Interview: Matthew Dear

By , Jan 1 2009

dearmian

There tends to be plenty of disagreement in the FACT office as to what’s good and what’s not – it’s only healthy. One thing we all concur on, though, is that Matthew Dear’s third studio album for Ghostly International, Asa Breed, is one of the first truly classic LPs that 2007 has yet served up.

Dear’s been making music since 2000; he was born in Texas, but moved to Detroit while still a nipper. Inspired by forward-thinking electronic producers like Akufen, Villalobos and Thomas Brinkmann, the classic techno of his adopted home and the whole gamut of idiosyncratic 20th century pop, from the off Dear presented complex and original work with a mischievous joy in vaulting over traditional genre boundaries.

Since then, he’s become an underground star, most recently thanks to the work done under his Audion alter ego. The Audion album, Suckfish, which emerged on Spectral Sound in 2005, was a thrilling, uncompromising suite of heavy, linear techno tracks – sheer reductionist dirt, informed by, but not exactly influenced by, Dear’s sophisto-pop heritage. The Audion album and EPs were big with DJs and those in the know, but it was the devastatingly simple, piano and siren-led single ‘Mouth to Mouth’ which fired Dear into the limelight: the track became an off-kilter Ibiza anthem last year, and has since been re-released with top-drawer remixes by fellow Europhile North Americans Heartthrob and Konrad Black.

Dear’s CV makes impressive reading: his productions have appeared on labels like Kompakt, Perlon, Shitkatapult, Get Physical, M-Nus, Perlon, Output, Plus 8 and even, tellingly, the usually rockist Sub Pop, but Ghostly International, based in his home state of Michigan, and its techno offshoot Spectral Sound, have always been his preferred stables. His popularity on the Continent, where pop-futurism has always been looked kindly upon, is vast, and ever-growing. As Dear, he’s remixed The Postal Service, Lusine and DJ Minx; As Audion, he’s recently tackled Black Strobe, Claude Von Stroke, Roman Flugel and DJ Koze. His low-slung technofunk mix of Hot Chip’s ‘No Fit State’ was an underground sensation, and the Chemical Brothers have chosen him to rework the lead single from their forthcoming album, ‘Do It Again’. This man is seriously productive: a useful talent, as he’s in extremely high demand.

Diehard fans might disagree, but new album Asa Breed is streets ahead of Dear’s previous full-length efforts. Diverse yet totally coherent, techno-oriented but firmly rooted in pop expressionism, it eschews long, tracky rhythmic development for immediately accessible drum patterns and melodic hooks, and most tracks clock in well below the five-minute mark. It’s one those records that breezes by, and immediately demands a repeat spin. Electronica and techno fans will be impressed by the intricate production, the subtle electronic flourishes, delicate instrumental interactions and the effortless sense of groove; but everyone will be impressed by the gorgeous, simple-but-effective melodies – and Dear’s vocals. Singing lyrics that flit between the joyously trivial and genuinely emotive, his multi-tracked croon channels the ghosts of Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Bowie and David Byrne at their best. In fact, both Talking Heads and Byrne/Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts are strong reference points – with their urban-tribal rhythms, elastic basslines and unpredictable, slightly preposterous vocals – but classic disco, Chicago house, deep techno, country-rock and camp glam-pop are equally valid touchstones for Asa Breed. Look out for our reviews of this frighteningly accomplished album online and in print.

The album (which takes its title from a character in Kurt Vonnegut’s apocalyptic comedy Cat’s Cradle) is preceded by a 10” single of one of its highlights – the heart-rending, catchy-as-hell ‘Deserter’ – backed with a fantastic, mellow Detroit-leaning remix by Four Tet, aka Kieren Hebden. Dear provided a remix of Hebden & Steve Reid’s ‘Rhythm Dance’ for Domino last month; the choice of Hebden as remixer, rather than any number of willing big-name minimal techno producers, illustrates the line drawn between Dear’s own name and Audion guises.

We caught up with the horse’s mouth, i.e. Matthew Dear himself, to see how the land lies with Asa Breed and beyond….

Hello. How are you?

Wonderful, hello.

What’s on your stereo at the moment?

Holger Czukay & Rolf Dammers – Canaxis; Electronic.

Who did you put the album together with? Did you play everything on there?

Primarily myself. The track, ‘Elementary Lovers’ was finished with a little help from my Ghostly brethren, Mobius Band. They added live bass and guitar.

Which records/artists have most excited you in the last few months?

Tony Allen, Phillip K. Dick, Arthur Russell, Jack White and William Cotton Calcutt.

Describe the difference between Audion and Matthew Dear?

Audion is my techno format, and music under my own name is more song based, experimental pop.

If Audion and Matthew Dear had a fight, who would win?

