LWE Interviews Matthew Dear

Making grand observations: Matthew Dear (photo: Ryan Dombal, Blender)

A couple months ago I was watching television and suddenly, the loping beat of “Don & Sherri,” a single by Matthew Dear, bounded from my set. Before I knew it, I was on my feet and wiggling to one of my favorite tunes… as H3 Hummers zoomed around urban landscapes and tackled rugged terrain. But why was I elated to find Dear’s music in a Hummer commercial? In a consumer culture where record sales are constantly eaten away by illicit downloading, an artist as talented as Matthew Dear doesn’t wait for the masses to catch on in order to make a living. As it is, he’s been releasing records for nearly a decade, having contributed to the first Ghostly International and Spectral Sound releases around the turn of the century. Within that time, Dear spawned three fruitful and separate careers as False (his minimal house and techno guise recording for Plus 8 and M_nus), Audion (a harder, more aggressive techno persona recording for Spectral Sound) and as himself. But being a titan of modern house and techno hasn’t meant name recognition outside of the somewhat insular circles in which he travels. 2007 has been different. This year he released Asa Breed, his second album under his own name, which expanded on the song-oriented approach of his first to ingenious effect. It’s a revelatory album that elicits both goosebumps and sweat by masterfully blending techno, rock, pop and folk into something transcendent of traditional genre tags. This new direction included another eye-opener: Dear recruited a live band (his Big Hands) to accompany him on a world-spanning tour, fitting as comfortably in techno clubs as in rock venues.He also released the False album 2007, a seamless, winding adventure through murky minimal territory. Add the ear-wrenching Audion single “Noiser” and his anthemic remix of Black Strobe’s “I’m a Man” and you’ve got the culturally-savvy press and the rest of the Internet going nuts for good reasons. So when it comes down to it, it’s hard not to cheer when an artist as deserving as Dear lands himself a national TV ad. It’s about time everyone else caught up with this sonic pioneer. Speaking of catching up, I was afforded the opportunity to talk with Matthew by phone shortly after two live appearances in Chicago. In his floor-scraping baritone, he told me about his present live incarnation, that Hummer commercial and the future as he sees it.

And a one, and a two: Matthew Dear (photo: Ryan Dombal, Blender)

So you played two shows in one night in Chicago, one at the Stoli Hotel event and the other at the club Smart Bar. From what I could tell, you were enjoying yourself much more at the second show. Was that the case?

Matthew Dear: Oh, definitely. The crowd was different for both shows. Any time you play a corporate event it’s a bitch — people are just there for the free booze, that kind of thing.

How did you get drafted into the Stoli show?

They just called and asked if I was available. One of the music directors is a fan of mine, and it happened to work out because I was already in town.

So now that you have a live band playing with you, I was curious if you were considering doing any cover songs?

Mmm, I don’t know about in the live setting. I’m working on a David Bowie cover right now for a compilation that’s coming out soon. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. I imagine something by the Talking Heads would be fun as well. But for now I’m going to focus on the new songs of my own true ownership.

New songs besides the ones on Asa Breed? Are they from the Asa Breed sessions or are they newer?

Yeah, for sure. I’ve got a lot of material that’s just sitting around. And we’re playing a couple new ones here and there, but it would be cool to add some more songs to the repertoire.

I noticed that you recently contributed a bit of “Don & Sherri” for a new Hummer commercial. Was there any hesitation when they approached you with that deal?

No, not so much. There’s always a little bit of hesitation, but… Hummer at least has some creative ads. I wouldn’t sign up for a basic car company commercial. In other words, no, not as long as somebody is going to invest in the creative side of things and you know it’s not going to be your basic, run of the mill commercial. I was glad I could offer my end of the music.

It’s hard to fault a company for wanting to put a good song into their commercial.

Yeah, totally.

