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by Tom Williams

Meet our genre-bending, boundary-breaking new cover star blackbear.

It may not come as a surprise that an artist who opts for a pseudonym is transfixed by duality, but for Matthew Tyler Musto – aka blackbear – this obsession goes a lot further than surface-level semantics. With a discography that meanders through the divergent worlds of rock, R&B, emo rap, and most recently pop-punk, blackbear is no stranger to juxtaposition and genre-blurring. blackbear’s latest album, in loving memory, is no different: with macabre lyrics tussling with upbeat melodies, the result is a finely balanced yet complex unfurling of emotion. This intricacy is a result of the album’s subject: Musto’s late father who succumbed to a long battle with heroin addiction.

As an in-recovery addict himself, blackbear’s lyrics are a cathartic expulsion of a number of battling thoughts. It’s equal parts scornful and tongue-in-cheek, whilst always being innocently longing of a father-son relationship that was never there. For our latest digital cover story, we caught up with blackbear to go deep into why dichotomy has been such an intrinsic pillar of the musician’s increasingly successful art, and indeed his life.

Musto’s passion for songwriting started early. He wryly told us, “It’s kind of funny, music was the only thing I was ever good at. I tried skateboarding, but I broke a bunch of bones.” It didn’t take much before any other aspirations were tossed aside, with the musician reminiscing, “there’s always been a beat in my head, just y’know, drumming away.”

It wasn’t long before blackbear’s eclecticism started blossoming, with adolescent obsessions with the contrasting likes of New Found Glory and Morrissey coming to the foray. A fascination with The Smiths (one that has now resulted in blackbear’s youngest kid being named after the Mancunian frontman) is completely logical for an artist who has become known for his morbid, but upbeat, lyricism. “Morrissey is so good at telling a story” blackbear emphasised, before citing the forever iconic ten-tonne truck couplet as the ultimate one-liner. “I’m just obsessed with telling a whole story in one sentence, I’m obsessed with one-liners.”

However, it was the former influence that helped shape blackbear’s latest LP: “this album is a love letter to my dad who passed away, and I needed to tell it in the most real way to me” Musto outlined before tenderly continuing, “I wanted to talk to my dad from the point of being 14 years old, and where was I when I was 14? I was on Myspace, and I was listening to The Used and New Found Glory. I came to him from a place of when I was a younger man.”

"It’s kind of funny, music was like the only thing I was ever good at...there was always a beat in my head, just y’know, drumming away."

When asked whether writing this deeply personal album provided a form of catharsis, Musto steadfastly replied: “I did what I needed to do, and that was to send a letter beyond the grave. I couldn’t do it when he was alive… I couldn’t think of the words to say”. He later elaborated, “At this point in my life, music is really just my form of therapy and my way to try and help others.”

This desire to help others in their journey with addiction, “I was just hoping it would help one other person stay sober”, led blackbear to a collaborative approach (or as blackbear compared it to: “group therapy”) to in loving memory. The Florida-born writer enlisted the help of pop-punk deity, and Blink-182 drummer, Travis Barker. “In a perfect world, Travis Barker would be my dad” blackbear half-joked. “It was like making an album with my musical dad, which sounds crazy!”

Having this father-like figure on board with the album only added to the melting pot of emotions at play. With blackbear primarily confronting his own father, “it’s a whole bunch of daddy issues and I made an album out of it”, and contemplating his own legacy for his kids. “I’m 60 days sober now. I’m doing this for my kids. I want to be a better dad for them.” Parenthood has also enhanced blackbear’s art, mentioning, “when I talk about love in music now, it’s just such a deeper cut of love.”

blackbear’s openness around addiction and mental health has become a cornerstone of his popularity with fans. He likes to offer more than the generic on-stage patter, frequently informing his live audience of his journey with sobriety. “I need to stay open with people in the world, it’s more beneficial for me”, continuing, “I wanna let them know that I appreciate them more than a throwaway comment. They get me out of bed. It means a lot.”

Given blackbear’s understandable anger towards his late father’s drug addiction, the artist still holds an objectivity that the general public, and music industry as a whole, needs to lessen its damnation of those suffering with addiction. “People in general need to stop looking at addiction as bad roads, and instead just as roads. That’s the issue. There are just paths in life, that some of us are just genetically predisposed to… I don’t blame myself for those things, I just wish the industry would not blame artists too.”

In true full-circle fashion, the conversation naturally came back to Musto’s fascination with juxtapositions in his writing, suggesting that, ultimately, the obsession comes down to his outlook on life: “There’s always so much beauty to be found in the world, even when it’s a really shitty, rainy day.”

Press play on blackbear’s ‘in loving memory’ below now…

creative production
Olivia Wright
Karina Kovsky
Zhamak Fullad
Lyn Alyson and Justine Logue
Arlen Jeremy Farmer
Gustavo Soriano
styling assistance
Melanie Mceachen and Malaney Jackson
production assistance
Lily Mow
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