The prolific musician sheds light on his new album Beams and his days in Detroit
The life of Matthew Dear is anything but black and white. Originally from Texas, the multi-faceted artist cut his teeth in the music world while studying at the University of Michigan—where he also co-founded record label Ghostly International with his pal Sam Valenti—and today calls a barn in upstate New York home. Depending on your interests, you may know him as one or all four of his musical monikers: Audion, False, Jabberjaw and Matthew Dear. You may know him as an electronic DJ, the frontman to a live band, a clever package designer, a mentor to his peers or, as we found out in 2007, a skilled fisherman. No matter who Dear is on any given day, there is no denying that he is always a master of his craft.
Dear’s new full-length album, Beams, is set to release at the end of this month. In town to perform at a “proper rave” thrown by Half Baked, Dear caught up with us in London, shortly before his massively impressive and bass-booming DJ set at Boiler Room. Read on for his take on how he got started, Detroit and his passion for constantly making music.
What would you say the music scene was like in Michigan when you started out?
When I started officially acting like I was part of a scene there, it was probably like 1998-99. Ann Arbor was just 40 miles from Detroit, and Detroit had electronic music raves and tons of parties going on and really, really legendary DJs. So there was this kind of torch that was burning there, and as Ann Arborites we felt we could do our own little version of that. That’s when Ghostly started, and DJs like Todd Osborn, Carlos Souffront, Disco D―guys in Ann Arbor who were doing it as well were really inspirations to us.
How did you meet Sam and come to found Ghostly together?
I met Sam just at a random house party, I was doing music and he was just passing through. It was like the last place he’d normally go, this place where we crossed paths. It was just a totally freak occurrence that we met each other, and I equate it to, like, I had the musical passion to create and create and create. I was the one just making tons of music, and Sam was dabbling in music production, but mainly DJing and stuff, and he had the big dream of Ghostly. So I think us meeting just about a year before the label started was just perfect synchronicity. Sam had the drive to be the label manager and the vision and the art behind it, wanted to do covers and just find all the Ann Arbor musicians and bring them together. I, on the other hand, was just hungry to release music as much as I possibly could. So it was just perfect. It worked out that I had the drive on the creative side and Sam had the creative business drive to make it all happen.
Detroit is commonly referred to as the next big arts mecca. How do you feel about the city?
I was there in like 2003. That’s Detroit—it always makes you feel like it’s on the verge of tipping toward being successful and booming. And that’s what keeps people there. And when you’re in Detroit, you feel like you own it. It’s your city, you’re there, you’re the one bringing in art and events and doing shows. You’re meeting people who are also doing their version of what their creative interest is. So there’s this little buzz that’s always in Detroit and no matter how big that buzz gets on the world scale—like right now a lot of people are talking about it—you hope that it does finally explode. But I think that’s Detroit, that’s the beauty of it. It makes you feel that you’re doing something for its success, and whether it was in the ’80s, ’70s, ’90s, it always has that mystique. It lures you in, it’s this kind of siren city that just kind of takes over and makes you feel like, “if you stay long enough you can fix me.” The city is hypnotizing in that way, it’s fascinating. It’s a great place for artists.
You have really curious titles for your songs and albums. What comes first, the music or the title?
Usually it’s the music. The way I work is I’ll go in and turn on all those machines and I’ll start working on the computer. You have to save a song as you’re working on it, ’cause many times you don’t save and the computer crashes you’re like “oh, I lost an idea!” So usually by the time I save, I really don’t have a formation of an idea but eight times out of 10, the song title that I just make up and save it as becomes the original song title. And whatever those words are kind of dictates where the song goes. So I like this kind of free-flowing abstraction, to let your subconscious take over and tell you which way to go. Songs like “Up and Out,” on my new album, just become kind of, like, up and out. You start writing lyrics based on that, or just a feeling for the day.
Is your music a reflection of your life?
It is. It’s very reflective about the way I feel. But it is done in shattered pieces, where one song is a couple hours of my day. So that was how I was feeling for two hours out of my life, it’s not like a “Blue Period” where every bit of writing comes from this state. In Beams you’ll hear, it goes down too, it’s not all glitter and gold, you know. It’s not slapping you over the head. I’m not trying to say these songs are colorful and brighter, even though they are.
What motivates you to create a new song?
The actual process moves me. Like the other day, I was talking on the phone and I had some interviews lined up at the hotel and I did one, and then I had 10 minutes off, and I have this sampler that I travel with so I can just put on headphones and work on music. I had 10 minutes and I’m like, “do I turn on the TV, do I check some emails or should I just make music and work on loops?” So I grabbed the sampler and started working on music. It’s like an addiction, I just gotta—it’s what I do. That’s the only way. I have some weird ADD or something, I have this hyperactive brain that needs to create to feel like I’m doing something valuable. In that sense, that’s what drives me, that’s what relaxes me. That’s what makes me feel like my life is worth being awake for.
Photos by BHP