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Love is a Constant

Matthew Dear, at Soundlab this week, talks about his new record, Beams

Producer Matthew Dear is quickly becoming an icon of American dance music, which is funny, because his latest record, Beams, is as much rock as it is house, as much David Bowie as it is Juan MacLean. His iconic nature is forged by his thick, almost monotone voice, his slicked-back, jet-black hair, his Commes des Garçons style, and the deeply focused electronic production of pop/rock tracks on his albums like 2010’s Black City and this year’s Beams. This week we talked to Dear about his surrealistic new single and music video for “Her Fantasy,” the black hole of New York City, and what comes out the other side.

Dear comes to Buffalo for a performance at Soundlab on Thursday (November 8) with support from electro-goth duo Light Asylum.

AV: You were born in Texas but have lived in Detroit and New York City too. Obviously Detroit is a music city, the home to Mo Town and Techno. Has that city affected your music?

Dear: Absolutely. There was a very strong sense of musical history there. It’s a small city but music is the torch that people try to hold up. A lot of that energy transfers to you.

AV: You’ve said that the title of your last album, Black City refers to a kind of composite of cities, including New York City. To me your new album Beams and Black City are very different. Beams is more subtle, maybe a little less dark, whereas Black City seems more in-your-face. How do you compare the two?

Dear: What you said is true. Black City was made and recorded around the time that I moved to New York, toward the beginning of my experience with the city. I like to look at it—and I’ve said it before—like New York City is a black hole of sorts. Black City is like the rush toward the center of the black hole. Beams is like the light escaping on the other side of the black hole. They’re both tied to the experience of living within the city. One is like the magnetic pull toward it and the other is like a settling in of sorts, finding your place within the madness.

AV: The video for “Her Fantasy” was my entrance point into Beams. It seems to fit the song so well with all of the layers, neon colors and dissolving scenes. I read that filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who has used a lot of campy surrealism in his characters, inspired the video’s Director, Tommy O’Haver. How do you think that video informs the song?

Dear: It’s very tricky. Clearly a song can go anywhere visually. The narrative of a video doesn’t necessarily need to reflect the narrative of a song. That being said, I do think that Tommy O’Haver, using Kenneth Anger’s motifs and inspiration, got it right. Stylistically, the colors you mentioned, the whole look and image, matches what I wanted the song to represent. What ended up happening is that you have this female lead character, and it’s almost like you begin to think that she is the one having the fantasy and all of the characters involved are a part of it. It totally syncs up with the surrealism of Kenneth Anger and a lot of the costumes and set design he would use. I give credit to Tommy for making it feel really genuine, he really had the vision to bring it all together. I’m really happy with how it turned out and I think it couldn’t have been done any better given how many ways it could have gone awry.

AV: To me, Beams is about emotion. In “Her Fantasy” you sing a question: “Do I feel love like all of the others or is this feeling only mine?” Do you feel like you could answer your own question now, looking back?

Dear: Love is a constant in most of my songs and all of my albums. It’s always something I’m pondering I guess, human interaction and our relationships with our loved ones. My song writing is really just about day-to-day philosophies, and questioning your overall state of being and your existence on this planet. I don’t try to draw out honest answers. I’m not really trying to draw a conclusion; I just like to ask leading questions about life. You get that sense that if you listen to the music you can apply it to your own life

AV: When you’re writing a song, how much of it is drawn from your own experiences, and how much of it is a character or a certain personality you’re portraying?

Dear: It’s my own experiences told through the lens of a character. There is no doubt that the music I write and the lyrics I write are coming from somewhere within me. But you get a free pass when you’re writing a song. I’ve equated it to lying on a psychiatrist’s couch and divulging your inner secrets. That’s what I do when I go into the studio. Many times I don’t really understand what I’m saying until years later when I look back at a song. Like “You Put A Smell on Me;” I wrote the synth line and the drum beat and I knew I had something special. I was in a hurry to get out of the studio and I wanted to get some lyrics done so I just adlibbed the high vocal parts and then went back later to redo the lyrics. Once I had the storyline down I was happy with it. When I came back to it about six months later to finish it, I realized that it reflected this book I had been reading called Tokyo Vice, which was about the seedy underground of Japanese sex culture as told by a foreign reporter. It wasn’t until I went back to it that I realized the story that ended up in the song was inspired by this book.

AV: You mentioned that when you’re writing lyrics it sometimes feels like you’re lying on the psychiatrist’s couch. Do you ever feel revealed or naked on stage because of this?

Dear: That’s a good question. I think I do. More so with Beams and on this latest tour because there are a couple songs, like “Do The Right Thing” and “Ahead of Myself” that are blatantly honest songs and very reflective of my life. You go to a more vulnerable spot when you’re performing these types of songs, whereas when we do “You Put a Smell on Me,” I kind of embody this character from the storyline I was talking about, and that gives me a charge and an aggression to do something that is different from myself. When you’re doing yourself on stage, you’re definitely exposed. I think people attach to that and support you through it though.

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