Matthew Sweet has spent the past three decades penning jangly power-pop songs (’90s hits “Girlfriend” and “Sick of Myself”), releasing covers with the Bangles’ Susannah Hoffs, and popping up everywhere from “Guitar Hero” to “The Simpsons.”
He’s also spent a lot of that time collecting paintings with his wife Lisa. The couple were consultants on Tim Burton’s 2014 biopic “Big Eyes,” about painter Margaret Keane, and another artist’s work from Sweet’s collection graces the covers of his latest albums, “Tomorrow Forever” and “Tomorrow’s Daughter.”
The latter was released on CD last week, with a vinyl edition to follow in June. His concert at Visulite Theatre Friday marks his first time playing Charlotte since the ’90s, he estimates.
“Anyone that’s spent a lot of time in flea markets has seen prints by her,” he says of the late Jean Toti, who painted under the name MAIO. “They sold a ton of prints in the ’60s of teen harlequin girls, like the one on ‘Tomorrow Forever,’ and little ballerinas and munchkin-y kids, which seemed perfect to use for ‘Tomorrow’s Daughter.’ ”
“In the early ’90s, we started wondering where the original art by these people was. There were clearly paintings they’d made these prints of. We lived in L.A. where a lot of this went on and found these nearly life-size oil paintings,” Sweet explains from his home in Nebraska.
“That ballerina (on the cover of ‘Tomorrow’s Daughter’) is 34 inches tall and 16 inches wide. It’s a pretty big painting,” he says. “I always wanted to use them in artwork, and I became friends with the daughter of the artist and learned about her life a little bit. It’s been a fun thing for her. She and I can crush on MAIO.”
Musically, the records are filled with Sweet’s signature guitar power pop, inviting vocal melodies, and lyrical storytelling. Songs like “Lady Frankenstein” and “Girl With Cat” contain the same sort of vivid visual elements that one might find in a painting, although Sweet says he rarely draws on the art he collects for song ideas.
He refers to both as “wacky, oddball songs.”
“I had posters of all those Universal Monsters when I was a pretty young kid. I’d read ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’ magazine. I did go through a period where I was a monster fan, and I’m in general into horror and sci-fi even now,” says Sweet.
“Girl With Cat” does stem peripherally from a Keane painting.
“It’s about my wife, who has the ability to sleep a super, super long time, which is cat-like. I’m sort of jealous of the cats whenever I see them in the day. I want to be there with them and curl up,” he says. “That’s the feeling the song came from, and then it says all these wacky things.”
Sweet’s inspiration is rarely so literal, he says.
“(Making) music is so internal,” he says. “It’s rarely super-influenced by the outside. The sort of freeform way I come up with ideas that grow into songs, I think it’s just there.”