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Matthew Dear on Being a Parent, How it Affects His Music, and Letting Go

Post-Parenthood Realization

Dec 20, 2018 Matthew Dear
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Professionally making music for close to 20 years, Matthew Dear has been to many different places. He’s hitched plane rides all over the map and completed uncountable collaborations while maintaining a solo career. Basically, he’s a militia man of the international electronic scene, producing whimsical music at a militaristic rate. But between the six years of Beams and new album Bunny, Dear started realizing certain concepts of life, and, most importantly, became a father of three kids.

On a brisk mid-November night in Chicago, Dear played a set at Sleeping Village, a dimly-lit craft beer bar with a venue in the back. Having 335,295 monthly listeners on Spotify, Dear probably could have performed at a much bigger place; Sleeping Village is more his style. Before he took the stage, Under the Radar sat down with Dear for an extended conversation about parenting, how that affects his music, and letting go of the past.

Jordan J. Michael (Under the Radar): This is a pleasure! What’s up? What have you been doing over these past six years?

Matthew Dear: It’s funny, people think that I disappeared, didn’t do much. Technically, on the booksa DJ Kicks album [2017], an Audion album [Alpha, 2016], and a lot of remixies. I worked on a Microsoft project called DELQA, which is a big video interactive art installation that won an award for sound design. I didn’t know what a Cannes Lions was until we won one-it’s like a Grammy for advertising or something.

Wait, you won a Grammy?

No [laughs], a Cannes Lions. I was told that it’s a cool honor for interactive media. But, further, I did a project for GE [General Electric], a sound experiment where I did a lot of recording at their main headquarters.

Schenectady, NY? That’s my original hometown, man. Wow. While we’re on Upstate New York, do you still live there?

No, it’s Ann Arbor [MI] now. We were in Sullivan County for two years [after moving up from New York City].

You conceived kids there?

We had oneour first daughter, Ashathere; my wife, Jen, was pregnant when we moved Upstate…after two years we realized as much as we loved the space and the people, it was too far from the regular things we neededairports were too far away. If I was a writer, an author, it would have been perfect.

We’ll go back to the family stuff, but anything else about your work over the last six years?

When projects like the Microsoft thing and the GE thing come up, it ends up being a few months of my time with preparing and recording, and then releasing it, going to meetings and presenting it. So, after the fact, I realize that those projects are like mini-albums…what have I been doing? Oh, that was a major chunk of time…I kept getting these things on my plate that pushed my solo album back. Then, I decided to do another Audion album that ponied things up more.

Man, how do you keep up?

That’s how it is these days, things move quick.

Do you try to keep up with that quickness?

Yes and no; it’s always about the balance. Like Depeche Mode said, “get the balance right.” Sometimes, it’s full on, warp speed, and have to keep up, but then I’ll know when to pull back, sit at home and relax. Otherwise, you get burnt out.

Can you tell us about your family?

Jen, my wife, is a phenomenal elementary school teacher; she taught in Manhattan and Brooklyn. We met in high school in Lake Orion, MI. I grew up in Texas until 16, when I moved up to Lake Orion. Asha, who I mentioned before, is five, my oldest daughter; Sena, the other daughter, is three; and Ocean, my boy, is eight months old.

What do your kids think of your music and what music have you exposed them to?

We’ve tried to keep it open-ended…they love all sorts of music…we play everything, as general as that sounds. We had this thing for a while during the trip to school in the morning where I play the Jazz Sirius XM stationso, a lot of jazz; I am not a big jazz guyI knew there was something about jazz that would get their minds going in the morning. They loved it, was a really cool way to see what they thought of music. I remember when Asha was about three, she started to tell me about her feelings, and one song, she said, “this makes my tummy feel squishy.” I thought she was describing jazz-amazing. Recently, all of them…you know how kids are in a car, they want everything a certain way, and if not, it gets a little intense, so, I said, “Guys, if you don’t calm down, I am going to play you some of the worst music ever.” And they’re like, “Okay, what is it?!?” Polka; I cued up some polka and they liked it. That totally backfired. The kids come to the studio [Dear has a home studio] and mess around; it’s fun. They make music with me.

Listening to Bunnyalways been drawn to Black City (2010) with all its gleaming ominousnessyou sound happier, more inspired. Did your children inspire your music on Bunny?

They…I’m more confident than anything, and the idea that it is all wonderful. In that sense, kids inspired me to let go more. They don’t really inspire the actual songs, but one day I will probably write songs about them. Mainly, they inspired my whole psychethe shift.

Has becoming a parent changed your sound?

I’ve been more…I started slowing down in all aspects of the typical musician. During Black City, I was more full on, staying up all night, drinking, partying, and touring non-stop. Not that I stopped that for my kids, but I was getting older and I pulled back a lot, had kids and kind of retired from that lifestyleit’s such a far-gone past to me. In that sense, I have changed coinciding with kids, and by doing so my sound changed because all the time I spent focused on other things, now I’m focused on making my music even more polished. I re-appropriated the energy focus.

There’s this thing called a Paradigm Shift: a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. Are you familiar?

Is that when my booking agency goes from being Windish to Paradigm? [Laughs]

[Matthew Dear is a client of Paradigm Talent Agency; he used to be with Windish Agency].

