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Simpatico - Interview with Jason Sweeney

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 12 / 4 / 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'

Simpatico has just released a first-rate debut album, called 'The Difference Between Alone and Lonely' on Matinee recordings. The label is often seen as being a wholly indiepop label, and there are clear signs that this release is also an indiepop record, but the style of its music transcends easy genre categorization. It is a tender work that is never exactly catchy, but is also not so experimental that it isn’t tuneful. It is a record with a lovely balance and good tone. It is the follow up to the 'Postal Museum EP' that appeared last year, and to a split single recorded with the Pines. Other than that, two cassette only releases have appeared on the labels In A Lighthouse and the Italian based Best Kept Secret. Simpatico in actual fact consists of just Jason Sweeney, and is only one of his many musical projects. Jason started his recording career with the Adelaide based group, Sweet William, who released two 7” singles on Matinee and an album, 'World Of Books', on Shelflife. After their break up Jason formed Other People’s Children with Louey Hart, the Sweet William guitarist ,and also Prettyboycrossover and Par Avion. Those acts all take a more electronic basis, so it is not uncommon to view Simpatico as the closest Sweeney project to the distinctive Sweet William sound. The music, however, has a real electronic edge and is far slower. At times Simpatico sound more like a dream-pop band in the vein of, say, Coastal. When I spoke to Jason in Melbourne he had just returned home from the sales. Perhaps a reminder that our indiepop ‘stars’ still have real lives! I begun the conversation by asking about the recently released album. Jason seemed really satisfied with the results, as well he should. “It feels like the coming together of a whole lot of elements of my life” he said. “And it is an incredibly satisfying record to have out because it compiles some songs that I wrote ten years ago, and to finally have them released is just brilliant. It feels like a completion of a period in time for me”. At the start of recording Jason had to decide between writing an album from scratch or recording all the old songs he had knocking about in folders. The recording process began with Jason making a series of demos that he played to several of his friends, trying to get feedback and to revise things accordingly. That process continued when Jason set about recording the album. He debated whether to hire a studio and a producer, as he had done when recording the 'Postal Museum EP', but instead borrowed a friend’s 8-track recorder, and did the whole thing himself in his bedroom. This involved a “lot of trial and error” and again, Jason played people the record as it was being recorded. Far from secluding himself in a studio as so many musicians tend to, Jason made it a work in progress over June and July of last year. "I was thinking about this record a lot more, trying to get a wide range of songs. The Sweet William record, 'World of Books' was a compilation of all the songs we had recorded that we hadn’t already put out. This time we tried to arrange the record so the songs fitted together nicely. I got quite precise actually which is kind of unusual, for me! I thought, why not be a complete control freak and do everything myself? But I think that will change from now onwards and I’ll be getting other people involved to play with me.” Jason also notices quite a difference between the EP and the album, as I did when I first heard them both. “The EP was recorded with a guy called Mark Rhys Mitchell. It involved buildings songs from ideas. The songs themselves are also quite different, in mood and feel. The EP is quite crisp and digital whereas to me this is warmer. In terms of production and recording quality they are both where I wanted them to be, but they are both quite different.” Jason has worked with a variety of labels during recent years. For the full Simpatico releases Jason has worked with Jimmy Tassos at Matinee and Chris Wu at Gifted, both of whom have released the album. “Matinee was the catalyst for me starting to put out records. It’s been really nice because the Sweet William 'Dutch Mother'7” started the label, and it’s been really nice to see it grow and become a really good label. And we get on brilliantly, I’ve been over to see Jimmy and we have similar ideas about music, especially what I want to do with Simpatico. Chris Wu is just starting out, and again it’s been really nice to see how he wants to take it. And again, it’s a really nice situation where there’s an understanding between the two people, one that’s making the music and the one that’s putting it out. There’s that compromise and a whole thing of making decisions together, and getting really excited about each release.” I asked Jason whether or not he felt any pressure to work with the style of music the label is often associated with. “Goodness me, I’ve never really thought about it. I guess, No. I mean I’ve sent Jimmy so many demos and there is a lot of stuff that has never come out on Matinee and probably never will, because I went through a period where Simpatico was really quite