Interview: Matthew Dear
We spoke to Detroit electronic wunderkind Matthew Dear last week as he prepared for his live show at Sonar 2007. The coversation touched on his new album, “Asa Breed”, his techno project, Audion, and much more. Here’s the first part of the interview with the second to follow very soon.
I'm not even sure how to pronounce the title of your new record. Where does it come from?
"I’d say, ‘Arsah Breed’. It was a minor character from a novel by Kurt Vonnegut that I read last year, called Cat’s Cradle. I just really liked the way the words jumped off the page, more just the sound of them. There’s no conceptual meaning connected between the album and the book."
It could be a metaphor for the way you make music, with absolute attention to the minutiae of sound…
"You know what, I haven’t thought about that yet but I like that one. Run with it, run with it."
You’re heading left of the dancefloor with this record. What’s your background in writing music, do you come from the clubs or the more traditional band stuff?
"I guess a little of both. That’s what’s weird about me, I’ve kind of straddled this line between electronic and organic my whole life. My father was a folk musician and he played guitar – nothing recorded – but I grew up with that side of Texas rock, folk music and country. Then I had my older brother who - somehow growing up in Texas - got hold of a lot of new wave and early New Order, Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242.
"So I had this split personality as a kid, I was growing up listening to my Dad’s records and my brother’s records and I liked it all. Slowly but surely when I started making music around the age of 14, I started playing guitar first and then got a drum machine and kept it going back and forth. I’ve always mixed these sounds in my head and I’ve found that groups like Depeche Mode to me are some of the best songwriters of the last 30 years. It doesn’t matter that they’re more electronic; I didn’t see boundaries between the music."
Audion, False, Matthew Dear… your music appears in numerous guises, what’s the logic behind them right now?
"I wanted to focus Audion on making club hits and dancefloor tracks, the DJ culture stuff. It was a good year last year for Audion because it was more pronounced in that split of my personalities and I think if I’d put the “Asa Breed” record out then, it would have confused even more people because they wouldn’t have realised I was really trying to make a separation between the stuff under my own name and the techno as Audion.
“Asa Breed” is a pretty daring record in the sense that it offers no obvious stylistic coherence. How did you come to compile this particular set of songs?
"I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker I think but mainly because of the system I have set up. I have a really good relationship with Sam Valenti who is the owner of Ghostly International records and he has become more or less a musical confidant and a best friend of sorts. I can show him anything that I make and he wants to hear everything that I make. Over the past three years this record has been growing and amassing more tracks. Each one he’s heard the week after I made it, so I don’t have a fear of having to confine my music to any sort of system or set of structures.
"I’ve had total freedom in the studio, one day I can sit down and make an Audion song and the next day I sit down and make a weird little pop song with an acoustic guitar. I don’t sit down with a theme or a concept; I don’t sit down saying ‘okay, now I’m going to make this album.’ I’m making music constantly and when it’s time to put an album together, I go back and I pick from all those songs I’ve made over the past few years and I decide which ones fit together and which ones don’t."
Do the songs on the album span a long period?
"The oldest one is probably “Deserter”; I made that about three years ago, right after “Leave Luck To Heaven”, my last album. I just didn’t have a home for it, it was a little too poppy, a little too rock based for what I was doing. The most recent song on the album is probably “Good To Be Alive”.
Pop music is usually either predominantly rhythmic or predominantly melodic. Yours sits right between the two now. Where do you find the most overlap?
"I think rhythm is more important when I start making the songs. At first I work on a loop, just the basic drums and bass and synthesizers. Then I almost use my voice as a synthesizer as well just to branch the melody all together. Then it takes a turn… I like to write waves of melody, very simple at times, very pop-based but I’m not one for crazy scales or odd tuning or timings. In my mind rhythm and melody go hand in hand, but I think I’ve been able to learn a lot about rhythm by making techno music and I’ve tried to translate that now to this new style that I’m trying to do."
Matthew Dear's "Asa Breed" is released on July 2. The second part of this interview will be published next week.