The Midwest and electronic music, they go way back — house music came of age in Chicago, techno in Detroit, and the rave scene gestated in abandoned warehouses around our fair cities. Avant-garde electronic producer Matthew Dear, who made his name in Detroit before recently re-locating to New York City, has been a vital part of that history for more than a decade, releasing a string of electronic music staples under his own name as well as the aliases False, Jabberjaw, and Audion, often on his own labels Ghostly International and Spectral Sound. Dear's latest album and seventh overall, 2010's Black City, was called "too good to miss" by URB magazine in a five-star review.
Dear, who has recorded and performed under his own name more and more frequently in the past couple years, is touring his new album with a live band featuring bassist John Gaviglio, drummer Mark Maynard and Greg Paulus on trumpet and synths. He and his cohorts stop by Talbott Street this Sunday, with support from locals John Larner, Taylor Norris and, performing a live PA set, Adam Jay. In between tour stops, Dear took time to discuss his musical past, DJing and producing, and the challenges of moving from the studio to the stage.
NUVO: Your new album, Black City, is a pretty broad affair. There are definitely shades of artists like David Bowie, Bauhaus, Ministry; some early Prince is evident as well. What influenced the direction of the album?
Dear: I moved to New York about three, four years ago and the influence of the city, the surroundings, the people, the way I make music here has definitely changed the way the album sounded. Also, just the collection of more equipment and piecing together a broader collection of analog gear, some processing equipment as well — always further expanding the studio and the things I can do with it — that definitely translated onto this album.
NUVO: The fact that you've got a trumpet player in the live band — I'm trying to wrap my head around it a little bit.
Dear: (laughs) You know, it seems weird but it works so well. There's no trumpet on any of the album, so it was a bit interesting when we brought Greg in to rehearsals. I mean, he's just such a talented player that he kind of creates more of an ambient wash with some effects on his trumpet rather than doing runs and scales. It's more about an atmosphere he brings, and it works perfectly.
NUVO: How does the album translate to live performance?
Dear: It's different. You know, we leave it open for reinterpretation. I think I've always wanted it to be engaging for the guys as well as the audience. I don't want to just rehash the same old stuff. A lot of people say that when it comes to electronic music when they do it live. It's easy to just bring your tracks along from your studio, play them all and sing over them. That's not engaging; it doesn't bring anything new to the stage. When I play with the band, they write new parts. Like I said, there's no trumpet on the album, there's no live drums on the album. We're remixing these songs for a whole new setting. It's really fun to keep changing (the songs) and going back into the rehearsal space and seeing what works and what doesn't work. It's constantly evolving.
NUVO: What are some of your favorite places to play, both as band and as a DJ?
Dear: I think as a venue, in particular, we like to play some place that has a hybridization of genres. You know, there are indie-rock venues that are amazing for certain bands. You can just rock out and get all hot and sweaty, but you couldn't take our project there because we need, maybe some more low-end or more frequency range that the sound system in that venue couldn't get. We have to really be careful where we decide to play because sound is such an issue for electronic stuff. City-wise, it goes without saying — the Midwest is so fanatically in love with electronic music and has been since day one with Detroit and Chicago. I know Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Madison, a lot of these cities are just in love with it, and I have a great time every time I go there to DJ. I'm really looking forward to coming back and bringing the "new thing" with the band and maybe turning some people's ears on to something they haven't seem me do before.
NUVO: And what appeals to you about playing in Indianapolis?
Dear: Like I said, just the respect for the history of the music. There's history there, and people know about it. There's been an extensive rave scene and electronic music scene ever since the mid and early '90s, and I know a lot of people out there that still go out. There are certain cities where you kind of lose touch with a generation. People go through it and maybe burn themselves out. They tie it into the nightlife aspect of it, whereas when I go back to the Midwest, you see the same faces. You see the same people you saw ten years ago, and they're coming out for the music. They love to come out and have a good time, but they don't see it as just a "youth experience" or "Oh, yeah I did that when I was younger, I went out to clubs and listened to techno music." In the Midwest, there always seems to be that (attitude of) "I do this because I respect this music, I respect its history and I'm going to do it even if I have two kids at home with a babysitter. I'm still going to come out and have a good time."
NUVO: The latest single from Black City is "You Put a Smell On Me, a track's been compared quite favorably to Nine Inch Nails "Closer." Where did the inspiration for that track come from?
Dear: I was reading a book called Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein. It's all about the underbelly of modern Tokyo culture in the late '80s, early '90s, with the sex trade and seedy details. There are some really amazing stories in there — really graphic and amazing details, stories you'd never think you'd hear about from Japanese society. I was reading this book and came up with the inspiration for "You Put A Smell On Me." It's about that kind of feeling — that lost, weird sexual tirade going on in a split second in any city in the world. I wrote the lyrics totally ad-lib, and kind of hummed the whole thing, made up half of them just as guttural inflections. I went back later and thought about what I thought I was saying (laughs), just wrote the lyrics based on what I thought I heard. That's how the song came out. If you listen really closely, you can hear a falsetto backing voice. You'll hear that some of the sounds aren't really words and that the baritone voice over it completes the words that weren't really there.