“In Europe in general, I think London’s probably the top place for us to play as a band,” states Matthew Dear as he sits at a table in the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, nursing a tea and preparing for his performance later this evening. “The support and the energy that people bring, it’s always consistent, so it’s always a good thing.” And he’s not wrong. It may be a Monday evening, but this corner of East London is bustling, the bar overflowing with eager spectators turned out to witness Dear’s sold out show.
New York based Dear’s rise to prominence has been a steady one, and one that’s certainly set to continue as he unveils the news that his latest album is ready to go. “It’s coming out in August,” he smiles, “it’s mastered, it’s mixed… it’s sitting there, waiting. It’s champing on the bit!” Beams will be the fifth full length release from Detroit originaire Dear, who first made a name for himself in the Detroit techno scene where he co-founded his current label home of Ghostly International. An acclaimed DJ, Dear released music under the monikers Audion, Jabberjaw and False before stepping out as Matthew Dear, the musician that we’ve come to know and to love, and the one who’s sitting in front of me, explaining how he put his latest album together.
“Everything was done at my home studio, but this time, we took all of the tracks and mixed it at an outside studio,” he explains of the process. “I went to a place in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a guy named Nicolas Vernhes in the Rare Book Room Studio. When I make a song in the studio, I work I work I work, maybe five hours go by and I think ‘ok, i’m getting a little tired… I think it’s finished, I like it like this.’ Then i’ll pass it around to the label and Sam at Ghostly will listen to it, i’ll take it through my headphones and walk around the city or whatever, and then i’m done with it. But this time, I took everything apart, I took it to the studio and all of a sudden you get this new set of ears. So Nicolas would say ‘hold on, let me try this, and what if I make this sound a little quieter here’, and that’d make room for a little guitar part or something, so i’d go into the studio and add things. All of a sudden, songs that I thought were finished were opened up again and I got to see them from a new perspective, whereas in the past, I didn’t feel like re-entering that headspace. But this time, I felt like I had more energy to add more.”
And there’s certainly a sense of energy about the record. The brighter, lighter vibe that was first introduced on January’s Headcage EP rolls through Beams’ tracks, with Dear describing the overall tone of the record as “more dancey, more upbeat” than his previous work. A notably prolific songwriter and worker, Dear goes on to reflect on his method of reviving old ideas and adding a new, perhaps wiser perspective to them.
“ a couple of old things . There’s one song called ‘Shake Me’ that I wrote when I wrote ‘Gem’ on ‘Black City. I wrote a bunch of songs back to back, and that was back in 2003. So I pulled them out and did new versions for the album that became Black City. ‘Shake Me’ almost became a version of that song for this album. I like representing my old self as well. It’s weird, I have these little songs from when I was 23 or 24, and in a totally different headspace. And to include those on modern day albums is weird, it feels like i’m bringing a past soul back into the process.”
On to the new album then, and the origins which inspired it. Dear’s last effort, 2010’s Black City was widely recognised as the product of the sensations experienced when relocating to the vast metropolis that is New York City. It was an album that was home to dark, brooding tones and driving new wave rhythms. So where did the new album come from, and is it thematic as are his previous albums?
“This album’s called Beams, and beams are represented in a couple of ways. You have beams of a building,” he says, tapping the conveniently placed beam supporting the wall next to our table. “I feel like the songs are the beams of my life and the album, holding everything together. And then you have sunlight, beams of light, so optimism and colour. It’s still on the tail end of this black city experience where the dust is still settling. But Black City was done at a time when I was working non-stop, touring, travelling all over the world and seeing all of these really black cities – London, Tokyo, always being in the grime, and I think that album represented the style of my life. Whereas now, that beam is the step out of it, but a very peaceful step. So Beams is all about that.”
“It’s weird when you’re coming up with a title, because you really have to think. You can’t force it, you really can’t overdo it. And that one just popped up, so I thought about the different ways it could be meaningful, and it still sticks with me. I’m happy with it.”
The build up to Beams has been one involving extensive touring and continual writing. A high profile support slot to Interpol as they toured their eponymous latest album brought Dear and his band to the attention of many throughout Europe, before he went on to make acclaimed appearances at festivals around the world. His fusion of dark, new wave tones, unexpected instrumentation (trumpeter Greg Paulus always providing sonic highlights) and pop hooks have led Dear to steadily and surely become one of the most interesting and outgoing propositions of his field.
“We learned how to be really quick!” Dear laughs, as he responds to the question of lessons learnt on the road with Interpol. “Because we only had 30 minutes, and you have to set up and get out in a heartbeat. So you get really road tough and road ready. Then just seeing their production and to see how a band like that operates, coming in with two trailers, setting it up, playing a show, tearing it down, every night… But you get to the point of plugging everything in without thinking about it – it’s more about the process, so it’s good, it refines it.”
Of a Matthew Dear performance, it’s the main man himself that is the most striking. Tall, impeccably coiffed and known for his tendency to sport sharp suits, Dear moves about the stage ensuring that each inch of it, as well as every member of the crowd is invited, engaged and involved in the sonic world that he’s creating. A frontman emanating charisma and confidence on stage, it’s surprising how modest and softly spoken Dear is in ‘real life’. So how natural is it to produce this on stage performance, and how did touring stadium size venues with Interpol affect this?
“On the Interpol tour, it’s a get up and play and get off stage kind of thing. You always feel like you’re here for their fans, but people are there to see Interpol so you just want to do your thing and not get in the way. But again, back to the whole process of it all, it gets you to a place where you can really do what you do and not over think it. I’m definitely far more comfortable in my skin doing what I do on stage now as opposed to 2006 or 2007 when I first started with the band. But it’s always a learning process, i’m definitely not there yet. But I don’t think I ever want to be there. I always feel like you have to get better at something, it’s never perfect.”
As we wind up our interview to allow Matthew to prepare for the show, conversation turns to his writing process and whether, almost ten years after releasing his first album, he retains the same tried and tested method and approach.
“It’s always about whatever’s inside. Black City was turmoil, it was intensity so that became the theme for the album, whereas Beams, I was much more rested. But it’s hard to say, I think I was trying to listen to whatever guiding light was somewhere within and letting that take over the songwriting process. I’m not saying the album’s teddy bears and roses, it’s still got its dark side but there’s a definite tinge of colour in there.”
Beams will be released through Ghostly International on 27 August 2012.