Electronic producer Matthew Dear doesn’t have all the answers, and his music is only better for it
Pairing happy-sounding melodies with his quintessentially dark, contemplative poetry is a refreshing turn for Ghostly International label co-founder Matthew Dear. That dichotomy between shadowy lyrics and sun-soaked music is at the heart of his excellent fourth full-length, Beams, released last August.
While you might want to conclude that the fuzzy, funky electro beats on the esteemed techno producer’s latest record mark a sharp shift towards more optimistic compositions, careful not to overlook the melancholy songwriting before jumping to any conclusions. “I think it’s definitely a turn toward the light, but I don’t think it’s totally engulfed in optimistic light,” a nevertheless cheerful Dear tells Nightlife.ca on the line from his tour van, as it inches closer to Buffalo, NY. “Some of the lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written – they’re pretty sad at certain points. But it’s coupled with more uplifting and energetic music, so that can also throw people a little curveball.”
Curveballs. Dear fans have become accustomed to all sorts of leftfield twists and turns over the course of his decade-plus career. A maestro of electronic reinvention, never content to creating within established comfort zones, Dear’s opus reflects a constant thirst for challenges. His numerous aliases (Audion, False, Jabberjaw), for one, have allowed him to branch out of the “Matthew Dear mold” — i.e., funky tech-house, sinewy basslines and infectious minimal-tech-meets-pop, often enhanced by Dear’s baritone pipes and otherworldly, cyborg-like delivery. But don’t assume that Dear consciously sets out to throw listeners for a loop. Au contraire.
“When I write music, I write completely for myself,” he mentions. “I’m happy to share my music with other people and I love it when the listener appropriates it and it becomes his. But during the actual recording process, it’s not about surprising people or giving them something to talk about. It’s completely for me.”
Piecing the Dear puzzle
Dear is known for penning ambiguous lyrics that are at odds with electronica’s vast catalogue of fluffy sentiments, where straightforward expression outnumbers poetic distance by a longshot. While fans may assume that enigmatic quality has to do with Dear’s desire to cultivate a certain mystique (as with his illustrated album covers, moody music videos and theatrical stage presence), it’s more about Dear coming to grips with emotional baggage he still hasn’t figured out for himself.
“I just go to the studio and let things out!” Dear enthuses. “Because there’s no psychiatrist at the other end, the songs become holding cells, the ideas get trapped in a song and then get documented for the rest of time. Anybody can listen to them and try to decipher them, including myself: there are many times when I’ve returned to a song, years later, to finally go, ‘oh yeah, I get what I was talking about.’ It makes sense now even though it didn’t back then.”
Dear’s honest, introspective melodies and raw production talent have been embraced both by techno’s old guard as well as younger EDM listeners. His chameleon-like, shape-shifting on-stage persona, which Montrealers will be privy to Saturday night, offers a striking contrast to his more therapeutic solo studio experience, where he repackages raw emotions into sophisticated rhythms. Packages that leave lots of room for interpretation, of course. “Sure, I do like a little bit of mystery,” concedes Dear. “I think some of the artists I’m most fond of – Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode or Gary Numan, among many others – don’t fully expose themselves. I like the idea of not knowing exactly what someone’s about. But I think the mystery that I may exude on-stage and off is simply because I don’t ever claim to know what I’m about either; I like to think that’s ever changing. I don’t think you need to always have answers to a situation. Sometimes, you just have to let the answers come to you.”