Photo by Lili Peper

the undercover dream lovers look for ‘a way out’ in new music video

LA-based musician Matt Koenig tells i-D about his groovy new sound and first full length album ‘It’s All In Your Head.’

by Nicole DeMarco
20 September 2019, 2:46pm

Photo by Lili Peper

As the video for “A Way Out” by The Undercover Dream Lovers opens, singer-songwriter Matt Koenig finds himself walking past a foreboding exit sign and into a raucous party where the lines of reality and fantasy are blurred. Lightning bolts strike as he makes his entrance, captivated by the shimmer of flashing lights, and a lover who seemingly disappears before his own eyes. Since forming the psychedelic indie rock project in 2016, Koenig has approached each of his songs with the hope of taking listeners on a dreamlike journey. The music video for “A Way Out,” which is directed by Otium and premiering exclusively on i-D today is no different.

"A Way Out" weaves together a number of storylines that visually introduce each of the songs on The Undercover Dream Lovers’ forthcoming album It’s All In Your Head, slated for release next spring. The video also acts as a sonic bridge between Koenig's previous releases (While It’s In Style and In Real Time) and the new record, which is largely influenced by disco and the idea of creating an even more energized, groovy live show.

While Koenig grew up playing music in Pittsburgh, it wasn’t until he moved to New York in his 20s that he taught himself guitar, bass, drums, and how to produce songs. He’s since traded coasts and moved to Los Angeles, where i-D calls him up at home to hear all about what’s inspired his new video and record.

Photo by Lili Peper.

What was the process of making the video for “A Way Out” like?
One of my best friends Alex LaLiberte, who goes by Otium, has worked on pretty much all of my videos thus far, including this one. He’s been a long time collaborator when it comes to bringing a visual aesthetic to the project. For the EP I put out last year, you could play all the videos back to back and they kind of related. This time we flipped it on its head and thought, what if we just use all of the song titles and the songs to influence this video and make a storyline?

In what ways does it serve as an introduction to your new album?
“A Way Out” and this whole record sounds a little bit different from what I’ve made in the past. That was the second song that I wrote and it just felt like a really good introduction to what I was doing and what the record offers. So, I wanted to put this out first and to have a video for this. Then we had the idea of subtly introducing all of the other elements and titles. The song “Plane Ride,” has a lot of cameos in the “A Way Out” video.

For the song “Prisoner of Love,” we have a shot in the video with handcuffs and there’s a lover who I’m following through this party. She is attached in that very literal way. We thought it would look really striking on camera and the idea just segued — like what if she turns into this cell phone in one of the scenes? You don’t see that happen, but all of a sudden she’s gone and the cell phone’s there and I’m looking at that. Some people might wonder if she’s even there in the first place. I like to leave a little room for the viewer to create their own narrative, same as my songwriting.

What are some of the other symbols that we should look for in there?
“Up All Night” is less literal. It’s this night long party. You see me get there at night and then the ending shot is in the morning. I’m all disheveled and kind of beat up. “Not Good Enough” is a really fun one. We go out to the back patio at one point and I’m looking for this lover that I’m following. When I get out there it’s all these people having fun and enjoying themselves, but the sign they’re holding says "Not Good Enough." Then later the next day when I wake up and go back out, it actually says "Congratulations." I’m overthinking it. I’m seeing that I’m not good enough or that it wasn’t enough for me, but in reality they were all there celebrating me.

And that’s the title of your new album, “It’s All In Your Head.”
Exactly. That’s what I really like about the cell phone concept. The question of was I just wanting that person to be there the whole time? Was I just making it up? “Soon Enough,” is a song on the album that I wrote with my friend Dent May. I was telling him about the record as a whole, how it brings in all of these love ideas, and there’s one song that’s about technology and the idea of falling in love with someone through a phone. We tapped into that and they kind of blend together. It’s a weird time where everyone is meeting through their phones. One of the lyrics on “Technology” is "Digital absorption with your physical distortion." I’m absorbed in you. I’m looking at a picture of you on the phone over and over again, but it’s actually a distortion because you make yourself look a different way than you might be in reality. It’s a really real thing to me that’s happening and that people are experiencing, so I wanted to connect that even though it’s a little bit subtle in the video.

