No one makes music like Matthew Dear, which is a fact the Ann Arbor-based musician has wholeheartedly embraced. “I make music strictly for people who like my music,” he Tweeted back in May, and his forthcoming Bunny is another notch proving as such. The album fits perfectly within the songwriter/DJ/lecturer’s discography, which is silky, deranged and darkly humorous, the aural equivalent of a murderous clown.
On Bunny, Dear strips away some of the bright melodicism that made Beams and Black City starkly affecting albums when they were released in 2012 and 2010, respectively. Bunny is more attuned to textures and noise, with Dear backing his signature baritone voice with vocal samples, industrial-style drums and harsh waves of noise. Tegan & Sara are the only guests on the album — featured twice — and as such, Bunny is an uninterrupted, unrelenting post-disco opus that serves as a reminder of Dear’s skill and innovation as a precise crafter of dance floor subversion.
While Dear has been relatively quiet for the past six years, he’s kept busy, working with Microsoft and GE on sound bank projects and linking up with DJ Kicks for an entry in their ongoing series. It’s not the glamorous life of a rockstar, but Dear’s been working the entire time, writing new songs every night after his children go to bed and teaching University of Michigan students about the terrifying realities of the music industry. All the while, he churned out another consistently riveting record with Bunny. It may not reach the audience his music should but, then again, Matthew Dear makes music for people who love Matthew Dear. That union only gets stronger with the unique power of Bunny.
VMP: How long have you been in Ann Arbor for?
Matthew Dear: I moved back from New York in 2014. My wife and I went to school here back in the 2000s. After she got her master’s degree we moved to New York. We did New York for seven years, the city for five and upstate for two. We started having our own kids and decided that upstate New York was a little too remote and isolated. We moved back here and I think this [is] probably where we’ll stay for the rest of our lives.
What do you love about Ann Arbor?
It’s as well balanced of a town as you can get in terms of demographics and education. It’s like the smartest small town in America. And I don’t say that like, ‘Hey, we’re so smart,’ but they did a per capita study and based on the amount of education and educated people here it’s highly educated. Not that I want to rub elbows with professors and doctors, but overall, that promotes a very liberal, open-minded environment. It’s just a smart — not oppressive or offensive — community. When the top is educated and nice — not trying to be anti-immigrant, anti-diversity — it makes for a really wonderful environment.
Is there much of a music scene out there?
There’s always a little bit. I’m actually gonna be doing my second year as a lecturer at University of Michigan’s School of Music. I do a class on the recording industry and the way it changes. I took it over for another Ghostly artist, Jeremy Peters [licensing and publishing], and he handed me the class. It was really fun last year, and they asked me to come back. It’s a mini course, but I get to meet the kids that are into stuff and want to do stuff. There’s that young, youthful energy. But the permanent music scene is smaller than when I was an undergrad, it seems. I think those kids just move to Detroit. But there is probably more now than in the middle of the last 10 years. With housing costs, it’s too expensive to live in big cities. So you’re getting a return to the Midwest and small-town life. All the kids living in Detroit, doing the fun, grungy, loft stuff — which I did in my 20s — tend to move back when they get older and have kids; just rock ’n’ roll families (laughs).
Maybe the music scene can compete with the football team for popularity.
I actually got to go on the field two weeks ago! There was an open practice. We brought the whole family. My daughters were running around; it was great. The last time I had been on that field was as a freshman in undergrad. We beat Ohio State. I’m not a crazy football person, but to have Charles Woodson on my team, winning the National Championship as a freshman was pretty cool. We beat Ohio State, I rushed the field with everybody and I got pepper sprayed as soon as I stepped on the field.
You recently said that you make music for people that like your music, which makes a lot of sense when considering your style. What does the freedom of not chasing fans allow you to do?
That was one of my favorite Tweets (laughs). I don’t think I ever chased fans, which was great, but I think I’m just more comfortable with the fact that that’s the case. When you’re young, you make music and you know that it’s weird and it’s not gonna connect with everyone. But at the same time, you’re still a little bit upset that people don’t get it. Whereas now, being 39, I’ve had three kids since my last album! I was like, “Fuck, what have I been doing?” but my wife pointed out that I had three kids. I’m like, “Oh yeah! Good point.” That changes everything. Now I’m like, “Nobody gets it, and that’s cool.” I just don’t care. But the more OK I am with that, the more that people get my music because I feel more comfortable. It’s all about perception. I can either sit here and say nobody gets my music and that upsets me, or nobody gets my music and that’s fine because it’s a small club of people. If I’m cool with it, other people get cool with it, too.
