His Princeton-shaped songs

Matthew Sweet, celebrating the 20th anniversary of his album, "Girlfriend." The Princeton house played a role in the album's retro sound.
Matthew Sweet, celebrating the 20th anniversary of his album, "Girlfriend." The Princeton house played a role in the album's retro sound. (MATTHEW SWEET)

Anniversary tour linked to a 1780s-era house.

Posted: June 08, 2012

When Matthew Sweet plays World Cafe Live on Friday night on a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of his breakthrough album, Girlfriend, he'll perform about 45 miles south of where many of the album's songs initially took shape.

Although he recorded Girlfriend - a brilliant exercise in classic pop songcraft given a diffuse edge by the guitar work of Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine - in New York City, Sweet wrote and demo-ed many of the album's 15 songs at a house he rented in Princeton from 1989 to 1992 near New Jersey's historic Princeton Battlefield. It was in this 1780s-era house that the swirling psychedelia of "Divine Intervention" and the bittersweet jangle of "I've Been Waiting" was born, with Sweet writing the tunes, then laying down demos, usually in isolation.

"The house had a little back room upstairs where they'd hang cured meats for the winter for soldiers - that's where I had my studio," Sweet says over the phone from Los Angeles, where he has been living since he relocated from Princeton in 1993. "It was kind of a haunted house, even though I totally don't believe in that. But weird things happened there. I'd hear weird old music from downstairs, and there'd be nothing on."

The Princeton house played a role in Girlfriend's retro sound (especially by early '90s standards), as it was there that Sweet was exposed to the thick, deep tones of the Hofner bass, popularized by Paul McCartney during the Beatles' early days. Princeton-based musician Chris Harford played his Hofner for Sweet, who used it throughout the album, allowing its distinct sound to anchor the reverb-less recordings.

As for how Sweet, raised in Lincoln, Neb., moved to Athens, Ga., and then New York, and ended up in Princeton, he's not exactly sure. "I think my manager, who was my lawyer, might have grown up around there," he says. But he remembers his Princeton days fondly.

"It's such a great area. There were tons of trails to ride bikes around the Institute for Advanced Studies, and Princeton Record Exchange. I had a lot of space, so I could make a lot of noise. Those were good times."

Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" tour plays at 8 p.m. Friday at World Café Live, 3025 Walnut St. Tickets: $27. Information: 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com.

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