Blackbear is more than just a musician. He is one of the most talented, hard-working, dedicated and strong artists to enter the studio. Aside from his ability to create hit records seemingly effortlessly, it’s his real-life experiences battling anxiety and substance abuse that he bravely recounts through his lyrics. Records like “Anxiety” and “If I Could I Would Feel Nothing” give hope and strength, allowing his growing fan base to not only relate but to find comfort.
Real name Matthew Musto celebrates many successes, including three independent albums and sold-out shows across the world. In 2017, he landed his first placement on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Do Re Mi” from Digital Druglord, with the remix featuring Gucci Mane accumulating 88 million views on YouTube and counting.
Now at 27 years old and in the best headspace he’s been in for a long time, Blackbear plans to take his already flourishing career to the next level. With his forthcoming project titled Anonymous coming on Valentine’s Day, fans can look forward to some of his best work yet.
L.A. WEEKLY: For those who don’t know, who is Blackbear?
BLACKBEAR: Blackbear is an L.A.-based, R&B singer turned mini-pop star. Bubble-gum pop star, I’m learning dance moves … just kidding. We did recently did add pyro to my set, so I’m learning how to use the fire onstage. That’s my newest addition. I wanna get backup singers, but I don’t think I will ever get backup dancers.
Why not? Because that means you have to dance, right?
It means you kind of gotta be coordinated with it, yeah. [laughs]
Can you talk about your decision to move from R&B and hip-hop to pop?
It really wasn’t a decision. I don’t think my new stuff is that much different, actually, it’s just a little more put together. I recently got completely sober like half a year ago. I haven’t drank in years, ’cause I got sick. When I quit drinking I made Digital Druglord and then I made Cybersex on tour, which was supposed to be a mixtape. That wasn’t supposed to be an album, which is insane. Now that my head is even more clear, the music has just been coming out clearer, more grown up, more radio-friendly, I guess, if you will. But there’s still bad words. [laughs]
You’re from Florida — how does that play into your life and career?
I don’t go to Florida much. I was kind of a MySpace kid in high school, and people thought since I had so many MySpace friends that they didn’t need to be nice to me in real life. They were like, “You get enough attention online,” or they were jealous or something. I don’t really know. I like to give them the benefit of the doubt but people weren’t really supportive growing up. Then when I moved to L.A., I made all these friends who all had the same dream of hustling and doing this. It’s almost like New York, and I just felt at home. I came here as a teenager, so this is home for me.
How important is it to come to L.A. as an up-and-coming artist?
I don’t think it’s important until you have to. I was flying back and forth so much that I made that move. That was the thing. People were flying me out to do sessions and stuff like that. Once I was in a bidding war for my publishing deal between Sony and Universal, I moved in and slept on my friend's floor of the Palazzo, off Third by the Grove. I slept on his floor on an air mattress until that deal was done. It was funny because I went from an air mattress on the floor to a house in the hills with a G-Wagen, within a month. That was life-changing, it was around my 21st birthday.
At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
I don’t know if it was the moment you got a house in the hills. No, no way. Neither of my parents were in music at all. I wanted a guitar when I was 4 or 5, and I learned how to play guitar by the time I was 6. Just self-taught. I was in garage bands by the time I was 10 or 11. My band got signed in high school when I was 16, and we all dropped out of high school and went on tour. Then I quit the band because I was the manager and I was doing everything, so I went solo. Those guys hated me at first for it, but I knew it’s what I had to do. Music has been … like, if this doesn’t work out, I don’t really have a plan B. I mean, I’m good at marketing, but that’s about it.
Were you really hands-on with your own marketing when you were coming up?
Yeah, definitely. I do all my own everything. We don’t have a PR company. We utilize some people at the label [Interscope], which is really awesome. They’ve offered me people to help but I pretty much tell them what I want and then they make it come to life. It usually comes out better than I ever expected.
You just released “The 1” in August. Talk about how that record differs from Digital Druglord last year.
I just do whatever I want, really, I just have become more honest. I just consider it to be a soft single and that’s what it is. It’s just an idea of the direction of the new album and where I am going. That’s going to be the softest song on the new album.
Is it ever difficult for you to be so transparent in your lyrics?
No, I think that’s what adds value to Blackbear, just how blunt and vulnerable I can be. I don’t really care what people think.
Your record “Anxiety” is so powerful. Talk about your own journey with mental health and how music has been a form of therapy for you.
It’s insane. When I step onstage, like before I go on, I feel like I’m going to pass out from an anxiety attack. But as soon as I step onstage, it’s like I popped a Xanax. It just goes away. That’s a huge form of therapy for me. And recording, that’s why I am a recluse. I record at night. It’s better than sitting in my room up alone. It is my escape, as cliché as it is.
You say if you drink again, you’ll die. Can you talk about how you got sick? Was that physically?
I don’t really know because I don’t know my real dad and his family that well, but genetically, I have developed chronic necrotizing pancreatitis.
Was that from drinking?
