L.A.-based musician Matthew “Matthewdavid” McQueen is credited on Andre 3000’s debut solo album, New Blue Sun, as providing “mycelial electronics.” The 39-year-old founder of the record label and music collective Leaving released Mycelium Music in April, an album inspired by the interconnected networks of fungi and produced in large part using an open-source, script-based instrument called Norns, which allows users to create and manipulate sounds by breaking apart and stretching samples into grains or bits. When he got the call from New Blue Sun co-producer Carlos Niño — a longtime friend and supporter of the label — to meet Andre 3000 for a session, Niño told him to bring his “little music computer.” That session would eventually lead to “Ninety Three ‘Til Infinity And Beyoncé,” a three-minute sonic excursion that unfurls like a shimmering curtain gently introducing the album’s second half. The Memphis-born producer and multi-instrumentalist V.C.R., who recently released The Chronicles of a Caterpillar: The Egg on McQueen’s label, also appears on the track, credited as providing violin and effects.
The whole experience, McQueen says, felt almost like destiny. For one, Andre 3000’s turn toward flute music several years ago coincided with McQueen’s interest in the sound. “When I became a father 10 years ago, I felt more compelled to seek a stronger sense of self, a sense of calm, joy, and a return to center through music,” he wrote on Instagram this week. “So the flute found me. I picked up various flutes and began learning more about myself, my breath, and my being through this instrument.” Over Zoom, he noted how working with Andre 3000 reaffirmed his feelings about the instrument: “It feels powerfully symbiotic and mutual to cosmic degrees, honestly.”
McQueen founded Leaving in 2009 as a cassette label releasing music from L.A.’s emerging beat scene. Over time, the community around the label would expand into all genres, building a reputation as a space for experimental and broad-reaching styles of music. Its nearly 15-year history seemed to culminate in this latest collaboration. “I just feel lucky that there does seem to be a gained interest, attraction, but it’s not blown up on this hype factor thing. I feel like it’s authentic and it’s people just really trying to connect with themselves and others,” he says. “Right now, I think people are facing a lot personally, globally. And this kind of alternative community really speaks to a lot of people. And we believe that it’s powerful, so we keep pushing.”
In interviews, Andre 3000 said that he still would like to release a rap album some day, but for now, New Blue Sun opens up a new creative chapter for the musician, one that bucks the traditional expectations of most artists working today. “I really relate to his style of living and where he’s at now,” McQueen says. “It makes me feel OK to just live and explore life.”
Ahead of the release of New Blue Sun, McQueen talked to Rolling Stone about being a part of one of the year’s most surprising records.
How did you get involved with the project?
My involvement, or just the label’s involvement or our community involvement with the Andre record, was completely facilitated by Carlos Niño, who has been just like a day-one brother. I consider him family as far as his influence and support goes. Once the Dre stuff started happening, Carlos was privately telling me on the side, “I met your hero, Matthew, and we’re jamming, and I want you to come over and jam with us one day.” I’m like, “One day. Wow.” What would I do? I don’t really play music. I twist a lot of knobs and I play the laptop. I’m pretty much in the DAW a lot. I have a few little synthesizers and little music computers that I fuck with, I make sounds with, whether it be beats or ambient music.
He’s like, “I want you to pull up with your little music computer.” I’m like, “Cool. Well, let me know.” Then some years go by, really. Then I had just introduced him to R&B vocalist, violinist, V.C.R. Very recently, after I introduced Carlos to V.C.R., he calls me. “OK, me and Dre are at Rick Rubin’s studio in Malibu tonight, recording, jamming.” This was a year and a half ago, just a cold call. I think it was pretty late at night. Carlos is like, “Pull up. Now’s the time. I want you and V.” So, I call V, I pick her up. We drive over. Just really excited, the most excited we’ve ever been in all of our lives. V.C.R., Veronica, she’s losing it. She’s from Memphis. We connect on being from the South. I’m from Atlanta. Dre is our hero. We’re driving there, we’re trying to keep it together. We get there and it’s so chill. He’s so down-to-earth. He’s so human-to-human. He feels so grounded, making us feel grounded and safe. We jammed for five hours, and what we made ended up making the cut. A year and a half goes by, and here we are.
Was there any lasting impression from that night?
That I can sit in with a group of very respected, established musicians and feel not only welcomed, but acknowledged, validated, safe, and like a musician myself. I felt like, I don’t know, imposter syndrome. I don’t really jam with musicians. I’m a behind-the-scenes laboratory producer working on laptops and stuff. But after that night, I remember just feeling so happy, there were a few really important “aha!” moments during that particular session, that five-hour time. I’ve never really felt that type of group excitement and enthusiasm, like I’m contributing to this all happening in the moment. A “This is probably going to turn into a record” moment. You know what I mean?
