Matthew Dear: Eyes on the Prize

Music Features Matthew Dear

When Matthew Dear isn’t working on his experimental pop music, which is pretty rare, one might find him walking his dog, spending time at the barn in upstate New York that he and his wife are renovating or in the kitchen cooking. Although he says he should be better at cooking by now, he sounds like he must be pretty good, considering he refers to the end product as the “final grand prize.”

It’s hard not to see the similarities between what he enjoys about cooking and why electronic music has become his life. “[Cooking] is a very precise thing, and it’s fun,” he says. “When you’re in that zone, turning from one pan to the next, with your foot you’re opening your refrigerator door—when you’re in that kind of multitasking state, and it is all working at the same time, I think there’s something very rewarding about that.”

Much like a meal Dear might cook at his home in Brooklyn, his newest album Beams is yet another grand prize after much time spent experimenting and recording and years of absorbing inspiration since he was a kid. Dear pulls some of his musical inspiration from two pretty different sources: His dad and glam rock-turned-ambient mastermind, Brian Eno.

When Dear was young, his dad would come home from work and play the guitar at home. He was never a professional touring musician, played in bars with friends, but Dear says that his dad was the first person to really expose him to what it meant to be a musician. “It’s strange when I look back,” he says. “I didn’t know a world without music in the sense that you could play music yourself, make it yourself, just a very DIY style of music.”

Although the synthesized and abstract compositions Dear plays now are a stark contrast to the acoustic feel from his dad’s generation, it’s what started his fascination with creating sound. Luckily that influence wasn’t a forceful one. “He was really good at never pushing it on me,” he says. “I’m very thankful for that, because I feel like if he pushed it on me maybe I wouldn’t have fell into it the way I did.”

After he fell into it, one innovator who embodied how Dear wanted to interpret music was Brian Eno. Not from a place of emulation, but more than anything, it’s Eno’s consistency in whatever genre he pursued, his pure understanding of what he wanted to create and accomplish, that inspires Dear.

“You know, I think I just need to write a book about Brian Eno,” Dear says. “He’s just like an orifice with his talent. He is a wizard of sound design and sculpture that no matter what he does, you just trust that the result is going to be very interesting.”

Dear is a man of many talents himself. Besides the solo DJ gigs, co-founding the Ghostly International label and recording numerous EPs and LPs, he’s had remixes commissioned by Spoon, Hot Chip, The xx, The Postal Service, Charlotte Gainsbourg and The Chemical Brothers. For Beams, Dear also worked closely with artist Michael Cina on what became his album art and a small film project of that process.

Dear describes Cina as “very Eno-esque in his approach to visual arts,” so it’s not surprising that they would end up working well together. What stemmed from a 45-minute conversation about potential paintings for the cover and color schemes ended up dissolving once Dear told Cina that after this project was over, he’d be interested in Cina painting his portrait.

Cina proposed that the album art should be the portrait, and that was that. He came from Minnesota to Brooklyn and painted what is now the image for Beams. Dear says he trusted Cina after knowing his previous work, and he knew that the painting would make sense. “For me, it’s really just finding the right artist and just trusting them whole-heartedly to do their thing with my kind of music as an inspirational guideline. When it gets to the point of creation, I don’t know how to do what he does.” Ghostly has now put out a video, just under three minutes long, creatively documenting the portraiture.

There is much ahead for Dear. Beams, his newest full-length since 2010’s Black City, will officially be released today (Aug. 28) via Ghostly International. He will be promoting the record on tour with his band starting this month and lasting until mid-November. He also has plans to leave his home in Brooklyn and move to upstate New York, which doesn’t sound like a strenuous transition, but for a musician with ears perceptive to the melodic nuances that fill a city, pleasant or not, it will be a big change.

Dear described a recent trip up to the barn they are renovating and being there for the first time alone. Once the door shut behind him, the silence was almost thick, such a foreign nothingness of sound, yet strangely loud. “I could notice the ring in my ear, and the hiss of nothing. I’m thinking now, what’s it going to be like to be in that for the greater part of the day, as opposed to the mornings walking on the street, the trains going over me, workers on the street using a jackhammer. It’s going to be great I think, but might be a little overwhelming.”

For a man so acutely conscious of his perception of sound and his surroundings, it’s only fair to assume his transition to a new environment of acoustics and frequencies will provide inspiration for whatever he does next—and we’re looking forward to it.

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