We like to create in the moment and keep it malleable. We told everyone we were doing a video shoot, but everyone was pretty much just drunk like at a real party that night. We invited a bunch of people over and shot it. It was kind of amazing that we were able to get everything we wanted and then we went back the next and filled in the gaps to build the story.

Photo by Lili Peper.

You mentioned that on the new album you’re exploring some new sounds. Can you tell me more about that?
I have been pretty self-taught with everything all along from writing and singing to all the instruments and production. I didn’t go to school for it. Along the way I’ve been developing more skills, starting to appreciate certain things that I’d done and a lot of things that had been done in other genres. I had been getting really into disco music. We toured with Parcels and L'impératrice a couple months ago. They bring so much energy [to the live show] that it was really inspiring to think about how I can balance that with the songwriting and recording so that I could play with the arc of the set.

When I initially started, I’d start my day by listening to a handful of songs trying to really psych myself up and find things that made me excited. I think for “A Way Out” I was listening to this song by Hot Chocolate. They’re in a lot of movies and they have one called “Everyone’s A Winner.” There’s this guitar tone on it that’s really cool, and there’s a guitar on “A Way Out” that sounds like a saxophone just in the way that I edited it, but it was really influenced by the sound they had. Even the drum beat at the end is something I’ve never done. I was just like maybe I’ll really change this up, find something that feels really good and exciting, just grab from it, lean in a little.

The tracks still feel super smooth, but the record feels groovier and funkier.
Yeah, it seems like there’s been a resurgence of people liking bongos or bass lines that are really upfront and everyone can get down with it. Everyone’s getting excited at the same time. That’s the kind of show I want to play. I want everybody to be dancing and be happy and have the best night of their lives.

Photo by Lili Peper.

Do you feel like since you’ve moved from New York to LA that you’ve thought of the project differently or changed the way that you make music?
For me it’s always pretty fluid and I think if I didn’t move I would have made something completely different. It has a huge affect. It’s where you are and what you do with yourself. In New York, I’d always have to bounce around rehearsal spaces and all of those extra steps make you think differently and make different decisions. It’s a lot less limiting being here. In a writing sense, I think you’re constantly being thrown things in life and whether you’re doing it intentionally or not you’re affected and you’re going to write something based on what’s happened to you.

Did music play a large role in your upbringing?
I’ve always been around it. My mom got me piano lessons as a kid, but I don’t think I ever really understood it. I sang in chorus, but I always thought that I was singing too loud and would never really practice. I was in band and I played the trombone, but I would just look at what my arm was doing and try to follow the person next to me. As a teenager, all of my friends were playing guitar, so I got one and had some lessons. There was always an interest, but it was a slow process. In my early 20s something clicked and I actually wanted to figure out how to do all this. I started playing, learned a little bit of the production stuff, and I got hyper-focused. I learned a ton of piano and binge watched all of these production videos. Everything that I learned on piano helped me on guitar and guitar influenced bass and drums. I just got on this rollercoaster of enjoying figuring it out. Getting better, seeing the improvement, and then tearing it apart. It’s cool because I remember thinking everyone’s so good at this that I shouldn’t even try doing this. The best of the best started as kids. Nowadays, you have access to so many things. If someone really wants to do something, it’s a matter of just being curious, disciplined, focused, and you can learn shit.

A lot of the time that’s what separates us from kids. As you grow up, you lose some of that curiosity. But when you’re making art, it requires you to just be continuously curious and that in itself is so stimulating.
Exactly. That’s the key is just having that curiosity, keeping it enjoyable, and being excited to see the growth. It becomes fun and there’s a sense of excitement for what you’ve learned. You have to pick what you want to get good at. You can have a choice in that. You don’t have to be afraid to leave something that you’re happy doing to try something that you’re interested in. It’s never too late.

Photo by Lili Peper.


Photos Lili Peper
Styling Lily Jane Dale

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it's all in your head
A Way Out
the undercover dream lovers
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