Audion’s vision is blanketed by a kaleidoscopic gaze. It’s hard for him to interact in any way with the world around him. I, on the other hand, have never been in a fight in my life. Some kid’s older brother punched me in the face when I was eight years old. I don’t remember why.

How did it feel to return to ‘being’ Matthew Dear after your successful outing as Audion?

I’ve always had this split personality of sorts – jumping between the roles of pop and techno ever since I started making music as a teenager. I’ll get bored doing one thing for too long, so it’s great to freshen up with an entirely different approach…

What’s your favourite biscuit/candy/snack?

I love to eat lemons with salt. My grandmother introduced me to that when I was a child.

We’re loving ‘Don & Sherri’ [track six on Asa Breed – key lyric, “my name doesn’t change very often / and it’s never been Don or Sherri” – and an anthem-in-waiting] but it fades out so quickly at the end! Any plans for an extended 12″ release?

Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Our live performance includes an extended version. It’s a very fun number to perform.

Who are Don & Sherri?

Two names I’ve never been called before.

We’re hearing all sorts of influences in the album, beyond the electronics and production – Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Smog – are you fans of any of these artists? Which artists are you into?

I’m influenced by many forward-thinking artists that came before me. Indirectly, I’m influenced by these artists you mention, and moreover by the artists that they’ve influenced. It’s hard not to pull from your peers. Their music is lodged in the memory: a permanent fixture.

Is it, ahem, true that ‘Titty Fuck’ [a typically uncompromising Audion track] was actually written about the struggle for world peace?

Yes, and the TFWPA (Titty Fucking for World Peace Association) has contributed a remarkable amount to that struggle.

How do you deal with boredom on tour?

I usually work on music. Or I spend my off days in Berlin with my friends that live there.

You’re taking to the stage as Matthew Dear’s Big Hands. Who are your Big Hands?

My Big Hands are bassist John Gaviglio, and drummer/percussionist Mark Maynard. They have a project called Cannons. John came from the now defunct group, Bear Vs. Shark; I’ve known him for almost 10 years, and he introduced me to Mark, who was a perfect fit.

Is there any improvisation with Big Hands live?

It’s a split. The original recordings have many layers of sound that simply cannot be recreated with live instrumentation. The live show is a mix of live drums, bass, percussion and vocals that aren’t on the album, blended on top of the original sound samples and structure of the song.

How was growing up in Texas? Was there a club scene to speak of? Was music what precipitated your move to Detroit?

Unfortunately I was too young to experience Texas nightlife when I lived there. I’ve read, though, that south Texas had a very influential gay dance scene in the early 80s. It spawned many early fans of new wave and electronic music. My mother transferred jobs to the Detroit area, prompting the move from Texas.

You’ve remixed Kieren Hebden before [Audion remix of Kieren Hebden & Steve Reid’s ‘Rhythm Dance’], and now he returns the favour with a Four Tet remix of ‘Deserter’. Do you know Kieren? Are you a fan of his work? (obviously you are, but tell us more…)

I did some shows in the UK with Kieran (and others) a few years ago. He’s a very friendly individual with a warm smile and I immediately liked him. His music is mind-blowing, and he increasingly grows and pushes himself to try new things. Not enough people are doing this. It’s very admirable.

You’ve called the album Asa Breed. Is this is a tribute to the passing of Vonnegut, or had you already decided on the title?

I came up with the title a few months before he died. The sounds of the words appeal to me more than the character’s traits in the novel; they have a wonderful gait. Sounds are more important to me than definitions.

“I’ve got to figure out love – it’s such a tricky thing” [a lyric from Asa Breed track ‘Pom Pom]. Well? Have you figured it out yet?

I sing a lot from the third person perspective. The story could be about someone else entirely, I’m just telling it in my voice. I see myself as the narrator/actor for the subconscious characters in my mind. It could be about me though. I certainly do think love is a very tricky thing…

What’s your favourite city in the world to play/hang out?

Some of my best shows have been at Fabric in the UK. Berlin is always an amazing place to relax for a bit and party as well. New York will always be New York, which is a good thing. Los Angeles is changing, and they’re getting hungry for good electronic music.

What do you like doing when you’re not making/listen to/playing music?

I like to fish.

You’re playing both Sonar and Benicassim this year – is there something uniquely appealing about Spain/playing in Spain to you?

The energy in Spain is great, but that’s not why I’m playing these two festivals. Sonar and Benicassim are two of the best European festivals at the moment, and I’m excited to be a part of both of them this year.

Was it strange returning to singing after the vocalless Audion project?

I’m constantly working on music, some days singing, and other days strictly techno-ing. The gap between albums is merely on paper. I don’t discern between the different aliases in the studio. I work on everything, always.

Will gravity win tonight?

Probably not. My wife and I have a date with Ryan Elliott and his lovely fiancée at our favourite local beer garden. Chances are we’ll be defying gravity by the end of the night.

Kiran Sande

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