If there is one indelible feature in all Mathew Dear’s creative projects, it’s elegance. An aura of refinement and intellectuality has yet to abandon the producer in both his technoid passages under the alias of Audion and the pop proposals in his own name. It’s an elegance that is also conspicuous beyond the strictly musical, present in his personal image and everything else he touches. Just visit his blog or buy the limited edition of his latest release “ Black City” ( Ghostly International, 2010)—a totemic sculpture that experiments with the fusion of art and packaging—to appreciate his devotion to good taste and erudition.
“Black City” confirms Dear’s candidature to become a knight of electronica, a gentleman of our times. However, the DJ, producer and composer has also developed in other areas since his previous album, “Asa Breed” (Ghostly International, 2007). Moving to New York explains a lot of the fine details on the new record, where he acts as a chronicler, his nocturnal, sociological and urbanistic visions taking the form of musical metaphors. But there are particulars that escape our understanding and which intrigue us, so we’ve asked Dear himself to talk us through his new record and life.
We know you’ve changed cities and now you’re a NY resident. Why did you move and how has NY affected the creation of “Black City”?
I've wanted to live in NY since I was a child. I remember thinking I wanted to live in a loft, I could play basketball in. Maybe even have a trampoline. Movies can do that sort of thing to a kid. 2007 was finally a good time to make the move. Obviously it's a city full of life and motion. There is no getting off once you're in, and that energy can affect the way you work in the studio. My work reflects this push and pull of a place. Besides that, it’s been three years since “Asa Breed”, which is quite a long time. What has been going on in your life? Do you feel changed somehow as an individual, have you experienced any growth or change in your approach to things and life, etc.?
I've tried to slow down in the studio. Most of “Asa Breed” is a “first-take.” I'd work on a song all day and at the end of that day, I'd say it was done. I used to make most of my music that way, feeling that the rush of an experience was better caught onto tape, and in song. With “Black City” however, I returned more and more to the music. I added parts months later that weren't there before. I don't know what it is accredited to though, this concentrated effort. Three years is indeed a long time, and I guess I knew it had to be richer and more dense this time around. Where do the lyrics come from - are they sketches of an autobiography, poetic impressions of reality or total fiction?
“Poetic impressions of reality”. I like that. It's been difficult to describe them. They are very much grounded in my day to day life, and reflect my experiences with friends and family. However, these self summonings and questions are no different than what other people think about. In that sense, I'd hope my vague interpretations on the human experience can be applied to almost anyone. I may be the starting point for my songs, but I want the listener to be the next point. I expunge, they receive, and then the idea passes on to someone else in their life. You named “Asa Breed” after a character on Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”. You’ve manifested, as well, that the title was just a title, nothing else. Anyway, is it possible to trace a literary background on your music? Can you be more influenced from books than life?
Those images are captured mostly from the camera on my phone, throughout my travels around the world. I have tried to make it clear that “Black City” isn't a New York album, and those photos can attest to that. They are snippets from urban density everywhere on my tumblr site. Those images also become part of the music in good time. For many fans, your music (not the Audion stuff, but your MD work) was a representation of two sound axis: minimal techno and pop melodies. But, as the pop remains, the background is less techno, so we wanted to know how you feel about techno these days, if you are in a creative phase in which the straight 4x4 beat with digital noises on top is a liability, something you want to keep a distance from, or this is more of a hiatus.
I still DJ regularly around the world and play techno and house music, so I'm in no way on a hiatus from that. I think if you listen closely to each album of mine though, you'll hear the slow recession from techno in the vocal material. I feel the two should be separate. I don't make songs on “Black City” to be played in night clubs. There are other people accomplish that with powerful intentions. I must say though, “Black City” is far more synthetic than “Asa Breed”. It's almost more "techno" now, but very slowed down. There is a lot more space to be played with when things are slower. Reading your “5-10-15-20” interview in Pitchfork, you say that your music of the last five years is your own music. How much introspective was there in the creative process of “Black City”? Do you get tired of yourself at some point?
[Laughs] My point was that I had been listening to a lot of my own music up until the release of the album, to make edits and changes. I was really happy to do that interview though, as it really made me think about what I was listening to throughout my life. I did some homework, and dug through my past to conjure up a lot of dusty memories. Of course I've listened to a lot of other music within the past five years, but often came back to my own to finalize “Black City”. There are about 30 other songs from the past three years that I'll continue to work on and release in the near future. I'm writing more than I ever have these days. Anyway, there’s a prominent disco approach on the new tracks: less techno, less synth-pop, more mutant rhythms, and unpredictable mood swings, from euphoria to shy introspection (from “You Put A Spell On Me” to “Gem”). And it’s easy to think that this is not just a reflection of the heritage and remembrance of your youthful education as a listener, but the product of learning something new (in life, in music, in someone). Are we on track on this thought?
Absolutely. I'm 31 years old now. A young man of course, ancient by no means, but a hell of a lot more subdued then I was 5 or 10 years ago. I can't deny that won't have an effect on my music. I've allowed more room to breathe in the music. It comes back to space, and wanting to revisit songs that were once written off as done. “Gem” for example was written a few days after “Deserter” in 2002 or so. Like “Deserter”, I think I wrote them as messages to a future self. When I was in high school, at the beginning of a term, I'd flip to a random page toward the back of the text book. I'd pencil a message to myself saying something like, "Hey Matt, it's Matt. Hope you're having fun." I do that with songs now. The album sounds brighter than the title suggests: it’s black but isn’t exactly dark. It’s very glossy, like the neon lights of the nightclubs. Are you a night person or more of a daylight kind?
I despise mornings, until I have strong black coffee, then the world is mine. Some of my best work is done at night though, when most of the world is sleeping. I've made some beautiful music out of my mind at three in the morning, jet lagged from a tour and using headphones. The mix is always way off the next morning, but the song has a very unique feeling, almost as if I didn't write it. After this summer’s DJ tour, you’re bringing “Black City” to the live circuit, or that’s what some of your posts on Tumblr might suggest. What is gonna change from last the Big Hands tour? What did you learn to do and not to do when touring live for the first time?
Yes, we'll be on tour October/November in the US and December in the UK/EU. I learned to not play in venues without lots of subs. I also learned to add sub harmonics into my set up. As much I enjoy playing this music live, and adapting it to a live format, it's still inherently electronic and needs to be represented a certain way. A three piece band with bass, drums, and guitar can plug in to amps, and mesmerize. I've seen this happen on the street in Brooklyn. Just fucking rock. When you're relying on source material from the album though, it's got to be big. I need it to be loud. A laptop looks pathetic on a sidewalk performance. As Audion you’ve been dropping new stuff gradually in the last three years. So, is anything new and more dancefloor oriented going on? What is going to be like, if so?
I'll come back around to it. I'm going to focus on touring this album for the next 6 months or so. I'm sure I'll be extremely hungry for more techno when the tour is up. With new music in the studio, does it flow naturally, in a constant rhythm of production, or do you sense more suffering on producing than rewarding? What pros & cons do you find on writing songs instead of tracks?
I cannot stop making music, and collecting new things for the studio. I've only begun to scratch the surface at what I want my studio to be, and need to keep writing. Therefore it's very rewarding, almost like therapy. I dread touring, because I won't be able to have my sessions. The music gets trapped, and I fear songs disappear if they are not recorded in time. I'd really like to produce some new artists. That will be next steps.
Have you changed the way of producing since you’re in NY? (I mean, have you bought / sold any machines, or is there a new set up that has affected necessarily the shape of the sound?)
Buy, buy buy. It's an ongoing process. I just found a rehearsal space next to my apartment in Brooklyn, so I can get really loud for the first time since Detroit. I'm curious as to how this will change my recording procedure. Can you tell us what are you going to do just after answering back these questions? If you can’t ‘cause is tactless, you can lie to us…
I'm going to turn on the TV in this French seaside hotel, and flip through the channels looking for something being broadcast in English. I will resign myself to CNN International, fall asleep with the remote in my hand and wake up in a few hours to get wild with everyone on the beach. I wouldn't trade the highs or lows for anything else.