By Sarah FergusonRaised in Texas and now based in New York, Matthew Dear aims to make music not easily catalogued. Matthew has been producing high-quality electronic music for ten years ― using names False, Jabberjaw, Audion and Matthew Dear ― for labels such as M_nus, Spectral Sound, and Ghostly International. Co-founded by Matthew, Ghostly International is not just a record label. It's an art company also mobilizing visual art, clothing, and technology such as a free iPhone app (called Ghostly Discovery) that connects your mood with a Ghostly tune. Experimental and individual, Matthew Dear's music offers mystic electro-tinged beats that are bouncy and brooding, teamed with hypnotic vocal work and bold lyrics. Fourth full-length record Black City presents the wickedly twisted chronicles of a tech-savvy, never-sleeping metropolis and the imaginary characters residing there. Both sonically and through the story telling in the songs, Black City audibly explores the cryptic yet omnipotent power of the city.
Black City has a unified theme to it. Would you call it a concept album? I've been hesitant to call it a concept album, primarily because I think everything I do is a concept album. It's kind of unavoidable. Since we've said in press releases, and just the fact that I've moved to New York, there's definitely been an overwhelming influence from the actual city itself upon me and you know New York is a bit of a black city at times. So in that sense there are a lot of correlations and I guess concepts that can be similar between the two but overtly no, it's not a concept album. Can you describe what life is like in the imaginary metropolis, Black City? Well, there's a kind of timelessness to it in the sense that I don't want things to run on a 24-hour clock. It seems like a city that's always awake, maybe always dialled in electronically, and cannot be turned off. It's this imaginary weird never-sleeping town. But yeah it's full of lust, and love, and dark shadows. Weird things around the corner…
Songs like "Honey" and "Shortwave" bring a distinct guitar rock sound to Black City. Your work as Matthew Dear does not maintain distinctive genre boundaries. Is that fair to say? That's the goal you know. Never get stuck in one method of science. I don't know. It's more me trying to stay ahead of myself in the sense that I don't like to get too familiar with a certain style or a certain way of doing things. Because once it becomes easy and predictable in my own right I think it's boring for myself and it's not fun for the listener. So yeah, I always try new things, whether that be plugging a guitar in, or bass guitar, or, you know, getting another synthesizer to the collection… just always changing.
"I Can't Feel" feels like a song that makes connection with city life. There's a funky car horn sound and allusions to siren sounds at the end. Are you musically inspired by the city? Yeah, I mean more along the lines of the story. I think it's about growing away from some friends, and you know being engulfed by the city. I guess losing your ability to feel specific easy emotions just because you're kind of caught up in this massive machine. But yeah, sonically I guess as well too.
On "More Surgery" you talk about: "Alter(ing) genetics, to make my body glow." The song uses sombre electronica with a kind of hollow hopefulness in the audio. What kind of mood were you going for with this one? Just that. You know it's also kind of about the machine of the city kind of eating you up. But realizing that you have to continue on and you have to trudge through and I guess the only way to do that would be to catch up through altered genetics and more surgery. If your body can't regenerate itself fast enough, succumb to the synthetic solution I guess.
You're currently finishing up your DJ tour just as Black City is being released. What can people anticipate from your performances? With the DJ sets I'm still playing house and techno. Right now, I'm working on the tour, which will start in October for Black City. That will be with the live band. I play with a drummer and a bass player and a trumpet player. So once that comes around that will be the official Black City album tour. But right now it's just my usual house and techno club set.
Your ability to spread your wings throughout many musical arenas is inspiring ― be it fronting your band, DJing under one of many personas, producing tracks… What benefits do you encounter with such a versatile approach to making music? The ability that I can keep a balance. I think if I had to DJ every night for my career, I might get a little bored of it. It's good to be able to know that I can cater to the different interests within me. I love playing in a band. I love performing on stage with a microphone. But I also love late nights and dance clubs, and DJing as just a faceless DJ with a good sound system. There are many aspects and angles to musical performance that I think I can appreciate, and I'm very honoured to be able to perform for people.
Playing as a DJ, how do you prepare before you play? I usually spend as much time online in the hotel or the airport gathering as many promos as I've been sent in my email. Going through all the latest tracks for the week, and also going on Beatport and scouring the new releases. It's fun. If you have free time on wireless in the airport, it's the best time to just start searching through endless links just finding what else is out there, what's new. And just organizing… It's all digital now, so it's all organizing your folders and getting things ready for the set. Alternately, how do you prepare for shows with the band? I think with the band it's more about, you know obviously you spend the time commuting to and from each gig, but also spending downtime with the members of your band and learning how to coexist with friends and members of the band and just trying to get in that unison and that groove mentally, and be ready to go on stage and let it all out and have a really good connection on stage with three individuals.
As Matthew Dear, who are you influenced by musically? Definitely I'm influenced by Brian Eno and a lot of his work. I've said it before but he is one that is so interesting to listen to on all formats whether it be his production with other bands, whether it's his solo work or whether it's his collaboration work with other artists. He's probably the number one.