Back with his Big Hands band
Back To Black: Matthew Dear Interview

People find happiness in the most surprising places. Matthew Dear has discovered it smack bang in the middle of his skewed yet funky melancholic pop.

Temporarily taking his music off the club turntables and into a band structure we face, for the second time, his Big Hands band. Having coerced techno into its glitchy revolution, helped build up Ghostly and Spectral to be world class record labels whilst firing out crucial if stripped back 12” records, he’s been more recently found quietly adding wonky pop star to his list of dexterous credentials.

And whilst concept albums often clutter up a band’s twilight discography Dear finds himself making his third LP a concept album, albeit entirely subconsciously. “I just wrote the songs,” he exclaims. “There is no finish line; it’s almost like working backwards. Finish the music and get all the ideas first and then all these life experiences start coming out of the woodwork and start to shape our actions and then the concept comes out.”

The theme is Black City; a Gotham-esque parallel Metropolis privy to all the sex, desires and sadness that Matthew Dear faces in this world. With a trio of other musicians they’ve almost perfectly blended the circuitry of electronic dance with the organic bones of a traditional collaborative band. Even a cursory listen to ‘Black City’ exposes a distinct marriage of sound aesthetics. So, with the hurdle of balance effectively negotiated, what was the next challenge?

“Learning to be a front man and how to be in a band,” confesses the thirty-one-year-old. “The main thing is I don’t want it to be fake. In the past it could’ve backfired in the sense that maybe I didn’t have an act, or this show to give people. So I guess just finding the natural way to be on stage is what’s important to me, and you watch some of the greats like Dave Gahan, Chris Martin and Bowie of course, and it’s showmanship but there’s a very natural flow and you have to find that. People can see if you’re bullshitting.”

‘Black City’ develops the ideas of previous album ‘Asa Breed’ then hurls them forwards. The music has more funk, deeper lyrics and opts for more developed song structures. Overall it’s way more consummate than its predecessor despite its creation being forged in the much more hectic environs of New York; a location that gifted the whole Gotham-inspired concept, as he explains: “It’s a fast city, especially coming from Detroit, which was very isolated, sparse. Living more in that fast pace, that really energetic non-stop environment caused me to write a lot more strained songs. And touring a lot, in Detroit you come back and just sort of unplug but in New York there’s easily something that can fill your day-to-day agenda if you let it. That weight and that strain on your day-to-day life, New York City is a lot more morose and melancholy. I think there’s hope at the end of a lot of songs; it’s dark but with a little sort of wry smile.”

- - -

- - -

Which takes us onto one of Clash’s favourite yet most elusive subjects: melancholia. With Dear’s sad baritone vocals rumbling over his plummeting tones he clearly wrestles with sadness. Quickly dipping into songs such as ‘More Surgery’ we hear him lament: “I’m in love with ghosts / When I feel alone these tired old eyes can masquerade / It’s a gross mistake / I’m a toothless man”. So why does Matthew think that humans are more fascinated with melancholia than the more obvious emotion of happiness?

“It’s certainly an interesting question. People love to be sad!” he laughs. “I think when you’re dark and when you’re unhappy it’s a lot easier for other people who are unhappy to perhaps band together. Melancholy is a more shareable experience, whereas when happiness is shared it comes across as happiness or arrogance - like, ‘I’m happy, you’re not’. And it can be love; love can be melancholy.”

Words by Matthew Bennett
Photo by Will Calcutt


Clash Magazine Issue 53

This article appears in the 53rd issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from August 5th.

Find out more about the issue HERE. Subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.




Follow Clash: