“The music reflects what I’m ingesting in my life,” Dear tells Billboard. “It’s very much about me and my exploring and how I’m putting it all together.”
Ahead of the album, the producer and DJ is sharing “Horses,” a lush track featuring three-time collaborators Tegan and Sara, exclusively via Billboard today (Sept. 18).
The song is a long time coming. Dear, who now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., first met the pop duo through one of his managers during the album cycle for their 2013 album Heartthrob. “They were like, ‘Oh, we love Matt!’ and I was like, ‘No way, they actually know who I am,’” Dear recalls. The artists then teamed up with the singers for a cover of Tears For Fears’ “Pale Shelter” later that year, and intended to collaborate again on an original track for their 2017 album Love You To Death.
It didn’t work out, but as Dear readied his own new album, the stars aligned. He released the uptempo duet titled “Bad Ones” featuring the duo in August 2017, and fans were in for another treat when a second collaboration was revealed as part of the track list for Bunny roughly a year later.
Listen to their “Horses” collab below, and check out the rest of our Q&A with Matthew Dear below.
How did “Horses” come together?
I had the instrumental for “Horses” [first], and I was like, “Would you guys want to do this?” And Sara’s like, “Yeah, of course. This is awesome.” So she wrote some stuff and I gave her a few of the lyrics I had done. She wrote a few extra things and then they sent me the vocals in literally two days. And they were on tour and getting over some bad flu. But being such professionals that they are, they were like, “We’ll cut the vocals and send them to you.” I was like, “Wow, thank you.” It was so cool. They’re so awesome. They’re such pop artists, they know everything. So that was “Horses.”
What’s the meaning behind it?
“Horses” are another thing in my life, such as when we get in fights, or through the ups and downs, you just want to be like two horses standing in a field, shoulder to shoulder, looking out at nothing. I think horses are very meditative in the sense that they’re okay with everything. Most animals are, but horses have a way of looking so majestic when they stand. So I’m kind of like, “Fuck, I wish I could just be a horse, you know? This majestic, beautiful animal that understands you have to sometimes stand in a field and look at the horizon.”
Does it relate to your relationship with your wife at all?
It’s a pretty traditional love song where there’s a narrative in that sense, which I had never done before. [Sings] “We have horses on our courses/ We’re remorseless for what we’ve done.” People fuck up and have problems and there’s ups and downs to every long-term relationship. And even though it happens, we’re still good.
Part of it’s about me. But it gets a little darker in the sense of, “And I know one day baby, I’ll find you gone/ But the day I’m gonna love you, the day will never come.” So that’s when it takes a step, like, that’s not really happening with [my real relationship]. There are moments where, in a song, the first three lines are very much about my life, the second three are me imagining something, and the last line is something that will never happen, but it really fits the first two lines.
Was there anything different about the writing process for this song?
There are two songs on this album, “Horses” and “Calling,” that I wrote on piano and I’d never done that before. I really wanted to write Randy Newman style — you lay the chords, you sing the song. So I got the chords down first and they turned into other stuff, but the original was based on really simple piano melody.
There’s a second Tegan and Sara collaboration titled “Bad Ones” on Bunny, which you released last year. How did that one come about?
“Horses” was such a behemoth, it took me so long. I think I had 12 versions of that song. But we [Tegan and Sara and I] finished it so quickly and effortlessly that I got greedy. I’m like, “I got this other song, would you be into it?” I sent the “Bad Ones” instrumental and [Sara’s] like, “Here you go!” the next day. That song didn’t have any melody or anything, and she sent back that. I was like, “You gotta be kidding me. I think this is the song that we should start with, and I’ll save ‘Horses’ for later.” So “Bad Ones” was sort of a side fluke and a surprise for everybody.
Are there any other features on the album we should look out for?
There’s another song with Simian Mobile Disco, and a song with Ricardo Villalobos. He did some stuff on “Before I Go,” which is really cool. Big love to Greg Ahee from Protomartyr for being my voice of reason and musical springboard for the last two months of the album. He played that “Bunny’s Dream” lick with some new effects boxes that I had, and just nailed it. I was like, “That’s it!”
Apart from “Bad Ones” and “Horses,” you’ve released a few more tracks, including “Bunny’s Dream.” What does that song mean to you?
I’m so happy it was first and it does represent my next step musically. I’ve never felt more present and connected with the music and the imagery and the songs that are actually being released at the same time as the way I feel. There are a lot of times where it’s really delayed, or I’ve moved on, or started working on other stuff, but these songs are still very fresh and present in my life and that’s really cool. So every time I hear “Bunny’s Dream,” I’m like, “Wow, that’s still me, I feel very connected to that.”
I feel like “Echo” has to have an interesting story behind it. What’s that one about?
I kind of wrote it about the weird, disjointed youth of this town Monticello [when I was living in upstate New York]. I didn’t know any of these kids, but you can see economic fallout all around, kind of like the Gummo world — and what we know as the opioid crisis, but back then it wasn’t really labeled as such. So I just had this idea of this kid from Monticello [named Echo] acting like a tough punk and running around, and he has this girlfriend named Bunny. The song “Echo” always makes me think of the one night I had a vision to write a musical about Monticello children and gangs and stuff.
I wrote it on the day that Lou Reed died and I didn’t realize that until the next day or so. And I was like, “Oh, shit.” That song could basically be about Lou Reed. He could be Echo. It had that cool Iggy Pop/Lou Reed drum beat to it. It’s kind of a weird little channeling. So it was a posthumous eulogy, written in reverse.