You’ve said in previous interviews that you’re open to letting listeners decide what the songs are about. Well, speaking of “Don & Sherri,” I wanted to pose my own theory as to what it’s about. Some have said it’s about unrequited love and personal identity, but the first thing I thought when I heard the tune was that someone left you a voicemail for a Don and Sherri which got way too personal. Any truth in that or is that all my imagination?

(Laughs) I think that’s your imagination. But that’s cool; like I said before, it’s fun to hear different interpretations of the songs. It can be anything to anyone. What I think the song is about is just… it’s just this world I’ll never be in, Don and Sherri’s. It’s about identity and lives I’ll never live — I’ll never be those two people. But that’s just a portion of it, it’s also about relationships and unrequited love, as you mentioned.

You’ve been playing Asa Breed songs out on tour for a while now, all across America and Europe. Have you come to any realizations of what you would like to do on the next album based on the way you’ve changed your songs in a live setting?

Definitely. I’ve talked about maybe getting the band into the studio next time. And it’s not going to be full recording, but at least some live drums and live bass from the band members and twist them around when putting them into the computer. I don’t know if we’ll actually write songs together, but it’s totally been a different experience. It’s opened my eyes to a lot — to different ways of producing music with live instrumentation.

Do you think that will impact how you work on your Audion or False tracks? That is, would you incorporate live instruments in your other work or is that just a Matthew Dear thing?

Only stuff under my birth name. Audion and False, in my eyes, will always remain techno, and I wouldn’t want to blur the lines even more by adding words or guitars in an Audion track.

I’ve seen you perform as a DJ, as part of a live P.A. and with a band. It seems like you have to be a lot more enthusiastic when you’re playing as Matthew Dear. What is it like going from pressing a buttons behind a laptop to really having to engage an audience?

It was tricky in the beginning because I was so used to, as you said, standing behind a laptop. When you play techno, it’s about the music, the rhythm and losing yourself without having to connect visually with the performer. It’s more about an internal experience. But the second you get somebody on stage with a microphone, immediately the mood of the performance changes and the actual focus changes. You want to stare at the stage and you want to invest all of yourself into this performer and live vicariously through their show. It was crazy for a while, I was trying to find myself but still have energy [in my performance] at the same time. Techno’s not about flashiness, it’s not about a huge personality taking people on a trip; but it’s different if you’re going to be a frontman. That was the thing, making this transition and doing it honestly, not trying to be fake or anything. And that just comes with practice. A friend of mine just wished me a happy seven months with the band, of doing this. And over time you slowly, I guess, get into the groove and find yourself on stage.

(Un)natural frontman: Matthew Dear. (photo: Ryan Dombal, Blender)

With the advances in technology like Ableton and how it’s become easier to add live visuals to a performance, it’s become a bit easier to have a real live show. Now that you’ve pulled it off successfully, do you think you’ve added to the impetus toward producers wanting to have a more intriguing live show?

I really can’t speak for other people; I’m just trying to keep myself entertained. I need to try new things in order to feel satisfied, that’s all. And there’s still going to be something to say for a great techno song and letting the music speak for itself. You don’t need all the flashiness to get somebody hooked into a performance. I’m all for other people who have at least tried other things if they feel the inkling to do so. There’s nothing wrong with having a microphone on stage and doing an actual performance, it’s just trying to stay heady with your laptop set.

This year you had three distinct musical careers running at once and have attained great success with all of them. Is there one that’s proven to be the most entertaining?

They’re all so separated and unique — each one is like a different side of my personality, Audion and False being more similar than the other style of productions. But you know, I like touring with a band and doing the whole rock thing, I like the venues I get to play with the guys. I also feel free to play a late night, by myself, at a techno club as Audion. If I had to choose one—each one allows me to live the full life that I want to live. I’m not satisfied in one place or the other, so it’s great to have them all.

Do you think you’ll be continuing all three throughout 2008 as well?

I’d like to. I’ve got a few Audion remixes lined up already scattered throughout the year. I’d love to do some more False material, time permitting. And I’m going to definitely get cracking on the next album or release of songs under my own name. So yeah, as it stands right now it looks like all three will continue to grow and change.

