." he says. " He launched Sweet William and Simpatico into the world in a big way by putting out their debut releases. I am really proud of the fact that it is the 'Dutch Mother' EP that started Matinee,. It all started in 1996, and now 5 years down the track, Matinee is going stronger than ever and I’m so excited to still be working with Jimmy. It’s why I really wanted to make the first Simpatico EP a sort of dedication to him and to being in DC. It was that particular trip where everything seemed to make sense and fall together for me, musically - and it was a really formative time in Simpatico.” Jason's plans for Simpatico, however, extend far beyond Matinee. A split single with The Pines has just been released on Chris Wu’s Gifted records. Jason, however, continues to consider Matinee a “home-base” for his guitar-pop projects, “even though I’m moving around and releasing music with other labels. ” Simpatico's next release will be another EP, which will come out on the Gifted label, but a full length LP is also planned. “I’ve actually been planning the Simpatico LP in my head for the past year or so - I have a whole bunch of recordings sitting in the vaults but now all I want to do is write the record from scratch, I have a tendency to not want to go backwards… but who knows - there are actually a whole lot of songs I wrote as far back as 1989 that I would like to finally put on a record. It could be an interesting collection.” For people in Britain it is easy to be unaware of what goes on in the Australian music scene. Sure, they always beat us at cricket and swimming but do they have any good bands. What is the country’s music scene and did Jason find it hard for Sweet William to get noticed ? “I have to answer this question by saying that Adelaide is a zone unto itself" he says. " The music scene there, especially when I was doing Sweet William, was really lively and fun. Lots of excellent gigs and special events. We only toured outside of Adelaide once and went to Melbourne where we played just three shows. It really opened my eyes - mainly because I got to meet a lot of people who had been into the band from afar." "Adelaide feels very isolated, but now that I live in Melbourne all that has changed. It’s quite inspiring here. There is so much music, so many places to play gigs, so many people willing to get off their bums and organise shows! Sydney is also quite exciting too and I’m doing more over there now, especially with the help of the lovely Chris Wu who does all the Popfrenzy events.” “It’s still weird" he continues "Because I still feel that Sweet William and even Simpatico it seems are names more familiar to people overseas than in Australia. There is a really strong sense of ‘pop community’ (for want of a better term) here but I must admit that when I played in Los Angeles last year I felt this surge of interest and activity that blew me away. But then I get that here too. I suppose in many ways I’m still flabbergasted that the records are out and about and that people buy them and that then people write to me to say how much they like the. It’s what counts the most essentially though.” One interesting element of the Simpatico sound is that, although the songs are all composed on the guitar, the records feature drum machines and nods towards electronic music. “It’s quite odd" Jason agrees. "Because yes I am a fan of electronic music but at the same time, when it comes to guitar based music it’s usually mostly all live instrumentation which has inspired my song-writing. I’ve always resorted to drum machines , not for any deep-seated resentment of drummers, but because I have always been attracted to a sound that has an element of sequencing alongside acoustic or live instrumentation. In Sweet William, we enlisted Dr Rhythm as our official fourth member and even though she was probably the only member that was given explicit instructions, she often had a mind of her own and blew up at will - so you see, even drum machines have a bit of a Spinal Tap complex.” “In Simpatico, yes Dr Rhythm is the official second full time member and she is a bit more free-form this time around. She gets into loops though… ya gotta watch that" When I first heard the Simpatico EP, I’ll admit, I thought it did sound British. Surprisingly though Jason’s main influences are Australian bands, and this reinforces the fact that there are many great Australian groups that the British simply are not exposed to. “One of my hugest inspirations for Sweet William were the sadly underrated Melbourne band, Sea Stories - Simon Honisett and Penny Hewson wrote the most gorgeous and shimmering songs ever, gentle and so Australian in mood and tone. Lyrically I am still always drawn to Simon Honisett’s phrasing and evocation of landscape and romance. In fact, I am inspired, and still listen to, so much incredible Australian music which so many of my overseas and even local! friends have never heard of - like the Sydney band, Rabbit’s Wedding, which is where the name Sweet William comes from by the way - a song of theirs is titled such on one of their Eps." "There are bands like the Triffids, Lighthouse Keepers, the Go-betweens too. Brilliant songs and words.There is a big British indie music influence there too though. I will always and forever be inspired by the work of Ian Masters and the early Pale Saints days. Lyrically and musically (and even electronically, many of my influences came quite strongly listening to all those incredible Sarah Records - especially the Field Mice, the Wake, and Heavenly. Now if only I could make a dinner date with Bob Wratten, Simon Honisett and Ian Masters I’d be in musical utopia… not to mention in the presence of some particularly stunning men. Sadly they’re all straight… “I guess in a way I can see why people might say the records sound ‘British’" he adds. "People say I sound British when I speak but to be honest I think a lot of this comes from growing up in Adelaide where there is a distinctively English tone to the accent. But now, especially approaching the Simpatico album, I have become so much more aware of being Australian (going overseas amplified these feelings too) and even being in Melbourne now, where the ‘Aussie' accent is much broader too, and because of all the incredible music being made here. I can’t control how the records sound to listeners and it always seems that the response is that they have a British tone, but I think lyrically and musically this new record will be more about living in Australia, Melbourne, my shift to living here, how that has made me feel and to what extent it has influenced the songs and music.” To finish , I asked Jason what music he was currently listening to, and he revealed further Australian bands. I’m beginning to feel a little naïve having ignored the country up till now! “A lot of Sea Stories and Pel Mel (another amazing Aussie band from the 80’s) funnily enough … Underground Lovers … a Melbourne band… wow I feel like I’m on a Aussie pop soapbox today… Ok, no, I’ve also been really getting into this German band called Lali Puna, which is moody electro pop. Oh, and of course, more Ian Masters - he’s just released this crazy picture disc ” called 24K Fort Knox or something… the vinyl is so thick! I’m also listening to too much of myself playing guitar and sequencing drum machines trying to write the Simpatico album. I may have to stop listening to other people for a while cos you know what happens when the ‘influences’ creep in… categorisation time!”



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Simpatico - Interview with Jason Sweeney


Simpatico - Interview with Jason Sweeney



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interviews


Interview with Jason Sweeney (2002)
Simpatico - Interview with Jason Sweeney
Back for a second interview with Pennyblackmusic, Australian indiepop hero and Simpatico frontman Jason Sweeney talks about to Ben Howarth about the electronic influences of his debut album 'The Difference Between Alone and Lonely'


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