Did you sense a Paradigm Shift in life, music and process over the last six years?

Yeah, definitely. I’m more calculated and focused now. When you have kids you realize that the stakes are a bit higher. I joked with my wife earlier today, saying, “I think I have spent one college tuition on room service [throughout the years].” Total joke, but it shows where your head was at 15 years ago versus now, like, those croissant egg sandwiches and stuff; it adds up.

Do you have a wild touring story from your past?

There has been lots of crazy nights…my wife would always say that she could tell how long I had been out based on how big my hair was. [Laughs] If it was big and out of whack, she knew I was out for like three days. None of those stories would be entertaining at this point.

Following final song “Before I Go” on Bunny, there’s a field recording of what I assume is your daughter?

That’s Asha talking about Sena, who is too young to really talk; Sena is mumbling. On every album I’ve done, I loved the idea of personal field recordings. I always have a little recorder with me, or an iPhone ready. Gather little pieces of soundone is just laying around on an SD card if I want it. There’s a personal touch for all my projects; “Before I Go” is to them, I guess. The message of spending more time with you before I go.

Are there specific tools you use to stay in touch with your family while you’re on tour? Special ways you connect?

One big realization of technology and how people say it is too much…one night I was on FaceTime with my kids from a hotel room and my wife was reading them a storywe call it “Robot Dad” when I am propped up like that. All of a sudden, I read them a story; they feel like I am there. Technology can be a human experience like that.

Do you bring back toys for the kids?

I send them a lot of pictures from where I am, for example selfies with chickens outside of London. Or I bring them something from Japan.

Do you tour less often now?

Yes, but I was starting to ramp down anyways. When I wake up in the morning from being in Europe, I am on the first flight home; I want to be with my kids. And then I am at a soccer game that morning on no sleep. I am okay with that; maybe I wouldn’t have been in the past. You keep going to the studio to make a song. There’s no eject button.

Matthew, you travel all over; you did some recording for Bunny in Berlin and in the mountains of California. You told Consequence of Sound that “Modafinil Blues” is about an experience you had with the legal drug of the same name, which promotes wakefulness and energy. Do you still use it?

It was a random thing in Australia a long time ago; I was jet-lagged. When I tour, I go to Australia for a weekend, then come home. So, I was there, lagged, and asked if there was anything safe and non-narcotic to give me energy. I tried it [Modafinil] and I think I tried it before in college. Chemically, it does something with the synapses in your neurals that make you think you’re tired. Your brain is saying, “Yo, you need sleep,” and Modafinil shuts that off. It makes your brain think that you are not tired.

Are you sober these days?

Yeah, three years. I have made a “pact” a few times in my life, and for me I realized that I am the type of personI am not preaching, it’s for methat I am either 100-percent on or 100-percent off [drugs]. It’s easy access as a touring musician; you can easily fall into the normality of everyone else doing it.

Is that a problem in the music scene?

It’s a problem in society. As I stepped out of it, I saw more of the sheepish nature of alcohol advertisingit’s such a front when you see a liquor ad. It’s always a guy in a suit, glass of whatever with a girl. It’s such marketing shit to try and get people who are either too weak to realize the ploy, or people who think it’s a good way to let off some steam. Again, I don’t judge; some people can handle it well, but a lot of people can’t, and from an early age we’re given this imagery of this being cool. I bought into that so muchthe mystique of alcohol. Now that I stopped, I pulled the wool out from my eyes. And the money…

Let’s make this clear: Matthew Dear is not a preacher!

I preach to myself!

Alright, Tegan and Sara, it’s understood that they like your music and you like theirs, and that’s how the Bunny collaborations happened. What did those two singles do for each of your careers? You got Tegan and Sara fans being turned on to you and Matthew Dear fans checking into them…

Obviously, I benefit more from that; they’re more popular. But, I have gleaned the chatter from some of their fans. I talked to Sara a lot more…our personal collaborations came via the Internet through management. I had done a remix of “I Was a Fool” from their album Heartthrob [2013] and “Now I’m All Messed Up” is my favorite song of theirs. I love their first big single, “Walking with a Ghost” [off 2004’s So Jealous]. That blew me away; I have know about them since day one.

When I saw Greg Ahee [guitarist of Protomartyr] credited on Bunny, it kind of threw me for a loop. Detroit homeboys?

We just met two years ago through Seth Troxler, a DJ from Detroit. He knew Greg from a high school reunion or something. Greg came to work with me and Seth at my home studio, seeing the way I worked, and he said, “Oh, well, this is awesome, would you ever want to record a band?” Yeah, let’s go. So, he came back with Protomartyr like six months later and we recorded a few songs. Then, from there, he came back to work on my stuff; we forged a good relationship. Those Protomartyr tracks are unreleased; they’ll probably come out in the future.

Are you going to produce the next Protomartyr LP?

I don’t think so. [Laughs] But I love that band.

Finally, Mr. Dear, whether it’s “Bunny’s Dream” or an actual dream, are you currently living the dream?

Yes, 100-percent! I make music for a living; people support me, buying my music and coming to see me play; I have an amazing house with a family, two cars, three kids, the American Dream. I can do what I want for a living, travel and meet peopleit’s a great life.

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January 1st 2019

Good interview and music producer. I like listen it.