Blackbear: an interview

Ahead of his latest album release, I talk to hit-making sensation Blackbear on his first Father’s Day, a future collaboration with Elton John and his feelings behind making “everything means nothing”.

As we’re all aware of now, 2020 has been a year of many grievances, brutal truths and realisations. Amidst this, people are looking everywhere for positivity and light, whether through memes about our current climate, seeing how our favourite celebrities are coping despite living in mansions the size of an island, and so much more. For Matthew Tyler Musto, otherwise known as ‘blackbear’, it’s been about satirising the seemingly shallow aspects of our concerns and educating ourselves on the significant ones, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. As well as this, blackbear has spent 2020 navigating newfound fatherhood and creating new music for his upcoming album “everything means nothing”—all lowercase, exactly like his name.

His summer defining bop ‘hot girl bummer’ has over a billion streams on Spotify alone, and he’s collaborated with Justin Bieber, Machine Gun Kelly, Linkin Park, G-Easy and Ellie Goulding. Yet, blackbear is an individual who still, as the kids say, “slept on”. The self-made music prodigy has a loyal fanbase and is making waves nonetheless, with Elton John even giving him a call as of recent. So with this in mind, I gave Matthew a ring, and we chatted about all things quarantine, changes and our favourite quotes.

How do you like to be referred to as in your day to day name wise?
People call me Matt or Matthew. Sometimes my therapist calls me ‘Bear’, I do not know why. Think he is trying to be all supportive like, “Come on Bear, you got this!” as if he’s cheering me on [laughs]. You can call me Matt, that is totally fine!

So, the story behind the name Blackbear, I heard multiple stories. From gangs being in relation to an addiction to Haribo gummy bears, but I need full confirmation.
Yeah, I had to go to rehab and the whole thing because I could not stop. Now we cannot have them in the house, every time I think about gummy bears or even see a gummy WORM, it is a gateway drug for me. No, I’m just being cheeky [laughs]. I like to see how far I can fucking take things to the point where it’s not even funny anymore [laughs]. When I was a child, I thought that God was this black teddy bear in the sky that you could just cuddle with. I came to find out slowly and later in life that this could both be true and not be true. You cannot tell me whether that is real or not, but it was one of my first true beliefs. So, I just named myself Blackbear because it was one of first creative thoughts.

Father’s Day has just passed, how did you celebrate?
Father’s Day was surreal for me. It was just one of the most beautiful, normal days for a normal guy that anyone can experience. I don’t want to take away the experience from anybody, but you just have to experience it, it’s just unexplainable. Just so amazing. It’s like…I’m someone’s DAD. That is the coolest part, this weird guy that you’re talking to right now is a parent of someone. It’s so strange, like we’ve gotten in the car before and my song was playing on the radio. That’s definitely a lifelong achievement for me, I just think that it’s just such a big flex, like, “Look how hard daddy worked!”, you know? I don’t know whether he’ll remember it, but maybe I’ll have songs in the future that will play on the radio.

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Photo by Sam Dameshek

What was the meaning behind the name Midnight for your son?
It just means new day, 12 o’clock. Fresh start, it’s a new chapter. So that’s what Midnight is for me in my life. He’s already smart in some way, he already has such a personality and is already his own person at 5 months old, it’s just so strange because he’s this little person that we made together.

How has becoming a father affected your creative process?
Oh! Good question. If it’s done anything relatively massive in my life…it’s made me more keen to the idea that I have to provide for someone. I need to make music that people are going to resonate with and really relate to, and really love, and keep me touring. I need to keep working so that I can support my family and I think that overarching idea has set in. I made Hot Girl Bummer as soon as I found out Michele (girlfriend) was pregnant. So, I thought, I need to step this up into high gear. No more fun and games.