They said it was from drinking. I just received the Courage Award at the Pancreas Foundation, which was insane. I have been dealing with it for three years, six surgeries. For my first surgery, I just figured, “Oh, I just need to slow down,” so I had a drink every once in a while. Then I grew another cyst and they had to drain it. Then I wasn’t watching what I was eating and I grew another cyst, and they had to drain it. It just kept happening. Now I have been cyst-free for almost a year, which is so good.
A lot of people just get acute pancreatitis, where you have one attack and then it’s over. They go on about their life. But mine was so bad that almost half of my pancreas died off, so that’s why it was necrotizing.
What is it you want fans to get from your story?
I just want them to be motivated to be themselves and to be real. I’m not one of those artists that’s like, “Look what I got,” or “I have this, you don’t have it.” Even if I did, I was probably joking. That’s not what is important in life, at all. I want people to let my music be the background music of their life and their good times.
You’ve had every big hip-hop feature on your last two projects: 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, Paul Wall, T-Pain … even Cam’Ron. How did you link with him?
That was legendary. I guess I made the right phone call. He doesn’t mess with a lot of people, so that was a huge blessing.
Talk about the recent Red Rocks show with Mike Posner and the reunion of Mansionz.
That was amazing because we got to do our self-titled record Mansionz. We’re talking about doing a second one. It’s been a dream of mine to play Red Rocks, I just didn’t think I could ever sell it out. It was like 10,000 people. It was incredible. The next morning I went to my flight, and these girls were like, “Oh, we have to go back to law school.” People flew in for that one night, so that was really dope. I would hope for people to do the same for this L.A. show. But you definitely should get your tickets fast. It’s a lot smaller than Red Rocks, so it will sell out quickly.
I had the pleasure of going to your show at the Wiltern. Talk about your live performances and what goes into them.
That was sold out on the Digital Druglord tour. Since then, we have just put a lot of effort into the showmanship of everything. The video content, the lights, the pyro, the confetti, the raining sparkles, all that stuff. A lot of people just show up with a DJ, ’cause you’ll make way more money that way. For me, it’s like, “I went to the Blackbear show and it was worth every penny.”
Having sold out shows around the world, where would you say your main fan base is?
L.A. is No. 1, New York is No. 2, then it’s Houston. This is all analytics on Spotify. There’s a lot of fans in Brazil, and I will be going there in March. I’m doing Asia, Australia … all these things. As soon as the album comes out, we’re doing a full U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, Asia and South America tour.
I actually saw your post “dream come tru” about the Red Rocks show. What are some goals as an artist at this point of your career?
It’s kind of just the beginning, which is crazy. I feel like I’m in the middle of my career but I still have a lot to say and do. I played the Forum but I was opening for Fall Out Boy. I want to sell out the Forum. I have little goals here and there. I’m just so grateful for everything that has happened thus far. My dream when I was a kid was just to be able to go to House of Blues and sell it out.
R.I.P., House of Blues on Sunset.
Yeah, for real. I ended up selling out House of Blues my first or second tour, so I had to create new dreams. If it ended today, I am just grateful.
How important is social media for your career?
Social media is interesting, I used to be highly addicted to it. Now, it’s just a good tool to connect, that’s how I need to see it. I don’t need to see it as “this defines who I am,” ’cause it’s easy to feel like that. “Oh, this is how many followers I have, so this is where I sit in the world.” That’s not true. Somebody with way more followers than me might not have fans that have their face tattooed on them. There’s thousands of people with my lyrics or my logo or my signature tattooed on them, whatever it is. That’s what separates me from a lot of other artists. There’s a lot of artists whose fans don’t have their lyrics tattooed on them. I’m grateful.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
There was this one girl from Italy who followed me since I was a very young teenager, making acoustic music. She used to draw pictures of me and and all this stuff. I finally got to meet her when I went to Europe last year, which was cool. I think I gave her a present. I broke a guitar one time and I gave it to this girl, her name’s Jay. She goes to every show I have in California, no matter what. Moments like those. Just going to Amsterdam and playing a song and hearing them sing it back, but you hear the accent. Just knowing your song touched people in different languages, that’s one of the best parts.
Favorite song to perform in a set?
Honestly, “Do Re Mi.” It’s so fun because I don’t even have to sing it. They sing so loud. “IDFC” is fun, too. I also like this part in the set that’s all acoustic, where I do “90210” and “If I Could I Would Feel Nothing.” That’s fun because people get to see that I can play like six different instruments.
What instruments do you play?
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What instruments don’t I play? Just kidding. [laughs] Mainly drums, bass, guitar and xylophone.
What can we expect from the Palladium show in Hollywood on Nov. 28?
People should expect an amazing show. I’m going to play a lot of old favorites and maybe a new song. But I’m not one of those people that’s gonna be like, “Oh, I got a new album, I’m gonna play all of those songs you don’t know.” People can expect all of their favorites.
Blackbear performs at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the Hollywood Palladium.