Words by David C. Obenour
The Undercover Dream Lovers is Matt Koenig. Primarily on his own, he has written, produced and mixed almost every song under that moniker, in addition to playing most all of the instruments. Without any label support, this has gotten Koenig on tours with Parcels, Her’s, STRFKR, and L’impératrice, in addition to performing at last year’s Tropicalia Festival.
Even more impressive is that he has amassed this level of success before even releasing his debut album, It’s All In Your Head – out later this week. With solid groove bass lines, and patient and hushed melodies, the songs bring the gap between contemporary indie pop and the classic influences of four decades prior. Time, like this record, is a flat circle, but each spin reveals something new beneath danceable rhythms.
Off Shelf: You’ve been based in Pittsburgh, New York and Los Angeles now. Can you talk about what each city has meant to your evolution as a musician?
Matt Koenig: Pittsburgh is where I grew up, and had my first experiences playing in bands and at house shows. My interest in music definitely started there. I was also exposed to a lot of more established indie bands like Modest Mouse, Dr. Dog, and Animal Collective. New York is where I really developed more of a craft with production and started to pursue music professionally after a two-year hiatus from writing and recording. In Los Angeles I feel like my technique blossomed more fully and I began to collaborate with other musicians. Also, the live show really came together and I was able to reflect more of the production I had created over the years in the show.
OS: Did you perform most all of the instruments on It’s All In Your Head?
MK: I performed the vast majority of the instruments on the record. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of learning how to play all the different instruments and being self-sufficient when writing songs. On this record, there are a few collaborations. Dent May sang and played guitar on ‘Soon Enough.’ Erick Eiser [from Hornsbee] played keys/synth on ‘You Don’t Have to be Lonely.’ Matt Schellenberg and Matt Peters [of Deadmen/Royal Canoe] played keys, bass, and some synth on ‘Chardonnay’ and Jakob Bjorn Hansen aka Bearson made the beat and added some textural synths to ‘Up All Night.’
OS: What instruments do you feel most and least comfortable and how do you think that’s shaped your music?
MK: I think now they’re all pretty equivalent, at least in the sense that I feel comfortable and excited to write with any of the instruments I generally use. I haven’t played drums or bass at a show before so those might be more nerve-racking if I was to ever try to do them live, but as far as recording I feel pretty equally comfortable with all of them. I think because of my background on guitar I was able to transition pretty naturally to bass. Drums are probably my least technical instrument but I have become comfortable with them enough that I can always start off a recording via tracking a beat and some fills which has changed my writing process because I used to start a new track with programmed beats.
OS: Can you talk about bringing in Dent May?
MK: Since moving to LA I have had a pretty open mind about getting together with people and working on stuff. I had met Dent around at a few different parties and really liked his vibe so we just kind of decided to work on something together. Also he had written a song I really liked called ‘Do You Think About Baby’ with my friend Leo from Joey Joey Micheals, who also plays in my band for the live show.
OS: I read that a lot of the new songs started out with drums, can you talk about what lead you to that and how it shaped the album?
MK: I never owned a drum kit in New York. I got one in LA and started practicing drums a lot more. I kinda feel like everything should lock into the drums and I used to have this problem where I’d start with beats and after I tracked everything else I’d get a friend to record drums at the end. It always seemed to change up the feel and would be a lot of tedious editing to get the flow right again after. It wasn’t that it was bad, it just felt different from the original idea. So I’ve found it to be a nice workflow to just start with tracking the drums.
OS: Performing live, do you have a set band?
MK: In New York it changed a lot based on their availability, but since moving to LA I’ve been able to keep it to the same group. I did, however, go from a 4 piece to a 5 piece sometime in the second half of last year.
OS: I imagine touring indie music clubs and playing dance music that you get a number of different kinds of audiences. Do you have an ideal audience for a show? What has a challenging one taught you?
MK: It doesn’t really matter to me so long as it’s a good vibe and people are enjoying themselves. It can be pretty fun though when we play with another band like when we toured with Parcels or L’imperatrice and the night just turns into a big dance party by the end of the show.
OS: It’s All In Your Head was recorded at your home studio, I’m just curious – for the sound that you have – what aspects did you like about home recording and are there any that you would look forward to given the opportunity to record in a commercial studio?
MK: I think the biggest pro of the home studio is that I can go at whatever speed feels good. I think the longest day I’ve done was like 16 hours, but usually I like to do 10-12 hour sessions when I feel like something’s cooking and I’m in the zone. That can be hard to predict too, so it’s nice to be able to walk upstairs and just get totally immersed in it when it feels right. But yeah, I’m totally game for working in commercial studios as well. I book sessions sometimes with people who have way more legitimate studios and it’s always a blast. It’s really just a different workflow and pace.
OS: It’s All In Your Head has a really cool album cover – can you tell us a little more about it?
MK: Thanks! It was done by Aaron Lowell. He’s a fantastic artist and really nailed the cover. We chatted about ideas for a while over the phone and the idea of the bed with something surreal going on was I’d been toying with for a while and I think we both just liked a desert as a background. There were some other ideas floating around but I think keeping it simple just ended up feeling right.
OS: I also think it’s interesting that looking at the cover, you feel like the album could fit alongside an album from the 60s, 70s or 80s. Was that any part of the thinking?
MK: Besides wanting to try an illustration for a cover. I really just let Aaron’s style and ability run with it. He said he was listening to the record a lot while he made it. He thought it reflected it nicely and I totally agree. But I don’t think we were intentionally trying to emulate another era or anything.