The impeccable Mr. Dear makes it all look rather easy.
Crack has had its eyes on Matthew Dear for some time, and Crack’s girlfriends have had their eyes on him longer. When it comes to being blessed in a variety of departments, Mr Dear’s glass is positively overflowing.
His exploits as both an esteemed techno producer under the Audion moniker and in his current focus under his own name, which sees him create music for a live, full-band setting, have seen him take a unique place at electronic music’s top table. It’s hard to bring to mind a man whose career has straddled the two disciplines with such universally acknowledged credibility. With new album Beams offering perhaps his most accessible work to date, Crack finds Dear at home in Brooklyn waiting to present his latest offering on a touring schedule that will see his band hit the UK in December. During our conversation he’s relaxed, considered and honest in his answers. In truth, the success of Beams is likely to herald more heady times for an artist who is ferociously determined that the quality of everything to which he puts his name remains high.
This is reflected in Dear the label manager, who through his two imprints, Ghostly International and Spectral Sound, has represented some of the most current and relevant artists in electronic music. Through separating out the more dance floor orientated sounds on Spectral, with music designed for the live setting on Ghostly, Dear has ended up promoting some of the most innovative hitters in both fields. Notable albums from Com Truise, Gold Panda and School Of Seven Bells on Ghostly look grand on the CV, and on the dance floor Benoit And Sergio, Subb-An, Ryan Elliot, Mark E and Gadi Mizrahi are some of house’s current A-listers releasing on Spectral.
Add to the list that Mr Dear is probably one of the best-looking and well- dressed men not currently found strutting up and down a catwalk for a living and you paint a picture of a man who could teach Freddie Flintoff a thing or two about being an all-rounder.
His latest album is a collection of slightly off-centre pop tracks that herald zero top 10 single potential yet retain a catchy sensibility that renders them instantly likable. This is in no small part attributable to Dear’s deep vocal delivery, where notes are often elongated past the usual limits and lyrics are at turns sung and spoken. It’s a leftfield pop oddball, but in the vein of all good pop music, Dear isn’t pretending it’s anything else.
Where are you at the moment?
I’m at my place in upstate New York right now.
And is this the calm before the storm of going out on tour?
I’ve actually got the band coming up on Monday for rehearsals. There’s a lot of work to do.
There’s a real contrast in tone between the new record and Black City. Were both records reflective of your mood at the time of recording?
Absolutely. All my albums are reflective of the way I’m feeling and all my music reflects my state of mind. I equated Black City to being the past, towards the black hole and light escaping on the other side of the black hole.
Was this a darker time in your life?
I’m not trying to say that I was depressed or everything was dark and melancholic in my life during Black City. Far from it. But there are these overarching themes that pop up in your life and Black City was made during a very intense period where I was running extremely fast in every direction at once. I felt like my mind was a bit more on the fragile side. Coming out the other side of that, everything has become a bit more slowed down and a bit more refined and things fell into place. It’s not like I’m just doing nothing now or everything is easy, it’s just everything has become more clear.
There is so much of what you would describe as odd pop music in your sound. It’s leftfield yet it retains this superb pop music feel.
I like to write catchy melodies, but I feel I only have one way of doing it and that’s with the machines and the tricks and everything I’ve come to do. I can play a chord on a keyboard, but sometimes I like it when I detune it a bit and it’s a bit off. I like to change the pitches of the oscillators and I like to make sounds bend. A straight C chord is a little too easy.
In the wider spectrum, do you think the avant-garde pop music route is a road people go down enough? Have you been massively influenced by this style of pop music? We’ve heard you’re a big Talking Heads fan.
Yeah totally. I don’t think there is much of a difference between The Beatles and Talking Heads, in the sense that they’re both going for a specific pop sound. It’s just how you get there and the tools that you use. There isn’t much difference in the core of the elements, it’s just how you go about doing it.
Vocally you have one of the most distinctive voices we’ve heard for a long time. It’s very depthy, very throaty and your delivery is unique in that it’s often done in a spoken word style. Is your voice tampered with on record at all, and how much of it is a true reflection of your singing or speaking style?
You hear me now and it is deep. When I come into the studio I don’t correct anything. I’ve used auto-correcting software and it does the wrong thing and as a lot of the musical sounds are a little bit off anyway it makes my voice sound off in the melody. I like to layer it, I do a low, a mid and a high version of the verse, so in terms of tampering with it, I just like to make it thick. I like to overdub a lot, but I’m not correcting anything.