I never like to Tweet judgemental or overly opinionated things. I was really anti-social media in the beginning because I didn’t really understand it — I thought it was about who has the loudest bullhorn. Now, though, I see it as a really fun way to spout out shower thoughts. It’s like quips on life that you can just spit out. The only people that are gonna see it are people that have clicked a button to see what I have to say. I’m not shouting at people that don’t want to hear my voice. They’ve put their foot in the door, so I’ve re-assessed the way I look at it.
When did you begin working on this new record?
I think the oldest song is right around the time I was doing press for Beams . I wrote “Echo” and “Calling” around then. That’s how my music goes. There are always a few older songs on my records. It feels good to include these weird throwback songs to show all the sides of my personality and just the ways I’ve changed. I finished a few right before the album was really done. So it spans five or six full years.
Is it tough linking these older songs with newer ones? Or are you so attuned to the overarching themes of the record that it’s easy to fit them all in the same world?
I’m always working backwards. My albums are sort of like Memento, I guess. You write everything and record everything and then go from there. Sometimes I wish I was a more conventional artist where I’d just rent some studio time when it came time to record, but I do a bunch of different things and write throughout it all. At the end, I have 30 songs, and it’s just about whittling down the list. The themes and the vibes just fit together. It’s the finishing that’s the problem, because I could have heard three or four versions of this album. I just spend a lot of time getting it right.
Is recording mostly enjoyable? Or is that a struggle?
The recording process is great. That’s the problem. I love making music so the struggle is in telling myself to stop. The way I work is I’ll come down to my studio around midnight and I’m in no shape to write and finish a song, but I’m able to write a loop, melody or idea. If you start stacking those up, you’ll have about five or six ideas that are great album songs, but then I have 10 other songs that are almost done for the album, so I have to decide between finishing those and doing what’s really fun — making new songs entirely. I get addicted to the creation as opposed to the finishing.
Is there music you’re holding onto? What explains that five year gap considering you were making music during that time?
Well, I did a DJ Kicks mix and toured a lot as a DJ. My main touring during these years is as a DJ. All of a sudden three years have passed. Throw in the kids, moving, building a studio and renovating two houses — I’ve allocated a lot of time to different things. Now that I’m feeling all the songs out and people are hearing it for the first time, I kind of think it was good and I’m really happy I waited as long as I did. But, you know, LCD Soundsystem broke up and got back together since my last album.
It’s interesting that you’ve been able to escape this record, tour, record pattern and forged your own path. What’s allowed you to do it? Is it something specific? Or do you just not engage with that side of the industry?
Definitely DJing and doing other gigs has helped. I’ve done big projects for Microsoft and GE. I’ve had to create these large sound bank libraries. I consider those albums in terms of workload. And those pay the bills for a while. That makes me feel like I’m working. That distorts my reality as a musician of what needs to be done. But I was hitting a point where the more I was touring as a DJ, I realized I was kind of doing the same thing a lot. If I ever get bored with it, it’s time to shift. Time was up in the sense that I needed to shift gears again and let people know that I have all this music as myself. People don’t realize that me as an artist hasn’t gone anywhere. I still make cool songs and loops every night. That it hasn’t been heard or come out is a big deal to my fans. There’s a big disconnect as to how I perceive my career versus the reality of it. I’ve been here the whole time (laughs).
Just because we don’t hear the music doesn’t mean it hasn’t been made.
Yeah, there are tons of comments on my Instagram whenever I post a loop or something from the studio. Right there, I have immediate gratification as an artist. I can share music, they tell me it’s cool, but that’s still a very small sect of people paying attention to me. In my world, with my blinders on, I know these people know I’m working on music. But if you zoom out further, it’s not that big of a group.
Will Schube is a filmmaker and freelance writer based in Austin, TX. When he's not making movies or writing about music, he's training to become the first NHL player with no professional hockey experience whatsoever.