The US R&B auteur blackbear (aka Matthew Musto) may make lonely, melancholy and nihilistic music for the digital age, but he is a funny dude. Granting a rare interview from Los Angeles via Zoom, Musto requests for it to be audio-only. But, no bratty celebrity, he jokes about looking “ratchet” in quarantine.
Today Musto is a multi-faceted superstar – a singer, rapper, songwriter and producer – yet even his loyal fans – ‘cubs’ – deem him underrated. So he approached his new album, everything means nothing, unleashed in two parts, as an ambitious pop project rivalling The Weeknd post-Starboy.
Hailing from working-class Florida, Musto launched his career as a high schooler, fronting the buzz emo-punk band Polaroid. He then went solo, apprenticing for Ne-Yo in Atlanta. Musto released music under his own name before transforming himself into blackbear, the cloud rap crooner. Ironically, his break came as the co-writer of Justin Bieber’s 2012 smash ‘Boyfriend’ alongside pal (and, later, mansionz partner) Mike Posner.
Musto now has a massive discography – airing five albums alone since 2015, beginning with the independent deadroses. He enjoyed his first crossover hit with 2017’s ‘do re mi’, from digital druglord – soliciting Gucci Mane for a remix. There have been other credible collabs and features: Musto graced a remix of Billie Eilish’s ‘Ocean Eyes’ and, latterly, joined YUNGBLUD on Marshmello’s ‘Tongue Tied’ and elevated Ellie Goulding’s ‘Worry About Me’. He contributed production to Linkin Park’s One More Night.
Already everything means nothing has generated a viral hit in ‘hot girl bummer’ – the anti-club song issued in August 2019 and apparently prompted by hashtagging, not conceived as an answer record to Megan Thee Stallion’s anthem. Musto largely worked with his longtime co-producer, Andrew “FRND” Goldstein. The biggest guest is Lauv on ‘if i were u’. But, while Musto plays with an electro-pop sound, his personality radiates through – the singer frequently slyly trolling pop culture trends.
The 29-year-old has endured personal tribulations, citing mental health concerns. In 2016 Musto was treated for chronic pancreatitis arising from alcohol abuse – and he had more surgery this past week, soon after performing with Machine Gun Kelly on the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) pre-show. However, in late January, Musto welcomed a son, Midnight, with his fitness trainer girlfriend Michele Maturo – and the optimism of young fatherhood seeps into everything means nothing.
Musto toured Australia over summer, taking in Perth’s Origin Fields – his final run prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. “I love my Aussie fans and I can’t wait to be back,” he enthuses to Music Feeds. “You guys have awesome burgers!”
Music Feeds: I hope you’re holding up OK in these very strange times!
Blackbear: It is strange, to say the least. I think I’m holding up OK. I just have a message to all the other Americans: to stop being so dumb and wear the mask and please just stop travelling to other countries. Oh my gosh – like I just want this to be over with.
Music Feeds: Well, it’s no time since you were in Australia – in January – and that was such an amazing show. What do you remember from that tour
Blackbear: I remember I had great pyro – we had flames. We had the best flames. I wish I could show you the picture right now. There’s a picture with me, just engulfed in flames. It was my last idea of what a festival feels like. [It] was Bay Dreams [in] New Zealand, and Australia. I mean, if it was my last show, it was a good last show. Let’s hope it’s not, though.
Music Feeds: Congratulations on this new album, everything means nothing. I love how you’re always evolving and it’s always something new from you. It sounds right for this time. I don’t know how you’ve managed to pre-empt that. Where was your head at when you wrote and recorded these songs?
Blackbear: You know, I was kind of in a weird, dark place. But I think my previous albums, I was dark and emo and couldn’t pull myself out of it. So I was just like, “I’m gonna cry about it and you guys are gonna listen to it.” And, then, this album is like, “I’m gonna persevere. I’m gonna pull myself out of this hole. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m gonna dance through the tears.” So that’s what this whole premise of everything means nothing is surrounded by.
Music Feeds: You’ve described the album as being like “playlist music”. How did you develop this new pop sound – because it’s still edgy and it’s still you?
Blackbear: Yeah, Andrew Goldstein and I were the sole two people that worked on the entire album – and it’s just basically us in an Airbnb, except for a few songs. There’s maybe two or three more collaborators, four more collaborators, that came in just on the songs that [have] features.
We developed the sound just based as a product of our environment – like we both grew up in pop-punk bands and we both have a love for cheesy, sappy pop music as well.