shoegazy and slow. That stuff ended up coming out on a tape label called Best Kept Secret. They compiled the weirder Simpatico period. With Matinee I know the kind of stuff he releases and I have an inkling about whether or not he’d want to put it out. I try not to be more difficult. But Jimmy has warmed to the electronic stuff a lot more, in terms of putting that stuff out. For a while he was really interested in just releasing the guitar band kind of thing.” I was also really interested to see the extent to which Jason feels that his different musical projects are separate from each other. “I tend to work in a three way stream of recording for these projects but in a strange way I like to see them as one. The Simpatico stuff is always written on guitar. The guitar defines the sound, so I know that it will be a Simpatico record, while the OPC stuff is written electronically. Songs are built rather than written. With Simpatico the songs tend to float about in folders, with just a bunch of chords. There have been a couple of times in which a song has started off as a Simpatico song and then switched to an OPC song and vice versa. The song 'School Life' on the album was, for example originally, was an OPC song written with samples and electronics. I pulled it right back, gave it some chords and it became a Simpatico song." ” When Jason plays live as Simpatico he often plays Sweet William songs “and embarrassingly find myself forgetting the words!” He has on two occasions combined Simpatico and Other People’s Children for a live show, and he says that it highlights “how similar they often are, apart from the different instrumentation”. Genre classifications are an important part of analysing Jason’s music. Clearly, his commitment to several different acts means that he will never be typecast into being one thing or the other, but it is easy to say that Simpatico is his indiepop project and Other People’s children is his electro-pop project. That is not necessarily the case. I know I would put some of the tracks on the new Simpatico record in the electro-pop box. Jason himself seems neither worried, nor satisfied with all of this. “I tend to shy away from doing three minute pop songs with Simpatico. I’ve never considered myself to be ‘indiepop’ or whatever, but the term indiepop seems to transcend a lot of styles anyhow nowadays. A lot of the jingle-jangle guitar bands are taking a lot more risks. (The changes in genre are) okay when you have a multi-personality, as I do! I’m into some of the indiepop stuff but I listen to a lot of the more experimental, electro-pop projects as well.” Stereolab are clearly Jason’sbiggest musical influence. “Being a big Stereolab fan I got quite interested in the way they were structuring the songs or not structuring them. I saw Stereolab live again the other night, and they make me think always about where I want to go and what I want to do. They’ve been around for 12 years and I see them and I realise that this can be a long-term thing. There is potential to keep working at the music and improving it.” Aside from that, it appears that Jason has lost interest in a lot of the Australian bands he talked about when I last interviewed him nearly a year ago for Pennyblackmusic, although he still retains an interest in the local Melbourne scene. A bigger source of inspiration is the German group, Lali Puna, and he is, as he always has been, a huge fan of Ian Masters. Jason’s immediate plans are to concentrate on working on recordings with some of his other projects. He does have some new Simpatico material that he hopes that Jimmy Tassos will release, and in May he heads to America for a tour. “It’s an East and West coast tour. We had grand plans to get in the van and do a grand trek around America, but it ended up being quite minimal. Firstly, I’m doing the East Coast. I’m playing with the Windmills (who are flying over from Britain) and Secret History in DC and the Windmills again in NY. After that I’m playing up the West Coast with a bunch of Shelflife bands who were playing there already and I’m now tagging along with them. It’s nice to be part of someone else’s excitement and I think all the bands playing will be complimentary to each other.” Building better links with America is Jason’s long-term goal for his music. “I’d like to get a stronger connection with the people putting out the records around the world. It’s quite weird when you’re in Melbourne and no one can buy your records, and then I hear from people in America that these records have sold, and it feels so far away and so distant. I think a lot about spending some time away from Australia and trying to forge long-term relationships with those people.”

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Simpatico - Interview with Jason Sweeney

Simpatico - Interview with Jason Sweeney

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Interview with Jason Sweeney (2002)
Simpatico - Interview with Jason Sweeney
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

digital downloads


Club Life EP (2003)
"Sweet" indiepop on new five track EP from Simpatico, which once again finds frontman Jason Sweeney pushing new musical boundaries
The Boy Is Mine (2002)
The Difference Between Alone & Lonely (2002)
Postal Museum (2001)

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