How has quarantine changed the way you have seen life given recent events?
That was well put. Amazing. That was amazing. Is this my interview or yours? [laughs]. As soon as the death of George Floyd hit the news and started becoming such a massive thing, I will admit that THAT was the moment for me and a lot of other White people, like, that was our changing moment where we were like, you know what? I am going to post about Black Lives Matter, I’m going to make a pledge, I’m going to bring my child up the correct way, buy the books on Amazon and I’m going to teach him about racism, about these things. All I can say is that we are the teachers of the next generation. When I look at Midnight I see opportunity and I see change.

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Photo by Sam Dameshek

Have you been getting creative this time? Hot Girl Bummer part 2, 2020 edition? Or another summer-defining anthem?
So…you’re asking whether I’d make another satire record that pokes fun at our times? I just see it as this, I have a platform to say what maybe everyone is thinking but nobody is saying, thinking or even feeling. I know that the reason Hot Girl Bummer took off was because people really related to it. I stood in the club before and wandered why I was spending so much on a drink, on a table and why is it so important that I wear my fake diamond necklace when I’m going to be in the dark? It’s just all of these ridiculous little things that we do that I’m guilty of as well and so, the title was definitely more of a satirical take on our culture. We are generally getting into a time where it’s harder to not fuck up and not say something wrong and whatever it is as long as your intentions are right. I’m not worried about making someone angry because yes, I am sensitive to the way people feel today but at the same time it’s kind of my own therapy.

You’ve worked with a lot of accomplished artists- do you prefer the song writing process and working behind the scenes or releasing your own?
I enjoy making music for other people, especially when Justin Bieber or Linkin Park or somebody who is totally different from Blackbear. Like, Blackbear would never come out with a Linkin Park song! Mainly that is what I get out of writing for other people, I like to read the vibe of a room and get something out of them.

Speaking of which, you said in another interview that when you’re not creating Blackbear songs you’re writing songs of your own- is there a particular artist who you really want to write songs for? Dead or alive.
I actually recently spoke to Elton John, I know- it’s so insane. He called me on the phone and said that in the future that we have to work on something. That’s definitely something that we’ve been talking about.

A lot of your fans were heavily anticipating your new Queen of Broken Hearts EP which is now going to be a full-blown album! How come you are splitting the release dates?
So that it will be more digestible. I just want people to spend time with the songs. It’s kind of like eating a sandwich!

Having looked at the track list I noticed your album features LAUV and Trevor Daniel who I actually interviewed this past month. What made you decide that those were the artists to best collaborate with?
It was not the matter of these being the artists that I wanted to collaborate with, as much as it was the case of working on a song and just HEARING Trevor Daniel on this song. With if I were you, I thought that this sounded like the perfect LAUV song. I just had to ask Ari (LAUV) if he will do this. They are also just my good mates, they’re just great friends. It’s just really cool to take the opportunity for my friends to be on. We all sing about the same topics.

Your social media is typically littered in quotes, what would you say is your one mantra in life? A quote you like the most?
The last quote I posted was in my own words, it said “If you don’t learn from the past you will live there”. I love quotes, and in this album, I want people to feel…I think, I want people to feel validated in their individuality. I want people to feel empowered, I really want them to feel like they can be who they really are. Sorry, that is so deep.

Last question. What quote do you swear that you live by?
Live. Laugh. Love. [Laughs]. Okay, I love you.

album cover

STREAM ‘EVERYTHING MEANS NOTHING’ ON ALL PLATFORMS.

What sobriety taught me about being a better friend

Most of the blog posts I write are heavily influenced by events that have taken place in my personal life, I would love to say that everything I write about is thoroughly and thoughtfully planned out, but the majority of the time, it isn’t.

Why do I say that? Well, the other night (I would give specifics but I’m not sure which date I will publish this on) I met up with a longtime friend of mine from secondary school, and like all Brits so typically tend to do in the evening (any time after five, most of the time) we met up at the local student bar and had a few drinks whilst catching up with one another’s lives within the last six months.