So we really just stuck to what we’re fans of, truthfully. I mean, in ‘sobbing in cabo’, we modelled the guitar tones after The Smiths or Morrissey. There’s just different things that we brought in. All our clean guitar tones, we wanted to be like Red Hot Chili Peppers. Yeah, I think it’s a mixture of what I would wanna hear on a playlist, for sure.
Music Feeds: A lot of fans have noted that ‘if I were u’ (featuring Lauv) sounds a little bit like a flip on Taylor Swift’s vibe, very early on. Was she an influence?
Blackbear: Yeah, I think she’s definitely an influence. I feel like, when I first went solo, and I first was going as “Mat Musto” and I was making acoustic music, it kind of sounded like ‘if I were u’. A lot of people that have heard it and have heard my really, really, really old music – like dinosaur music – they say, “This sounds like a Mat Musto song.” So it’s very much like my pop roots, for sure.
Music Feeds: Musicians often say that between projects they need to step away to “live” – but you are a workaholic. How do you actually get inspiration?
Blackbear: I bring my entire family with me (laughs). Our style is we rent a nice house, usually – because my studio is being worked on at the moment. So we rent a nice house, like an Airbnb, and then I move my entire family into it. We all get rooms and whatever it is. The baby’s there and my girl is there and my brother comes and my manager comes… We keep a level of living and working [that’s] very like – what’s the word? Co-adapted.
Music Feeds: I was going to ask how family life had changed that, but it sounds like you’ve adapted really easily. It’s just like extending your team.
Blackbear: It co-exists very easily, yeah. Everybody in this house is very supportive of what I’m doing and my dreams. I couldn’t ask for anything more; just the support, I’m so grateful.
Music Feeds: I imagine also that this lockdown period has given you a chance to be creative. Maybe you’re even starting some new projects. Have you made any progress on a Slipknot collab?
Blackbear: I just told my publisher there’s a list of people I wanna work with… I’m hoping that somehow maybe they’ll read it and they’ll be like, “Huh – that sounds weird. Maybe we’ll try it.” I just hope they know that I’ll bring something crazy to the table!
Music Feeds: Things seem really unsettled in the US. You’ve got the pandemic, protests, and then a very full-on Presidential campaign. I wondered what role you see artists (or celebrities) playing generally amid that sort of social volatility? Some artists feel that they should step away from that because they see their role as entertainers, but others feel they should use their platform. I’m not sure if there’s always a right or a wrong there. What do you think?
Blackbear: Well, I think I take the same stance as you. I’m not sure if there’s a right or wrong. But, at the same time, there is a responsibility you have, if you have all these followers and all these things, and you do see something wrong that’s happening. I think you do have a responsibility – if you know that there’s something wrong, you need to voice it. So I stand firmly on that. I could never just sit there and watch something horrible happen and not do something about it, you know? I’m a fighter at the end of the day. I’m a lover and a fighter.
Music Feeds: ‘Hot girl bummer’ is a commentary on social media culture – and a lot of people find that stressful. What advice would you give to your fans and to other young artists coming up on how to handle social media and especially trolls?
Blackbear: Oh, well, the best advice I could give is: you really don’t know who’s saying what; if it’s somebody you know, maybe it’s somebody posing as someone you know. There’s just so many trolls on the Internet… I think that there’s a huge difference, by the way, [between] a bully and an Internet troll.
I think that a troll can just be joking and playing [with] memes and there’s non-harmful things. And then there’s people who literally are trying to get under someone’s skin and trying to get them to click on it and just trying to get that satisfaction. So I would just say, “Do not give someone the satisfaction of responding if it’s something negative, because you have more positive things that you can focus on, I’m sure.”
Music Feeds: What is next for you? Because obviously touring isn’t an option. But you seem imaginative enough to get around that!
Blackbear: We’re doing a [live streamed] concert at The [Hollywood] Roosevelt – it’s called “blackbear in the lobby of The Roosevelt”. I get to kind of film two or three songs at a time and then move to the roof and play some songs and then move to the pool, play some songs…It’s gonna be a wild experience that we wanna put on for the fans. It’ll be a cheap ticket price – we’re hoping like US$10. So it’ll be really sick!
blackbear has announced a virtual concert this October 22nd, performing live from Hollywood’s iconic Roosevelt Hotel. Tickets are available now via a Spotify fan pre-sale, with general on-sale beginning September 9th at momenthouse.com. ‘Everything Means Nothing’ is out now.