While working on his new EP, Misery Lake, Blackbear knew that there was something off about his song “Ghost Town,” but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He eventually realized the problem: the chorus made more sense for a female vocalist.
Fortunately for Blackbear, finding high-caliber collaborators is child’s play; his producer, Andrew Goldstein, suggested rising pop singer-songwriter Sasha Sloan, and Blackbear thought it was a perfect fit. “So we asked her, and she got on it,” he recalls. “And it just made the song.”
If Blackbear is known for anything at this point in his career, it’s for working with all different types of artists — an ability to move between genres, after starting in the Florida pop-punk band Polaroid, then developing an alternative hip-hop style with a keen sense of pop understanding. In the past year alone, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter has jumped on tracks from Maroon 5, G-Eazy, Mike Posner, Wiz Khalifa, Kane Brown, Mod Sun, Trippie Redd and Dixie D’Amelio.
It helps that Blackbear (born Matthew Musto) is ultra-prolific: in addition to all of his guest spots, he released five albums and a mixtape between 2015 and 2020, culminating in last year’s pop-leaning Everything Means Nothing. The project included his breakthrough solo single, “Hot Girl Bummer” (which peaked at No. 11 on the Hot 100), but he had been making hits long before scoring his own, working under Ne-Yo early in his career and co-writing Justin Bieber’s 2012 hit “Boyfriend,” which reached No. 2.
Over the phone, Blackbear is affable, laughing a lot and talking quickly and excitedly about his work. He has a good sense of humor (“I follow a lot of meme accounts,” he professes) and generally seems like a blast to work with. He frequently compliments his collaborators — “My lyrics don’t even hold a candle to her lyrics,” he says of Sloan, while calling Brown, with whom he made the single “Memory,” “an incredible artist, and an incredible dad.” Unlike artists more comfortable staying within a small group of collaborators, Blackbear is constantly keeping his eye out for potential features, even listening to his fans for ideas for potential team-ups.
Lately, they’ve been suggesting Irish singer-songwriter EDEN. “So if he’s reading, maybe he should reach out and let’s make a song,” Blackbear says with a laugh. “I also want to do a song with Ariana [Grande], so if you’re reading, please get at me — BTS as well. I just really want to collaborate with people I think are talented and I’m going to continue to do that, especially because it’s just fun for me.”
Misery Lake, out Friday (Aug. 13), is, naturally, full of featured artists. In addition to Sloan, Charlie Puth co-produced the electronic-heavy “Bad Day,” after Blackbear guested on Puth’s “Hard On Yourself” last year. Meanwhile, the musically upbeat but lyrically gloomy “IMU” features Travis Barker, whom Blackbear calls “an idol of mine.” And after hearing her hit “You Broke Me First,” Blackbear knew he wanted to collaborate with Tate McRae, who appears on the EP’s lead single, “u love u,” which erupts into a catchy hook. A week after first texting McRae the song, she had finished it.
Yet for all of the guest stars, the EP is about being on your own, and was completed in quarantine. “It’s just feeling alone and isolated, and not seeing your friends and wishing you were around people and just wanting the world to open back up,” Blackbear explains. That sense of isolation — emotionally and physically — permeates the release. On “Ghost Town,” Blackbear sings, “Vacant rooms and empty words are really all I know now.”
“For Everything Means Nothing, I really wanted every song to be a crazy pop song,” says Blackbear of the project that yielded “Hot Girl Bummer,” which he calls “a life-changing record” now. Along with summer-ready songs like “IMU,” Misery Lake contains a mix of darker tracks like “Ghost Town” and “At My Worst” that suggest that Blackbear wasn’t as focused on writing pop songs this time around. “I wanted to go back to my roots a little bit,” he said. “The opening track, ‘Alone in a Room Full of People,’ definitely reminds me of something that would have been on [2017 album] Digital Druglord.”
Misery Lake arrives after Blackbear appeared on two of the biggest rock songs of the last year, All Time Low’s “Monsters” and Machine Gun Kelly’s “My Ex’s Best Friend.” Both tracks claimed the top spot on the Alternative Airplay chart while receiving some pop crossover, and both turned out to be pivotal hits in the current pop-punk resurgence.
“I didn’t veer away from what Blackbear is,” he says of the pair of hits. “I just brought Blackbear to those songs and it worked, which is amazing. It feels really reassuring, and it gets my confidence up to know that I can just be myself on any genre of a record, and it works.”
In addition to coordinating a variety of songs as a lead and featured artist, Blackbear is also balancing his professional life with fatherhood. “There’s this huge piece of my heart that belongs to a little two-year-old now,” he says of his son, Midnight, whom he brings into the studio. He even plans to bring Midnight on tour with him; he’s currently opening for Maroon 5 on the pop group’s North American trek.
“He’s a part of me now, and we’re just buddies,” he says of his son. “That’s why I wanted a kid so bad — just so I can have the best friend ever, and he’s becoming just my best little buddy.”
When asked how he has time to juggle all of his projects along with parenting and touring, Blackbear’s answer is simple. “I just love to make music,” he says, “so any free time I get, I try to just get s–t done.”