Then while sitting at this bar with said friend, I suddenly realised that it had been six months since I even had a ‘proper’ drink, and even more surprising- I hadn’t actually gotten drunk in an entire year. My last honest feeling of a pounding headache, aching stomach, sickness, embarrassment, regret, overbearing self consciousness, and overall sense of self-loathing hadn’t surfaced (least, via intoxication) in a very, very long time.

I’ve always had a decent relationship with alcohol, especially recently. In secondary school I often exaggerated how drunk I really was and never suffered from severe hangovers. I’m not sure whether it was because my tolerance was significantly higher so I was able to drink vodka like it was water, or what. But I think students can universally agree when we say that from the age of eighteen onward, usually indicates a shift in everything, and hangovers become more severe.

When I first moved to Nottingham I tried to fit into the culture by drinking everything in sight; which I did. It was bad, but only freshers week bad- I woke up with a massive receipt from Subway (yes, the sandwich place), I’d have other people’s clothes on (God knows how that happened) and at some stage I was spiked which resulted in me losing feeling in my legs for the night. I took it easy from then on onward, I mean, I got really messed up (accidentally) during a day drinking session once but that didn’t stop me.

On my 19th birthday, I got into a random mans’ car and didn’t get out of bed for over 24 hours. Then on my 20th, it was more or less the same thing. It was all okay, though. Right? I’m a young, university student, I’m British and it’s the way of life. Which is fine. But it’s about time we had an honest conversation about how alcohol really affects our mental health. In an era where drinking to excess has become heavily normalised, it can be difficult to navigate the culture; to see who is just like everyone else and who is actually struggling.

At the age of 21, I’ve come to a realisation that getting drunk casually isn’t for me. And, no. I don’t hold some sort of god complex (that’s exactly what someone with a god complex would say) and I certainly don’t look down on those that drink, at all. Especially as the summer approaches along with the alarmingly high temperature rise, causing people to crack open ‘a cold one’ before the afternoon. I can fully understand the urges. But the U.K. has a drinking problem. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t drink less than the recommended units and the shared mentality has always been “As long as no one is getting hurt then there’s no problem with it”. If alcohol were a new discovery, this wouldn’t be okay, but because this is what we have always known, heavy drinking has become glamorised and almost celebrated. Whereas drugs, understandably, are still a massive taboo. Depending on where you live.

The NHS recommendation of 14 units per week, which is about 6 pints or 7 glasses of wine. But who can keep track? Drinking is everywhere. We drink to celebrate, we drink when we are sad, we drink to relax – we drink on any occasion for any excuse. As a collective we normalise blackouts, frequent puking and humiliation. We need more awareness that alcohol affects our mental health as well as our physical health: while we may be enjoying ourselves, alcohol is also a depressant, the viscous cycle of feeling miserable and anxious was something that I personally couldn’t handle anymore.

Whenever I tell people that I once went an entire year without drinking (that’s a story for another post) it is always met with all kinds of strange reactions, as if I told them that I just won the lottery. Actually, more pitying than that. As if my dog just died. I mean, I don’t have a dog- but you get the gist. However, you never gain this sort of reaction when you tell people that you went on holiday and binged for an entire week? Last summer, I was the only one not drinking at a garden party and a girl there felt the need to tell me that staying sober was really sad and pathetic.

Look, I’m not trying to convince people to stop drinking. The total opposite, actually. However, the main point of this blog post is to explain how the idea of getting too intoxicated regularly is one that seriously needs to be looked at and re-evaluated. That we need to look at how much we consume and start being more responsible. I learnt a lot in my year of sobriety. Did I ever miss drinking? Absolutely. But I became more focused on my work and priorities, I saved money, I felt fresh everyday to the point where I just never wanted to turn back. And I felt like I was overall becoming a better version of myself. Believe me, I am far from perfect, but since leaning more towards regular sobriety I have just been happier. And as a generally rather unhappy person, I am continuously aiming towards that. It’s a peculiar feeling- like stepping from the clamour of a street riot, stepping into the house, and locking the door.

