Posted on Apr 22nd 2008 10:23 pm

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INTERVIEW: Matthew Dear

In the space of just a few years, Matthew Dear has established himself as one of America’s most consistent electronic musicians around. A true all-rounder, seemingly as much at ease with techno, minimal house and techno pop, Dear follows his instinct instead of trends. His most recent album, Asa Breed, has catapulted him into electronic music’s premier league. Here, he talks to Robert Rowlands about being influenced by European techno, touring with Hot Chip, how his music is a reflection of his life and what matters to him when listening to other people’s music.

How was touring in England? I saw you in Wolverhampton and your set went down really well.

Touring in England was great. My childhood self wouldn’t believe me if I said I’d visit places like Wolverhampton when I was older. People have a hunger for live music in your country.

What do you think of the music scene over here? Does much of it filter through to the US, and how do you think it compares with the scene in America?

The UK has a more voracious appetite for the music experience. Bands tend to get hoisted up on the pedestal quite quickly over there, but there isn’t very much room at the top of media these days. It’s a dangerous place to be sometimes. Longevity is dreamy.

How did you find it touring with the Hot Chip boys? They seem like the kind of guys who would play Scrabble after a gig rather than trash the hotel. Was there much partying going on?

Amazing guys. We hadn’t properly met until the tour kicked off. We’d traded emails and remixes, but never hung out in person. I never saw a scrabble board while on tour, but did see an orange jumpsuit, bison grass vodka, and a breadphone.

How did the English crowds compare with American audiences? People tend to need to fuel themselves with a few beers before they let themselves go here…

Englanders definitely like to drink. My kind of crowd. But once they do, they let loose a lot more than American audiences. I think we were a bit over the heads of some younger audience members. I tend to brood a bit more than the Chip.

I know you’ve done remix work for Hot Chip. Is there anything further planned? Maybe a collaboration? Or any collaborations with other people?

I’d love to collaborate with more of my musical friends, Hot Chip included. I’ve got some ideas tucked away. We’ll see if they come to fruition.

Were you surprised by how well Asa Breed was received or was it one of those records where you had a feeling you were on to something big?

I strive to represent my life at the moment with my music. My life is always changing, and so is my music. I was happy with the way this turned out, since it represents a large chunk of my life. Almost four years went into this album. I’m glad some people like it.

It’s a much more relaxed album than some of your stuff as Audion. Do you enjoy part of the mystery that surrounds using pseudonyms to put out different kinds of music? People like Aphex Twin take a perverse pleasure in doing it – both to get different kinds of music out there and to keep trainspotters guessing.

I need the pseudonyms to keep sane. My audience would be confused to all hell if the follow to Asa Breed was a deep techno record without vocals. I’m playing into different markets, and luckily I have some labels that allow me to experiment drastically.

I read that you started out by listening to tonnes of Detroit techno. Is your own music a continuation of the spirit of that era – or a departure from it?

I lived in Detroit and attended quite a few warehouse parties there in my formative years. However, I was never bitten by the Detroit techno bug. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the founders of this wild music, but I think I was more directly influenced by European techno when I first started producing.

You have a very unique vocal style. Was there any particular inspiration behind it? I think I hear David Bowie at times in your intonations…

I have to work with what I’ve been given. I’m not much of a vocalist in the sense of hitting high notes and singing scales. My music tends to float in one key throughout a song, allowing me to explore monotonous phrases and sing within a drone. It works for me.

You’re obviously a big name on the electronic music scene now. Did you see things playing out this way when you started out back in Texas?

I was merely tinkering with a guitar at home in Texas. I moved to the Detroit area when I was sixteen and began to serious explore music. I was deep into electronic music when I put my first record out, so being successful has been a dream for sometime.

There’s something very “now-ish”, if you’ll forgive the expression, about your music. It sounds very modern. Does the inspiration for it come from what you hear now, or is it a mistake to pay too much attention to your contemporaries?

I rarely listen to new music, as it seems extremely disposable. Music I come back to again and again is so dense with effects, sounds, and rhythm and I don’t hear very much of that anymore. I need to dissect music in my head to make listening fun. It’s like a puzzle, I need to reconstruct it and imagine just how a production was made. Holger Czukay and Brian Eno pieces never fail to grab my attention.

The ethic behind Ghostly International is all about embracing anything “from Thrill Jockey to Blue Note”. Do you think that enough artists and labels out there now are doing that, or is there too much pigeonholing and insularity in electronic music nowadays?

I’m not too worried about what others are doing. Sam (owner of Ghostly) can focus on the cultural ebbs on the label. I’m lucky enough to concentrate on my music.

With Asa Breed, it almost seems as though you’re moving away from the more techno-oriented side of things. Is that accurate, or will you always move between these different styles?

I’ve always worked on vocal-based music, even while I was getting my entrance into the dance scene. It was just a matter of time before I was able to release both simultaneously.

How do you explain to yourself the very different kinds of music you’re making. Are you a man of many contradictions?

Music is a science that I want to learn and manipulate. A never ending project.

As a DJ as well as a musician, you probably sense the movements in music as much as anybody can. Where do you see music moving in the next couple of years?

I really can’t to be honest with you. Time will tell, but hopefully I can carve a living out of it even if it changes drastically.

I also hear that you like nothing more than a bit of fishing. Is this the bizarre secret source of your music – or the best way to get away from things?

Just a way to get out of the noise. I leave Monday for a four day excursion with my father in the south of Texas.

And what is next for you? A nice long break, or straight back to the studio?

I’m always in the studio. Expect more releases, remixes and the like from me all year long.

Just to finish off, what five records would you take with you to a desert islands?

I could get by with just these two:

My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts – David Byrne & Brian Eno
World Of Echo – Arthur Russel

Email interview April 2008.

Icon: arrow Matthew Dear | Ghostly International

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