In the course of the last year the Detroit dwelling Matthew Dear has become a household name to techno fans thanks to his Audion alter ego. But the soft-spoken Texan has more than just epic machine music up his sleeve. June sees the release of his second artist album, Asa Breed, a record which marries indie and new wave with the polished sensibility you’d expect from a techno producer of Dear’s calibre.
Growing up with a musician father and an older brother who introduced him to New Order and Nitzer Ebb , Dear says, “I never had any worries about what I could or couldn’t do with music.” In some respects, the biggest challenge has been walking the fine line between the US band culture he embraces on Asa Breed and the fast-living world of European dance music. Dear is fresh off a plane from Paris when Dummy finally catches him up, glad to be back home in Michigan tinkering in his studio. “I love bringing home what I experience in Europe and making it my own. I’m an American when all’s said and done. I’d hate to leave and not support the arts in America – and I’d miss hamburgers,” he jokes.
Your father was your big musical influence – did you learn to sing from him?
“Well, I never really learned to sing. Music’s always been there. Having my father’s influence was good. He was making music, which let me know I could do it if I wanted to. I never had any boundaries. He comes from the folk and country tradition, so he definitely relates more to Matthew Dear (than Audion). The more back-to-basics my music is the more he appreciates it. He’s come to a few techno shows but he’s looking forward to seeing the band.”
Do you see yourself as part of the continuum of Detroit music, from Iggy Pop, to Motown, to Eminem?
“Not really. I consider myself a Texan. I appreciate the history and the legacy, but it would be a little too narcissistic to consider myself – at this point – any part of this lineage. I don’t really think about it that way, I just try to make music that entertains me.”
Does that mean your music changes a lot from day to day? Do you find different things entertain you?
“For sure. I went out last night and when my wife and I got back from the bar I went and did a little song. You know how an artist doodles with paints? I like to do that with music. I’ve been making music since I was 14 years old. So for an hour a day, for the last 13 years, I’ve worked on something. It’s an engrained part of my life.”
What situations do you find inspirational?
“It’s just channelling – don’t over think things. The recent Detroit electronic music festival was starting, and I wanted to make another Mouth To Mouth. So I sat there and I was trying, but you can’t force it. After a couple of hours it was getting stale. You can’t make it happen. Then when you don’t want it to something comes along.”
Asa Breed has been three years in the making – a lot has happened in the world in three years. Is the finished album what you expected?
“It’s always changing. It could have kept changing. It’s ongoing. Sure, there’s a lot that has happened in the world, in the news, and that can’t help but affect my subconscious, but I don’t deliberately try to write ‘state of the world’ songs. I like to write about very obscure, generalised themes.”
Matthew Dear seems a lot more American than Audion… do Americans get it more than Europeans?
“I think so. I get a lot more requests for that stuff here. People want to see me sing and do the live stuff. That’s the American way. They like indie rock, they like bands, they like vocals.”
Are you nervous about getting up on stage and singing?
“The most important thing is finding myself. I want to show my real self on stage. I don’t want to be some fake rock star. It’s easy for a front man to get lost in the world of ego. I want to be natural, to be myself. I’d like to think the life I live is 100% real. I don’t want to be some Iggy Pop character.”
Is authenticity something that’s missing in the dance world?
“In the dance world you’re allowed to lose yourself. It’s all about alter egos. You can take on a persona, like (Detroit techno renegades) Underground Resistance, they had this costume mentality, or The Knife. But I don’t want my music to be that obscure – my lyrics are obscure but I don’t want my persona to be.”
Do you think your Texas upbringing has made you more grounded?
“In Texas you can get lost in the world of Texas. I didn’t really travel outside of Texas ‘til I was 12 or 13 years old, but you don’t think anything of it. It takes 15 hours to drive from north to south.”
Texas is one of the places ecstasy culture took off in the States – could there ever be a Summer of Love in the US?
“[laughs] I don’t think so. Too much has already happened. Back in the 80s when it happened [in England] the music was new, the drugs were new, the experience was new. I don’t think you could have that anywhere else again. It would be too forced. But we definitely had a piece of it. Rave was huge in the late 90s. I was going to 5000 people parties under bridges, totally illegal. I’ve gone to 25,000 person raves. But then the government freaked out because of the drug use and kind of clamped down. Which was a good thing – it was getting a little out of hand.
[England] kept it though, you learned to modify it and make it part of the culture. I mean, what happened to those 25,000 people? They loved that music, they wanted to go out on a Saturday night and dance. Now there’re only 500 people at a show. In America there’s this association with dance as a negative thing – a little black mark. It’s like Oh yeah, I used to take drugs and go to techno shows, but now I’ve got a job and I don’t do that anymore. Which is unfortunate. In Europe it becomes part of your life. You like the music for life.”
That’s kind of a shame – it must make it harder for the music to thrive…
“Definitely. It makes it harder to do something that connects with your peers as you get older. But it’s getting better. People are getting more open-minded.”
Your first record on Ghostly International in 1999 was called Hands Up For Detroit Is that where the Fedde Le Grand sample comes from?
“I can’t comment on that. There’re legal proceedings at the moment. All I can say, legally, is that in 1999 I made this record and there’s a snippet of my voice saying Put your hands up for Detroit, I love this city… you can arrive at your own conclusions, but I can’t accuse anyone of doing anything.”
Ok, on to the new album… the first single, Deserter, is a very personal song. Who did you write it for?
“I wrote that three years ago. I was singing to myself, I was singing about what I thought my life would become. It’s about somebody who’s been through this rush of excess. ‘been around the world’ – I was starting to travel; smoking too much. You know, just over-indulging. It was a warning, or a premonition, to myself, saying If it gets intense, don’t worry. It’s going to be fine. Even if you lose your way, you chose this life, stick with it.”
What’s your favourite track on the album?
“I like the hidden track. It’s about my dad’s great-grandfather who was murdered in Texas over some land. It’s the most Texas song on the album. Maybe the next album will go more in that direction, so it’s a good send off.”
Some of the tracks sound ripe for remixing – have you commissioned any yet?
“Hot Chip have done a cover of
*What other bands are you listening to? *
“I don’t listen to as much new music as I should. A modern musician should have their ear out, should be on the pulse. But I’ve always been really lax about getting into new music. I wait for other people to pass me things or fill my iPod for me. Then in interviews I can talk about it and act like I discovered it for myself [laughs]. Will, who’s my in house photographer/album designer/internet guru, knows all the connections. He gets me all the good stuff.”
You’re going to be touring the album in Europe as Matthew Dear’s Big Hands soon – who’s in the band?
“John Gaviglio plays bass, he’s in a rock band called Bear Vs Shark and I’ve known him since university. His good friend Mark Maynard plays drums. I met Mark through John and we just hit it off. They’re good guys, I won’t get too sick of them [on tour].”
What three things do you always travel with?
“American Apparel t-shirts: I buy them by the dozen, in black. A good bottle of cologne. You never have time to take a shower so a little spray of cologne benefits your seatmates. I bought Marc Jacobs recently, but I go back and forth, I’m a cologne junkie. And water. A good bottle of water will save you a lot of hangovers.”
Matthew Dear’s second album
Matthew Dear’s myspace
Written for the summer 2007 edition of Dummy.