How to overcome pressure throughout summer vacation

“Depression in summer is weird. It’s not dark and brooding, for me – it’s white and hazy and confusing. You feel very absent from everyone and everything. And all the light seems a little too bright for your tired eyes.”

“I feel like a time traveller: June, July, August. Summer dissolves in my mouth and I can’t remember what it tasted like.”

-Zoë Lianne, Erasure.

As the end of the summer approaches, the strawberry moon is emerging and Mercury is in retrograde, it’s time to reflect. While most people would be feeling sad that they’re forced to return “back to reality” I personally cannot wait. The combination of extra light, 80-degree weather, and FOMO can do real damage. More damage than what most people could imagine.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is traditionally associated with the winter months, a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, often reaching its nadir in December and January. Which, of course, is reasonable. Some sufferers with depression, however, find the summer sun unbearable.

Like myself.

I’m not going to go into people that genuinely suffer from reverse SAD disorder because it would be rather unjust of me to speak about something that you should get actual professional help for. However, I will talk about why I hate summer. We’re currently living a weird period, as Sylvia Plath once wrote “August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.”

I know, I know. I’m going the total opposite direction of my blogs’ philosophy. So instead of talking about what I HATE (I have literally changed my mind as I’m writing this) I’m going to write about how loneliness can affect us all and how to get through the summer when you’re a little short on cash.

With social media feeling like the only safe entertainment that we can all turn to, nowadays it’s a whole lot easier to just watch what everybody else is doing and sinking into your own despair, scrolling aimlessly through your social media while staring longingly at other peoples’ deliberately calculated summer pictures. The glittering girl group festival photos, Ibiza boat party bikinis shots, poolside hotdog legs, giant inflatable unicorn floaties, awkward bopping boomerangs; but this isn’t the case for everyone.

Meanwhile, you’re getting ready for another gruelling shift at your rubbish part-time minimum wage job and you’re left to think, why is everybody having fun except for me?  

I always liked to think that once the summer came round that I would feel better, but that’s not how depression works. The sun will shine (sometimes), the birds will chirp, I’d wake up, go to my job and do what I need to do, but mentally my brain remained stagnant. This feeling wasn’t just a random Saturday occurrence in the summer. The scenario continued for days at a time almost every summer. As I started to become more aware of my body and surroundings, I realized it might not be normal.

According to the UK’s leading mental health clinic, Smart TMS there is currently no treatment for Reverse SAD, but getting some exercise (no matter how intense) and catching up on sleep are both thought to help. That’s pretty shit advice, but instead of being bitter because I wasn’t travelling around the world like all my peers appeared to be, I kept myself busy. Like I said, it really isn’t that easy, especially when you’re short on funds. However, there are some cheap alternatives in order to not be feeling like Death™ would be a cute look this summer.

At home

I understand that staying in your room all day everyday is mind numbing and overall, extremely unhealthy. If you living within a open, supportive and loving environment then here are a few ideas as to what you can do in the house.

