Life On The Road / 9 January 2018

What’s In The Bag: Matt Sweeney

Matt Sweeney’s run as a musician extends over two decades. He started out as a frontman for New York alt-rockers Chavez, but his knack for and versatility with guitars sees him still producing and collaborating with some of the biggest names today. Endless Boogie and Run the Jewels are just couple of the artists he’s worked with, but one with a special story is his collaboration with Neil Diamond. Matt Sweeney appears on guitars for Neil Diamond’s Home Before Dark, a friendship brought together by acclaimed producer Rick Rubin.

These days, Sweeney carries a Martin D-28 acoustic in his Vertigo Acoustic Guitar case, a gift from the friendship with Neil Diamond. We couldn’t quite believe it ourselves talking to Matt Sweeney, so best if you heard it from the man himself!

Why did Neil give you the guitar?

Because Neil Diamond is the coolest.

But the back story is thanks to Rick Rubin I’d played guitar on Neil’s Home Before Dark album, along with the true guitar gods Smokey Hormel and Mike Campbell. It was a great experience – the album was all acoustic and all live takes.

A couple years after that, Smokey and I both happened to be hanging out in LA near Neil’s studio one afternoon, and dropped by to say hi to his studio manager Sam. Neil hears we’re in town and asks us to come back later that night to do a demo of a new song with him. We were beyond stoked. It ended up being a super fun unplanned late night hang/recording session. I think the song was called “Alone At The Ball”- it was a cool loner-style number.

At some point Neil said, “Hey you gotta check out this guitar, it’s in that case.” I opened the case and there’s this incredible looking Martin, all smoked-out and badass with the pickguard missing. It was like a dream. I played it a little and he said, “Yeah man, I had a feeling you’d sound good on it- take it back to New York, it’s yours.”

I laughed and blurted out “No f-ing way!”

He goes “Matt – it’s gonna get sold if you don’t take it, so get it outta here!”

I really couldn’t say no. Neil is a gem, straight up.

What do you know about the history of the guitar before Neil Diamond gave it to you?

I never asked cuz it’s my lucky object. I was told it’s from 1969 or by a guitar dealer who looked at the serial number.

What feelings do you have about the guitar, and what sets it apart from other acoustic guitars you’ve played?

Well, cuz of how I got it, that Martin makes me feel lucky and loved. It’s also insanely easy to play and has this particular dark and mellow sound – one of those rare “damn, this thing feels and sounds perfect” guitars. It’s also really fun to play single note stuff on for some reason. I always feel kinda relaxed and confident when I play it. The strings have been changed like twice in all the time I’ve had it.

What recordings have you used this guitar on, and what is your favourite recording moment with the acoustic?

Pretty sure I used it on Adele’s version of The Cure’s Love Song – that was a live first or second take deal. I think I was like “it’d be cool to bust a guitar solo on this beat up acoustic” and it worked.

What happened to the pickguard on the guitar?

I would love to know, and I’m also glad I don’t know.

Zuma, last June.

A post shared by Matt Sweeney (@theheavyjamz) on

What is your favourite song you’ve written on this guitar, and what is it about?

Maybe a song no one has heard yet called Good To My Girls – I wrote the chords and melody in Malibu lurking on a park bench with the Martin and watching Hedi Slimane do a photoshoot. Much later these NSFW words that my friend Bonnie Prince Billy sent me ended up matching the melody perfectly and the song was finally finished. It’s about a guy justifying his actions.

We haven’t recorded it yet, but I love playing it.

My Martin recently gave me another song I wrote with Bonnie Prince Billy for Songhoy Blues, an incredible band from Mali. It’s called Time To Go Home. It has a guitar part with chords and melody played simultaneously – the Martin makes it easy to do. That song will be coming out on an EP on Fat Possum records this winter I think.

What else do you keep in your MONO case?

I had to get a new case cuz the old one fell apart and Alex Olson told me about MONO bags. The original case contained tons of papers – years worth of set lists, cheat sheets, backstage passes and like 20 of those airline inspection sheets. I’m gonna keep the best of that stuff in my new MONO bag, like these lyric sheets to a few unreleased songs me and Billy Gibbons wrote.

Have you got more rad stories about the guitar?

Brought it over to Cowboy Jack Clement’s home studio and John Prine was there and we ended up demoing a version of Love Minus Zero No Limit just for fun. That was rad.

For more stories, follow the blog here. Check out the Vertigo Acoustic Guitar case and our full catalog here.

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