Texas-born electronic music maker Matthew Dear has spent the last decade making the sort of percolating dance music that splits the difference between making you feel sexy and making you feel awed.
After years working mostly by himself in this home studio, he got some outside perspective for his new EP Headcage, which is out Tuesday via Ghostly International and serves as a lead-up to his upcoming album Beams, which does net yet have a release date.
Headcage features production and mixing input from Nicolas Vernhes, best known for his work with indie-rock types like Deerhunter, Spoon and The Dirty Projectors, and a duet with Jonny Pierce of alt-poppers The Drums. There are also plenty of continually elevating beats and considerable atmosphere. Dear talked with Nonstop Sound recently about reaching out for a fresh perspective.
Nonstop Sound: How would you compare the new EP Headcage with your upcoming album Beams?
Matthew Dear: "I am always working on music, so my releases tend to be large strokes of a similar theme. While I am not deliberately writing songs that fall in line with one another, or share a concept, there is an unavoidable cohesion that comes about. In that sense, there is always a connection between the songs and my life. Beams & Headcage EP come from around the same period. That period represents a slowing down of sorts, and there is a peacefulness that enveloped the writing process. It's not easy-listening, but it's a bit more uplifting than anything I've done in the past."
NS: At the same time, how do you think these two sound in comparison to Black City? Did you approach the production in a different manner? When an album gets the attention that City did, does it make you worry about tinkering with the formula too much?
MD: "I wrote and produced the songs in almost the same way; at home in my studio with my equipment. The post-production and mixing was approached from a different perspective however. I took apart the songs piece by piece, and brought them to Rare Book Room studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Nicolas Vernhes has a wonderful setup, with a wider footprint than my home studio. This gave the music a new lease on life, and allowed me to revisit the songs with an outsider's perspective. We did some rearranging, and recorded a few more tracks."
NS: Nicolas Vernhes is known for working with indie rock types like Deerhunter and the Fiery Furnaces. What made you want to record in his studio, and how did it shape the album?
MD: "Jeff Owens (label manager at Ghostly) knew about him and suggested we work together. We went in for test run last summer, with the intent to do one song and feel it out. You can imagine it's a bit nerve-wracking to take in songs you feel are finished, and open them back up for discussion. Something akin to writing a novel only to turn it over to an editor for further revisions. Nonetheless, Nicholas and I hit it off with the process. It ended up being a new way for him to mix as well, since the songs were fully realized upon arrival. We had a lot of fun with it, and honestly, I've never heard my music so cleanly. He really brought out a lot of balance in the audio, and made them all rest easily together."
NS: What made you seek out Jonny Pierce for cameo? Was the song written with him in mind?
MD: "Jonny had expressed interest for my music a few years ago, and then I did the remix for their song 'Me & The Moon.' It seemed logical to do a song together, so he came over to my home studio in between album cycles. I had two songs in mind that I had already laid the groundwork for, and he went for 'In The Middle (I Met You There).' His voice meshed beautifully within my music, and we recorded everything in a few hours."
NS: Your style of dance music is hard to pin down. It seems you have elements of a producer, a DJ, band-leader and singer-songwriter in what you do. Do you purposely try to make yourself hard to label?
MD: [Laughs] "Well, I don't try to make things complicated. I have always been a byproduct of my surroundings, musical influences, and tastes, so I guess I'm just trying to get as much onto paper as possible. There are far too many narratives to be told, and whatever I release will simply be a fraction of those narratives."
NS: You've been at this for a while now. How you keep things from getting stale for you?
MD: "Strong coffee."