  • Paint/redecorate your room– even if it means just changing the position of your bed, organising your closet and adding in a new rug. However this isn’t a possibility for you, you could even try grabbing a few plastic bags and throwing away old stuff that you don’t need anymore. Never underestimate the power of feng shui and the feeling of emptying out.
  • Plant trees and flowers- Okay, this may sound like granny activities to you but it’s been proven that the feeling of productivity doesn’t only help with your mental health and soothes your mind, but having plants within your space actually acts as an air purifier, through photosynthesis, they convert the carbon dioxide we exhale into fresh oxygen, and they can also remove toxins from the air we breathe.
  • Movie marathons- As someone that studies film as part of their degree, I hardly ever watch any films. If you need to escape, dive into some fantasy or keep it light-hearted with a romantic comedy if that’s how you’re feeling. I know it’s pretty obvious, but films are a great distraction from the BS that is real life.
  • Try cooking new recipes- With the Internet age, there are absolutely no excuses to not teaching yourself anything new. IT IS ALL ON THERE! Summer is the time where most kids are getting their A-Level results, so maybe learning some meals in advance before moving to an entirely different city isn’t a bad thing. Mum and dad ain’t there no more kid, welcome to survival mode. Cooking and experimenting can be really fun, anyway. You don’t always need a purpose for that kind of thing, it’s almost 2019 do what you want.
  • Decorate cupcakes or other deserts- The other day my boyfriend took me to this old market in our town where he bought the most basic cupcakes just because they made him feel nostalgic. Since then, I suggested that attempting to make bake goods could actually be a super fun and cute activity, my grandmother regularly makes Welsh cakes for the hell of it so why shouldn’t you? Or if you want to spice things up, make some weed brownies. If you’re into that.
  • Throw a party/bonfire/barbecue- I know it can feel like your friends are always too busy living their lives but I promise that they will appreciate hearing from you. Whether you’re in the UK, America, or anywhere else around the world there is one thing we all have in common; we look for any excuse to drink. So invite some friends around, crack open a cold one (Christ) as long as things don’t get too out of hand.
  • Read- Don’t have streaming sites like Netflix or NOW TV? Parents can’t afford Sky? Mine can’t either. If you ever find yourself feeling bored of watching the same programmes there are other forms of escapism and that is the wonderful world of books! If you can’t afford to keep buying books, then there are sites like Wattpad and Project Gutenberg allow you to read books online for free. Or buy them super cheap from Amazon, to be fair Waterstones do take the piss a bit.
  • Draw and paint- Even if you’re absolutely shit at it. Who cares? Paint a butterfly, paint a naked body, paint a rocket. Anything that fascinates you, go ape. Emotionally, it helps to just pour all your emotions on a canvas. Acrylics aren’t too expensive, and when you’re done you can put them up on your new bedroom wall! (refer to tip no. 1)
  • Learn a new language online- I would personally recommend this one, not only can it enhance your CV and look good to future employers, but it’s also good brain training and can benefit you in all kinds of ways in the long run. Definitely a good investment!

Outside activities

I know for some young people, staying in the house isn’t an option. Some people suffer from physical/mental/emotional abuse from their family and relatives and just need an escape route. I completely understand this; so here are some things you could do to keep busy that doesn’t involve staying in. Some outdoor activities to do if the weather isn’t utter wank where you are.

  • Hike/go for a walk
  • Have a picnic
  • Go camping
  • Learn how to drive
  • Go swimming in a lake/swimming hole
  • Work at a summer camp
  • Stargaze
  • Clean up litter at a park or river
  • Go canoeing/sailing
  • Go tubing
  • Go surfing if you live near a beach
  • Pick berries
  • Take photos of different flowers, birds, etc
  • Walk your dog/someone’s dog because dogs are great
  • Go see a movie (it’s cheaper early in the day and with your student id!)
  • Have lunch with friends
  • Visit the library (this has quite literally saved my life a few times)
  • Go to a museum
  • Check out somewhere you’ve never been
  • Take a class for fun at a community college
  • Volunteer (animal shelters, food banks, etc)
  • GET A PART-TIME JOB
  • Take a trip to a neighbouring town and explore
  • Pretend to be a tourist in your own town
  • Try a food truck
  • Go to a festival
  • Go to a drive-in/outdoor cinema
  • Get ice cream
  • Look up free events that your town hosts
  • Go to the pool

It’s not always easy to cope with the immense pressure to always seem like you’re having a good time. I know summer days can be isolating and place a real emphasis on your depression, where the days feel long and hazy as you spend everyday watching the clock while never knowing what day it actually is, feeling as though you exist in a trance of melancholy and feel detached from everything but please, hold on. Time can do some amazing things so while this period feels like it is never ending- it will, eventually. Maybe prepare for next year? ☀️🍦

                        “Summer 2018” by Allison Kerek