There’s one song that I’m on, and that moment that I’m speaking of was captured on that song. It’s like a four-minute-long song. It’s the shortest song on there, I believe, too. My frequencies are in there. I’m playing a small open-source music computer, granulating field recordings and textures and melodic elements, and we just so happened to fall in the same key. And my textures are just sort of doing their in and out, back and forth, left and right, amorphous, asynchronous thing, and it’s all working, and it was a magic moment, and I’m so lucky and grateful.
Andre’s been doing interviews about the project, and I feel like a lot of people are kind of surprised that he’s taken this direction musically. Did you get a sense of where he was creatively or what he was thinking?
It just felt right and like it was all in alignment, in place, in accordance. It felt natural. He felt like he was in his natural state of being. Whatever it is, if he’s a rapper or a flute player, he was just an artist living. And I really relate to his style of living and where he’s at now, I really identify with it, and it makes me feel OK to just live and explore life. He just felt like in his natural place where he was supposed to be at this point in life and on earth.
What was your level of familiarity with flute music going into this?
It’s weird how all the dots kind of connected. When I started seeing Dre pop up on the internet out of the blue over the years playing flute, for me it was reassuring. But it was interesting that when I started to find the flute, also Dre did. I kind of saw that happening on the internet and I was like, “Wow, this is a special sort of cosmic or spiritual thing that I’m witnessing and observing and trying to tap into, and also this person is too.”
One of my favorite genres of music is Private Issued New Age music, P-I-N-A. I’m a cassette enthusiast and I collect cassettes from this era of American New Age music that was largely DIY distributed and recorded. And it’s the most fascinating, deepest well of unearthed gems for me, being really into experimental electronic outsider psychedelic music. And then I started getting into Private Issued New Age from the Eighties and Nineties, a little bit in the late-Seventies too — and also it was kind happening in Europe and surely other places — but there was a cultural movement of New Age music that I started to get into and learn more about. It all aligned and coincided with me getting into learning about flute music and playing flute, or trying to use that in my life constructively as a part of a practice for my mental health and stability and centeredness and stuff. Anxiety relief, stress relief, whatever. Sometimes like a meditation. But yeah, I guess all of that is to say, I’m really into flutes.
Thinking back on that session, did you get to talk to Andre 3000 at all?
We nerded out on the little piece of gear that I brought that I was running my stuff on. It’s called Norns, and it’s an open-source music computer. And it runs these things called scripts. They’re called scripts, but really they’re just like apps, or patches, or instruments. And people code, make, and upload to the community these scripts, programmers and coders working in this audio-programming language. And they code these instruments or these effects for this computer. I’ve been in this community for a long time, for over a decade. And so now they have this thing called Norns. And there is a sampler that someone made, and it’s a granular synthesis sampler. And that just means it’s kind of breaking apart a sample or a sound into grains or bits, right? It’s kind of stretching and breaking the sound. And so I was just using some field recordings and other kinds of melodic or textural samples on my device, on my music computer, and that was what I was doing.
But Dre did come over and ask what it was. I was just being pretty cool. Carlos introduced me to Dre when we got there. We’re like, “OK, we’re here to make music and jam, not talk to Dre really.” But then as we were setting up, and in between sessions and breaking down, we were just very casually, naturally talking. And he came over and talked to me about what I was doing, what the device was that I was playing, very authentically interested, and I just told him what it was, and a little conversation like that. I wasn’t trying to be his best friend all of a sudden. I was just there to make music. I was very grateful to be there.
What did he think of the device?
Oh, yeah. He thought it was sick [laughs]. He thought it was cool and the sounds I was making were cool enough to make the record, I guess.
You had a release in April, Mycelium Music. What was the thinking on that project, and did you find yourself approaching similar ideas here?
Absolutely. Basically, what I was creating during the jam that ended up being on the record was all of the kind of Mycelium Music sounds and textures from my album being sort of brought into that session. And it’s a very particular type of dense, texture-heavy ambient music, that record. And that record I’ve been kind of making on and off for years, and finally put it all together and released it. So I was very much in that head space of sound design, and I had that kind of under my belt. And I’d been working on it and crafting that, crafting those sounds and those samples. So yeah, very much like the sounds of my record, whatever that vibe is. It’s just weird conceptual mushroom, impressionistic mushroom, collage music on that one song.
I feel like the vibe of the record, from what I can tell, is very mushroom-y
Yeah, it gets deep.