Peeling back the proverbial covers of producer/multi-instrumentalist Matt Koenig’s Brooklyn-based outfit The Undercover Dream Lovers yields layers of rich interplay. Burbling bass lines move like liquid through the shimmer of guitars and piano. Beneath it all, laid-back yet driving rhythms help keep the pulse from straying too far into more ambient waters. But that’s precisely the careful balance that renders Koenig’s distinctive blend of DIY dreamy pop so unique; the listener is awash with synths and vocals that sound a million miles away, yet the whole thing is whispered right in your ear, with an intimacy that is simultaneously immediate and lulling. It’s like waking up in a comfortable dream and realizing that you can dance again.
It’s hard to believe with such subtle attention to sound design that Koenig has only been producing and writing music with The Undercover Dream Lovers for a couple of years, but during that period he’s grown exponentially as both a songwriter and recording artist. Earlier cuts that possessed a degree of grit have since morphed into sound palettes that are smooth and polished invitations. And if such rapid growth is any indication, 2017 is going to be a great year for the band.
BTRtoday sat down with Koenig to talk about his music and dreams for the new year.
BTRtoday (BTR): You’re a self taught writer and producer, which seems to be a road to self discovery for many artists. Has going the “solo” route shown you freedom in exploration and experimentation?
Matt Koenig (MK): Definitely. It’s really good to be able to go at my own pace. Whether it’s having momentum and going quickly through ideas, or slowly figuring out a mixing technique. Plus I’ve always thought the best way to learn something is to first try it out yourself and then afterwards compare it to what other people with more experience do, or what the “proper way” to do it would be.
BTR: Where do you look in life to find the most inspiration for your music?
MK: I just really enjoy working on songs. It really doesn’t take too much to get my creative juices flowing. If I feel like if I’m lacking on lyrical content I just try and think about people around me and grab words that feel good at the time and just go with it.
BTR: How does a song typically take form? Each one is rich with layers of sound. Do you begin with a melody, or is it more abstract than that?
MK: Generally I build a verse or a chorus with a rhythm over a beat. The rhythm is usually guitar or piano. After that, it could be anything. I just try out melodies. Could be a vocal, or a bass line, or a guitar hook–really anything. I kind of just play hot potato with my instruments until something I like is generated. However I did start “Good Luck” with the piano melody in the intro.
Courtesy of Koenig.
BTR: Do you find yourself returning to recurring themes or ideas, lyrically?
MK: Yes and no. I generally start with an improvised melody and a lot of the same words seem to find their way into what I’m doing. After that, I take it to pen and paper and try to come up with something a little more unique. I’m never really sure what is going to come out and a lot of the time I just trust that it’ll work out. I do a lot of “he said she said” stuff lately though. I’m trying to be a bit more aware of lyrical content and the patterns they create and challenge myself to mix it up but not overthink it at the same time. It can be tricky but also rewarding when it works out.
BTR: The release show at Baby’s Alright for your debut EP “While It’s In Style” last April also happened to be the band’s first performance. What was that like?
MK: It was awesome! It was my first NYC show and first show in about two years as a performer. We had six players in the band that night and the build-up to the performance was really exciting. When it comes to show time I always have the attitude that I want to have as much fun as I can. A lot of the time it’s hard to get enough rehearsal time in so there have been moments when I’m a little unsure of how the show might turn out. But, if I let those worries go and just tell myself it’ll be a great show it generally ends up that way. I feel that’s kind of how the first show went.
“There are always fluctuations and sometimes I feel like I’m still not as good as I want to be at certain things, which leads to me being motivated to get better at those things. I’m constantly developing my workflow.”
BTR: How does the live band compare to your solo process? Do you find that the songs transform at all or take on new life with the addition of Galen Gatzke and Sarah Galdes?
MK: So far, they have enriched the tunes and taught me a ton. A lot of the first songs I did I had very little reference to what they might turn into live. Bringing in players definitely gave the songs a rebirth and gave me a ton of ideas for the songs I’ve been working on the past few months.
BTR: Tell me a little bit about those songs that you’ve been working on. How do they compare to past releases like “While It’s in Style” and “Good Luck?”
MK: It (the record) still has the core feeling that I’ve been trying to fine-tune for the Dream Lovers. But I guess I’d describe them as more polished and smooth instrumentally. I really tried to give every second of the songs more uniqueness. There was a lot of copy/paste in “While its in Style” and I’ve learned how much life a song can have the more takes you do live.
Courtesy of Alexander Harris.
BTR: What kind of creative headspace were you in for the writing of it?
MK: Mostly positive. There are always fluctuations and sometimes I feel like I’m still not as good as I want to be at certain things, which leads to me being motivated to get better at those things. I’m constantly developing my workflow. If I say I’m going to work on a song I can sit down and come up with something I like that’s usable. So I guess I’d say my headspace was fairly focused. The biggest thing that slows me down is getting distracted researching techniques and improving workflow when what I should be focusing on is arranging content.
BTR: What’s in store for the Undercover Dream Lovers in 2017?
MK: New songs, music videos lots of shows including SXSW and Savannah Stop Over Festival!