Is there a side of your personality that’s not quite been realized yet?

I could maybe see myself doing some more acoustic stuff — really stripped down. It’s a side of me that I’ve always had around after I started to play guitar. My father was a folk musician so I’ve always been around acoustics. Maybe a pop-inspired album, a Bonnie “Prince” Billy-type style — stripped down, old country. But that might just be for my own ears and my friends’ ears.

You’ve obviously had to spend a lot of time traveling to get to all these gigs, so I imagine you’ve had a lot of time to listen to music. What from 2007 has excited you?

Musically, I just picked up the new Thurston Moore album, I really like that. It was kind of the soundtrack of our last American tour. The great return… of a master, I guess. Generally, just being able to take the band to places I didn’t think we’d get to go. We did some awesome shows in Europe at the beginning of the summer, playing Istanbul which was amazing, my first time there. Just everything, really; music is great right now. People are wide open to receiving all sorts of styles of transmissions. It’s fun; it’s a great time to be an artist.

I’ve heard a lot of artists griping about how difficult it is to protect one’s livelihood with how quickly things end up leaked on the Internet. Some people have taken measures to combat this, such as Radiohead’s self-distribution or Ricardo Villalobos’ mixed together Fabric album. Your own 2007 album is also mixed in a similar way. Have you considered any ways of protecting your livelihood when thinking about future releases?

No, not so much. The mix of the False album was done like that because I wanted it to flow like one endless track. I wasn’t thinking about piracy or anything. I think it was David Byrne who said that if he had relied on money for his records he would be poor. And that was in the eighties, you know? Even then the money was in touring. My livelihood and my music come from people seeing me on stage and from other things, not just people buying my records. Probably 50 to 60 percent of my core audience probably gets my music for free. My main goal is just to perform more and to make my money from people seeing me on stage, because you can’t download a live set like the one you’re seeing at a club. I think that element of human contact has always been important and that’s why I tour so much, so people can have something special to take home with them.

rzn  on December 3, 2007 at 6:46 AM

hi, steve,
great music here ! keep on

rzn  on December 3, 2007 at 6:47 AM

hi, steve
great music here
keep on !

Teleost  on December 3, 2007 at 8:56 AM

he played a great show when we saw him. gives the impression of being an all-round good guy with good hair.

MaTh. Rec.  on December 3, 2007 at 11:34 AM

Matthew is great!

there is a post on “false” on my blog

her album!

JBH  on December 3, 2007 at 1:41 PM

i dont think the comments are working properly i wrote a comment on this piece this aft but it never came up it said something about duplicate on wordpress??

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 3, 2007 at 7:12 PM

Thanks for the head’s up, Joe. I’ll ask my tech guy about it.

kontact  on December 4, 2007 at 5:11 PM

I like Matthew’s music a great deal. But, hummer why? Why not a hybrid car commercial or something. Not that car which by in large almost never used practically, wasteful, and just plain obnoxious.

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 4, 2007 at 10:59 PM

This reminds me of Ronan‘s thoughts on other blogger’s reactions to recent Mad Mike and Richie Hawtin interviews. Ascribing a set of values to musicians doesn’t mean they should or will abide by them. Also, money.

kontact  on December 4, 2007 at 11:26 PM

Nope, I just really hate that car…

dave  on December 6, 2007 at 4:51 PM

Hang on, ascribing a set of values to someone? I thought Mad Mike did that for himself, hence people’s perfectly justifiable reasons for holding him to said values.

littlewhiteearbuds  on December 6, 2007 at 4:55 PM

It was less about Mike and more about how some assume Hawtin should share the same values and ethics, rather than the ones he already holds.

The point is, no one’s personal discomfort with Hummers should/would change how MD feels about them or his choice to “help” in promoting them.

Stephen Boyle  on December 7, 2007 at 5:13 PM

Good to see you keeping pace with Matthew. I hope we’ll get a chance to work on DEMF – Movement 08 this year.

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