In terms of the artwork for Beams, the depiction of you on the front cover is a very personal thing to have as your album’s artwork. Is this your most personal album to date?
It is and I like the fact you’ve noticed that, but also if you really think about it, it’s still a very distorted version of me on the front cover. It’s a very odd interpretation of who I am and I think that’s exactly what the music is, in that it’s a very cryptic honesty. It’s very me, and a very personal album projected through this mesh of sound and wordplay that reflects how I’m feeling. However, I also want it to reflect how other people can be feeling as well. I’m not trying to be super specific in that ‘this song is all about me’ and that’s it. I like to say it’s about me, and in a greater sense it’s about you, and you can sing the song and think about the questions you are asking yourself.
Who did the artwork for the front cover?
His name is Michael Cina and he’s done many of the album covers for Ghostly International. It was good for him and me to finally work together. After we’d finished, he came out and stayed with me in my apartment and we talked about the concept of making the album cover and how we’d do it. We became really close.
You show many sides to your musical character with your productions as Matthew Dear and Audion. How do these two sides to your character inform each other? Do you like to keep them separate?
I still DJ a lot and I’m still playing other people’s music and electronic music, and that definitely comes into the studio, but they are becoming more separate. Things I’m working on with the band are very different to what I’d prepare for an Audion live show. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain bands that can show up and play a 4/4 kick drum and get the party going, but that’s not what I like to do. I like to separate the two entirely and not let them converge. I definitely confuse a lot of people too. People show up to my DJ sets and expect me to play stuff from my album, but that’s not usually the case.
We’ve seen you play live as a two piece but also a four piece, why does it change?
It’s really just what I can afford. If I could tour with 10 people and it made sense I’d do that, but my limit is four and I like it to be as dense as it possibly can be without being too cluttered.
It felt like a very bold move to continue doing the band thing when you were having so much success as Audion around 2006, releasing Mouth To Mouth and Just Fucking. Did it feel like a risk to go back to the band thing at that point?
It was tough because it’s all about promotion and you have to really promote projects. I put out Asa Breed at that time and then went back and did some more Audion shows and it was around 2009 when I realised I wasn’t actually giving enough energy to each individual project and they were suffering. I decided I really had to focus on one and do it the best I could. So after touring with Interpol and doing two headline tours of my own, easily a year had gone by and it’s been band, band, band. It didn’t make sense to do Audion between the two latest albums as I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it the way I wanted to. All that being said, my new plan is to return to the studio in January and work on all new Audion material and get that ready by the end of next year and tour it all of 2014.
With the labels, Audion and the band, how do you find time to keep abreast of it all? You must digest a hell of a lot of music?
There’s a lot going on constantly. Maybe I need that.
With Spectral you’ve released music from some of the most credible figures in house music like Subb-an, Mark E and Benoit and Sergio. Is that label your way of staying up in the game?
Yes and no. As a label we’ve always been careful not to put out anything we didn’t find to be valuable or contemporary in electronic music. We wanted everything we released to hold up five or ten years from now. Meeting Ash (Subb-an) and working with him was fantastic as we really relate to him as a human, and we were friends with Benoit and Sergio before we started working with them.
Aside from the whole Detroit thing, what were your early musical explorations?
The first concert I ever went to was Depeche Mode with my brother when I was 14. A lot of my brother’s music really. Kraftwerk, Art Of Noise.
As someone who operates as a DJ and someone who fronts a band, do you find there are different frustrations that come with modern music, or are they universal?
The fact there is a separation between the two means sometimes I’m met with blank stares when I DJ. People sometimes don’t expect me to play a techno set or a house set, y’know. I’m not frustrated with anybody for not getting it, I’m just frustrated you can’t do it all at once!
You are one of the best-presented people we’ve ever seen on stage. Who is your tailor and where do you get your clothes?
My favourite designer is Carol Christian Poell and he cuts everything to fit on the body just by luck. The people that sell me his clothes tell me that he has a very similar body style to me, so I’ve just been very lucky that I get everything he wears. I don’t even need to get them tailored. They’re pretty much my suits.
Beams is available now on Ghostly International
Words: Thomas Frost