On “Bunny’s Dream” and many other songs on the album, you provide the vocals. How did you create your distinct singing style?
I’m not a trained vocalist or singer. I’ve always used my vocals more as a rhythmic additive. They’re there to sit in between the music as they can. “Bunny’s Dream” was actually instrumental up until the very end and that’s why it’s only a few words, “You and I in this world of you.”
With my vocals, I layer deep, and high, and middle. It’s something I’ve always loved, like hearing doubled vocals as a kid. The Beatles, Nirvana — it just has that real thick wall of sound and I think it makes my voice sound better than it is when I can layer it out. I pick these little mantric things that can fit in and out of the melody well. And I don’t have a lot of key changes in my songs, so that helps.
Are people ever surprised when they find out it’s you singing? That’s not very traditional for a lot of DJs.
I think people know more now than they used to. I’ve always walked a weird line because I am a traditional electronic artist in the sense that I came up in the scene, my first records were 12-inch vinyls of dance music, I love to DJ and I still do. I play house and techno when I DJ. I play in quintessentially techno environments. But then when I grab a microphone and I put out an album, that’s when everything hits the fan and people are like, “What? I thought…” It’s always a struggle but I think I’m better with it, getting older.
You have two daughters and a son. Were they all born since the last album?
Yeah. I kinda realized that. Everyone’s asking, “Where you been?” “I don’t know.” And then my wife’s like, “You had two kids!” and I’m like, “Oh, yeah!” My two daughters are actually at the very end [of the album]. There’s this little extra clip of an outro that I kept them on.
How else have they influenced your work?
Sometimes I submit for commercial projects. I got a blanket request for some new Peppa Pig songs. I’m sure we’re not going to get it, but it was a really cool experience. We all came down as a family, and my wife has a Master’s in elementary education, so she’s well-versed in how to connect with kids and stuff. My kids just know that’s a pig. I’m so happy with how [the songs] turned out, regardless of if they get picked up or get heard by the right people.
I wanted to touch on the aesthetic of the album and singles art, which is satisfyingly consistent.
Michael Cina is the man. It’s a very long, laborious process that I love to be very much involved in. We got together and asked, “How can we do something different? How can we do an album cover a little differently?”
It took a lot longer to get this one right, because Cina and I have a close relationship, so it’s like friends bouncing back and forth. Sometimes I’ll be like, “That’s it!” And he’s like, “No, that’s not quite it.” Finally, it came back to the concept that he’d come up with for the first singles. That vibe is so perfect and it’s very tangible, it’s very like the word “bunny.” The word itself is very important to me. The word is fat and soft and it makes you think things. It’s such a bloated word and then when you see it in that kind of raised, embossed stuff that he’s doing in the studio — he physically does that, he makes it and then he photographs it for the art.
So it’s not digital in a sense. He’s a graphic designer but he’s also very razor-and-tape. He loves to get out the X-Acto knife and make things old school-style and photograph them. So that was that and it turned out pretty cool.
Do you have any visual plans?
I just shot a video in El Paso. I had a show in Houston and Dallas, and this guy Rik Cordero who is kind of an up-and-coming commercial director — his last video was an Action Bronson video — wrote me out of the blue saying, “Hey, I got this new camera, I’d love to shoot some stuff.” And then I reached out to this guy Gabe who’s been doing these really cool Instagram videos of himself exploring with his body, and doing almost meditative movement where you let your body and mind go, and it’s also dancing, and I was like, “That would look really cool in a video.”
Rik got on a flight, and Gabe set up some locations for us. We ended up going to this cool pawn shop, and it was just this day of three guys running around. I felt as if I finally got to make my ‘90s Sonic Youth video or something. I felt like I was a skater kid running around with a camera, filming a bunch of stuff that we thought was cool. No schedule, just three people with ideas. Gabe and Rik are very good at what they do, and the energy’s there. I think Rik’s editing it now, so hopefully it will come out before the album.
You’re also reissuing ’s Black City on vinyl.
The more I listen to that album, the more I like it. I think I’m getting far enough away from my albums where I can hear them now completely; out of the context of the person that made them. They’re little time shots of my life. It’s wild, because my brain doesn’t think like that anymore. But it’s cool listening to them as a spectator. Black City has such a good, organic, dark city vibe. I was just buying my first big musical equipment at that time, my studio gear, so I think it’s still very simple. It was me finally flexing my gear muscle and putting it back together.
Who would you love to collaborate with next?
I would definitely like to work with an MC at some point. I wanted Danny Brown on “Horses,” and I don’t know why I felt as though I could leave it for an MC. I just felt like he would be a really cool, weird — if we had Danny Brown, Tegan and Sara and me, it would just be like, what the fuck’s going on in the world? It would be awesome.
Finally, can we expect more tour dates?
I’d love to. It’s expensive. There was a time in the last few years where every October through December, every band had an album out, every venue was triple-booked, it’s just so much. I’m like, “Who says we’ve gotta throw our name in that ring? Let’s give them shows whenever they want.” So that’s the goal. I’ve reached out more on social media, getting vibes from people about where they want me to be. I just want to go where — even if its a 50-person show — if they really wanna see me, I want to go there. Just bring my little setup and play in someone’s living room.
11.1 Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre
11.2 Los Angeles, CA @ 1720
11.3 Austin, TX @ Empire Control Room
11.4 Portland, OR @ Holocene
11.8 San Francisco, CA @ Public Works
11.9 Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw
11.11 Seattle, WA @ Nectar
11.15 Chicago, IL @ Sleeping Village
11.16 Brooklyn, NY @ National Sawdust