TEN QUESTIONS WITH: MATTHEW DEAR
Texas-born Matthew Dear's already a superstar in the minds of many but that star is poised to rise even higher in the firmament with the Ghostly International release of Asa Breed, the long-anticipated follow-up to Leave Luck to Heaven. Dear's unique in having established three equally innovative personae: in addition to issuing material under his given name, the compelling tracks he's issued under the Audion (Spectral) and False (Minus) guises are genre-advancing too. Dear effortlessly, it seems, cranks out one brilliant Audion single after another (such as recent throwdowns Mouth To Mouth and Noiser / Fred's Bells), and will complement that with a new False full-length in the near future. But for now, the focus is squarely on Asa Breed (the title, incidentally, a character's name in Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle) whose inspired mix of electronics, African music, techno, pop, and the blues signifies a directional shift from and expansion upon Leave Luck to Heaven's microhouse focus. Vocally, Dear channels Bowie and David Byrne while, instrumentally, inspiration is drawn from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and Remain in Light. Dear kindly reserved time in May to speak with textura about the new album.
1. It's interesting that Leave Luck To Heaven, the last full-length under your own name, came out in 2003 and, with the exception of 2004's Backstroke, everything released since then has been Audion material. How much, if any, of this strategy was a masterful plan on your part to ease the pressure of following up an album that received such a huge outpouring of critical and popular acclaim?
There wasn't much of a master plan. My entire life has been a balancing act of sorts between my various methods of production. I'm always producing music, and I don't turn off one genre while working on another. A label can only release so much at one time, and I didn't want to confuse my fans by putting it all out at once.
2. Stylistically, Leave Luck To Heaven and Asa Breed are sometimes as different as night and day. Two questions: What accounts for the incredible stylistic diversity one hears on Asa Breed? Was it simply an organic process that developed as a result of your experiences since then (touring, Audion production, listening), or was the move more deliberate where you purposefully aimed at moving beyond the ‘vocal microhouse' style of Leave Luck To Heaven?
Primarily my production methods have changed. Taking what I learned in techno production and applying it to more organic instruments made Asa Breed what it is.
3. There's a significant change in vocal style from the first album to Asa Breed, with the relatively straightforward presentation of the voice before now replaced (sometimes, at least) with a style that's comparatively more cryptic and disturbed. What prompted the change? Elsewhere, you use a double-tracked style that pairs your deep baritone with a falsetto. What inspired that approach?
I'm not a very good singer. I've found that taking multiple layers of my voice and overlapping them provides a unique and enjoyable style. I cannot sing scales or anything of that sort, so I have to make do where I can. My voice works with my music, and my music with my voice.
4. Talking Heads and Byrne and Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts are cited as inspirational references for the new album. Can you elaborate more specifically on the way in which the two influenced the album?
Merely their confidence in bring rhythm to the forefront has affected me. More or less their influences like Afrobeat and Juju music of the '60s and '70s also influenced me. Music is timeless, and I'd like to think that I am tapping into a permanent vein, rather than a genre or era.
5. I hear the influence of Bowie's Lodger, specifically in the song “Elementary Lover.” The African juju-electronic fusion is reminiscent of Remain in Light and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts but vocally it sounds close in spirit to Bowie (the way you sing “I've got to figure out love” in “Pom Pom” is also reminiscent of Bowie). Am I correct in hearing a Bowie influence or is that just my imagination?
I think our voices occupy a tangent range at sometimes. He can reach some high notes that I can't, but we both have a sense of speak and sing in our voices. Maybe this is what you hear. I was born with this voice, and can only sing this way. Any other way would come across forced and awkward.
6. Another of the album's distinguishing features is its unusual instrumental touches, like the zither-like thrum that rises and falls throughout “Fleece on Brain” and the synth hooks that appear throughout. Did you purposefully set out to make the new album more sonically adventurous than the first, and was this something also inspired by the open-ended experimentalism of albums like My Life in the Bush of Ghosts?
I like to take chances, but only for my personal benefit. I don't sit down with goals of making experimental music. My music is simple and effortless for me, because it's all I know how to do. I cannot overthink my hair color, just like I cannot overthink my production. It's just the way it is.
7. “Elementary Lover” is also different from the other songs in that it features Mobius Band. How did the collaboration come about? Is the song a live take (or parts thereof)?
I invited them to the studio, because I knew the song was lacking something. It had this rhythm and electronic groove already in place, but a bass and guitar section was needed. They were playing a show in Detroit that day, and stopped by the studio we were recording in. I planned to take bits and pieces of their performance, but when I got home, I mixed their live take on top of the track. It fit perfectly. They nailed it in about two takes in the studio that day. Everything was impromptu. They are very gifted players.
8. The release of Asa Breed coincides with an upcoming tour where you'll be performing with ‘Matthew Dear's Big Hands,' a trio that includes you on vocals and computer, drummer Mark Maynard, and bassist John Gaviglio. Can you give us a preview of what to expect in terms of material, and comment on the challenges involved in presenting the material live, specifically in coordinating your computer with the others' instruments?
The songs take on a new life in this format. That's good, since it engages me on stage, with things feeling new and refreshed. The bass and drums add both visual and sonic appeal for the audience as well. The songs are fleshed out into something different, and more than anything it's fun to play. There is no digital sync between the computer and instruments. The guys are just good at playing along with me.
9. One of the most striking things about your Audion tracks is the compositional approach you bring to the material, especially when it's rooted in a dance genre that commonly settles for repetition. How tracks like “Mouth to Mouth,” “I Gave You Away,” and “Noiser” move through multiple episodes is incredibly deft. “Fred's Bells” is a great example of the level of imagination you bring to the material, especially when inspired touches like the murmuring voices are added to the equation. Do you approach these tracks in a very methodical, compositionally-oriented manner?
I've produced all these songs you mentioned in about two-hour sessions. There is no conscious thought involved. I find myself a groove that I like, and let myself get lost in it. What comes out is dance music.
10. Is that concern for compositional form in the Audion material influenced by the focus on song structure that naturally comes through in writing the Matthew Dear material? Do you apply the same compositional approach when you're creating Audion and Matthew Dear material?
I apply the only composition approach I know of... that being my own. It's hard for me to dissect my own techniques; they're so engrained within me. I've been honing my style for the past ten years, always trying to create a new way of doing something. I'm always learning new techniques, and using those to alter my existing formulas. The moment I cannot do something different or new in the studio is the moment I cease making music. If this isn't fun for me, how will it be fun for you?