Matthew Sweet isn’t one to live in the past, especially when it comes to his music.
In the case of “Girlfriend,” the alt-rock songwriter’s 1991 breakthrough album, it’s understandable. During the recording of the album in 1990, his label A&M dropped him from his contract, and just prior to the recording he and his wife divorced.
The 15 songs on the original release form a concept album of sorts, dealing with the losses in Sweet’s typically personal style.
Last October marked the album’s 20th anniversary, and to celebrate, Sweet wanted to do something special. He decided to do a handful of shows dedicated to playing the album in its entirety — and found himself reliving some difficult emotions.
“It was kind of weird; it brought back a lot of feelings, memories,” he said recently from his home in Los Angeles.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
How Much: $28
More Info: 473-1845, www.theegg.org
Not looking back
“I’m a person who really moves on musically — I don’t ever look back on my records. I don’t want to have those difficult feelings.”
That wasn’t the only challenge to playing the album in full. Many of the songs had never been performed live before, even during the time of the album’s release, such as the upbeat “Looking at the Sun” or “I Wanted to Tell You.”
“It kind of freaked me out — it was a little bit daunting, like, wow, can I do it all?” Sweet said. “I tried to do it without listening to it [at first]. We did rehearsals and some acoustic shows way early on to try to figure out the whole album, and a couple songs we got to, I just couldn’t remember it at all. [The band was] trying to show me how it went.”
But Sweet — with some help from his current band, including longtime drummer Ric Menck (who played on “Girlfriend”), guitarist Dennis Taylor and bassist Paul Chastain — is now comfortable with playing the record, after shows on the East Coast last year. Demand for the entire album show is high — this year he has already traveled to Japan with the tour, and did a West Coast tour a few months ago. Now, he’s back on the East Coast, with his next show at The Egg on Friday night.
“I wasn’t really expecting this,” he said. “We keep getting offers to do ‘Girlfriend,’ which is great because we know it really well now.”
There has been a rash of bands doing full-album shows in recent years, many of them Sweet’s contemporaries. Last month, Collective Soul came through The Egg playing their 1999 album “Dosage.” Sweet didn’t intentionally jump on any bandwagon with this tour, but he can see why the full-album show is so popular now, especially within his generation.
“I knew of people doing it before, and that’s why I thought of the anniversary. But mainly I think I knew that Cheap Trick had done a few different albums,” he said. “I didn’t think of it in terms of people from my era, which makes sense — they’re at 20 years, too. It was a time where people still valued whole albums a lot.
“A lot of us, when we were growing up, went into a room, separated from our parents, and took a little bit of time then to listen,” he continued. “I talk about that, as much as it sounds like an old fogy thing — you cannot overstate how different things were without the Internet. You didn’t know what every person in the world thought about everything; you kind of decided for yourself a lot more on things, or the guy at the record store turned you on to it.”
To this day, he still focuses on the whole when he records his albums. Without any pressure from a major label, he is able to work at his own pace, and not worry about what’s going on in the industry these days.
“When I make music, it’s really just about making the music,” he said. “That’s kind of the benefit of these days, there’s no corporate overlord that you may or may not disappoint or make happy. There’s not the subtle pressure that there was, and it makes the artistic part of it maybe a little more free.”
Although the “Girlfriend” tours have somewhat overshadowed Sweet’s other projects, he has kept more than busy. Last year’s “Modern Art” was recorded with the “Girlfriend” anniversary looming, but he took a different approach to the album’s songs to capture a spontaneous and live feel.
“ ‘Modern Art’ is very first take-y — nobody knew what they were doing, and that was supposed to be the way it was,” he said. “I was trying to build the songs in weird ways using early, stream-of-consciousness takes, keeping weird changes and things. . . . I think of it as being a little more out there, but having said that, I do interviews where people tell me, ‘It sounds totally like you.’ ”
He is also working on his third covers album with Bangles guitarist Susanna Hoffs. Their first two records together, 2006’s “Under the Covers, Vol. 1” and 2009’s “Under the Covers, Vol. 2,” dealt with ’60s and ’70s music, respectively, and the next one will naturally focus on ’80s songs.
Work on documentary
If that weren’t enough, he is working on music for an upcoming documentary, and is also writing a chapter for a book about progressive rock. Part of this is just a reaction to the difficulties musicians face these days making money, with the Internet cutting into album sales.
“Because of online sales, it’s almost getting to the point where people regard an album as a reason to go on tour,” Sweet said. “Now you make better money touring than making albums.
“But there’s still a realm where artists like me can do shows, and that’s a really great thing, too.”