Interviews

Interview: M83



Anthony Gonzalez is sat, 16 floors up in a tower, talking about his new double album as M83, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Given the album’s scope it feels completely appropriate to be discussing his music at such a great height – though for now we are cocooned into a bar. He is jetlagged, having not long flown in from LA, and keeps the hood on his tracksuit up throughout the interview. His piercing eyes betray none of this, however, and the intensity burns in a subtle way. Which is just as well, since we begin by discussing the album’s autobiographical nature.

He has described it as “a reflection of my 30 years as a human being”. Does that mean there is a nostalgic element? He smiles softly. “I’m a very nostalgic person, but not in a sad way – it’s a happy nostalgia. I always love to cut memories from the past, and think about my childhood, and this album is really about that. It’s about being an adult but still creating this kind of fantasy in a childish environment. I had the best childhood, I was the happiest kid, and this album is a tribute to that.”

An early observation is the variation in volume through Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming – from the huge rushes of synthesized sound on Midnight City to the quiet ambient interludes bisecting the music. “It varies a lot,” he agrees, “and I always love it when an album can play with different volumes and emotions, especially when you’re making a double album and you really want to show it’s eclectic. It’s the reason we used a lot of different instruments that we’ve never used before, like acoustic guitar, strings, brass and saxophone. We wanted every song to create a different atmosphere, and to be somehow different from the other ones.”

A concept album, in essence. “This album for me is kind of a soundtrack of an imaginary movie, or some kind of life as well. The soundtrack needs to have deserts and mountains, and there are some epic moments but also some very quiet ones.”

Early on in its genesis Gonzalez opted to take the brave – some would say foolhardy – step of making it a double album. “I’ve always been fascinated by double albums. When I was a teenager I was listening to Pink Floyd, The Beatles‘ White album, and of course the Smashing Pumpkins (Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness). It was fascinating and I always told myself that one day I would do the same thing, and I just decided it was the right time to make one. I had the tools and the songs to do it, and I felt confident that I could do something I would be proud of.”

The single, Midnight City, has given an indication of how the album might sound, with its huge, sweeping riff. Gonzalez has a surprise in store on how he arrived at the sound. “It’s my vocals, actually,” he says, then laughing at the open mouthed reaction. “There’s a lot of bits on the album where I experiment with my vocals, and almost produce a synth sound. For Midnight City it was right at the top of my voice.”

And what of the saxophone solo at the end, a recreation of the 1980s perhaps? He laughs again, more boyishly this time. “When Justin – my producer – and I finished this song, we felt there was something missing from the end like a solo or something, so there was one moment where we looked at each other and we said, ‘What about a sax solo?’. It was so obvious that it was kind of dangerous to do. We didn’t want it to be cheesy, but it’s so obvious that it’s kind of cool to have it, like it’s made to be on the track. I feel like we just said ‘Let’s go for it, and if we fuck up we fuck up, but let’s not be scared of being cheese balls or anything!'”

Talk turns to the instruments themselves, the synthesizers he used in the album’s making. “I used a modular system, from synthesizer.com – it’s like a Moog replica. I used this one on tonnes of tracks for the new album. It’s inspiring to focus on one big instrument, to spend hours and hours crafting one sound or melody. I find that fascinating. It looks like you’re the pilot of a spaceship almost! I remember when I was a kid, I was six or seven years old, and I was watching TV with my parents. All of a sudden Jean Michel Jarre was there playing a song, surrounded by keyboards, and it was like a spaceship with lights and everything, so futuristic. The sound was also very futuristic, very science fiction. Since that day I have loved synthesizers, and one year later my parents bought me a cheap Casio, and I was so happy about it. It’s so fun for a kid and it looks so cool!”

“I’m sleeping very badly ever since one year ago when I started on this album, because I am so involved in the process of making this album work”
– Anthony Gonzalez

The Jean Michel Jarre connection runs deep. “I am a huge fan, yeah – and Vangelis too, they are big influences on my music and I’m not scared to say it. Some people might think it’s cheesy, but if you look at Vangelis’ career he’s done tonnes of soundtracks, and some very experimental things that sound so good. I have a whole library of Vangelis, it’s a massive amount of works – about 40 albums or so. I always found his orchestration and sounds super fascinating, he’s one of my favourite artists of all time.”

The more Gonzalez chats about Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the more it becomes apparent just how much emotional energy has been spent on this album. “It can be exhausting, especially because during this year I’ve been recording for long periods of time, 12-15 hours a day in the studio. I hate listening to and working on music at a very low volume, so I’m kind of deaf right now, with one year working on this album! I love working at a very huge volume, with loud things. So yeah, it can be very tiring physically, and mentally as well, but especially mentally.”

He elaborates. “I’m sleeping very badly ever since one year ago when I started on this album, because I am so involved in the process of making this album work. You can’t stop thinking about it, you’re still playing it in your head all night long, and you can’t even fall asleep because of that. Some evenings I was almost screaming! So it was tough, but also rewarding and satisfying as well. It’s a journey, and you’re part of an adventure, so you just make it work. These are tough moments, but it’s like life – life is full of them, and very happy ones too I think.”

He is not afraid to reveal the identity of the album’s dedicatee, either. “Honestly, and I like to say this, the album is kind of a gift to myself. As I’m 30 years old now it’s a message saying ‘Try to be proud of yourself, try to make something you’re happy and proud about. Don’t think about the consequences of what people might say about it. That’s what I really tried to do. God knows I like big, epic music, emotional stuff, and at the end it’s almost at the fringe of being slightly too much. People have said that critically about my music, that it’s too emotional and too pompous, but I’m not cheating – this is what I am.”

“I always love to cut memories from the past, and think about my childhood, and this album is really about that”
– Anthony Gonzalez

Zola Jesus is the first vocalist we get to hear on the album, on Intro – and the pair seemed destined to meet. “I’m a big fan of her,” he says, “and since she started I tried to follow her. She’s one of the few female vocalists that really has something unique, she doesn’t sound like anyone else. We exchanged emails the exact same day, it was a complete coincidence! She was just moving to LA as well. When we met I was expecting someone very dark, gothic maybe, but she’s very nice, very uplifting, and is a very funny person. I think we really shared the same vision of music, we like the same kind of stuff, and it was just natural and almost easy to work with her.”

Is it safe to assume his studio time is in high demand at present? “I’ve been asked to do some new things but I’ve been so busy that I couldn’t really enjoy it, and I didn’t feel ready at the time. It’s such a big responsibility to produce and manage an album, but I would love to do it. Now I have more knowledge about the way you record an album I would love to do an album with a band in the future.”

The producer for Hurry Up I’m Dreaming is Nine Inch Nails bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen. “We met two years ago at a festival in Scotland,” says Gonzalez. “He asked to meet with me and he was very genuine, said he loved my music, that he was starting to produce bands and wanted to produce me. I said why not – I like it when people come to me this way, and I would never go to a trendy producer who doesn’t really know my music. So we met again in LA, got on well and started to work together.”

Gonzalez appears to be settling nicely into his life in LA. “I love it, it’s great to be there, and the landscapes are very inspiring. During the making of the album I would often drive to the desert and have a couple of seats and my computer. Most of the small interludes from the album were recorded in the desert, just alone, by myself. I like to do that sometimes, get away from the city, and clear my head to get some fresh air before coming back to the studio.”

The interludes are reminiscent of his Digital Shades project, which runs in parallel to the ‘band’ stuff. “I just decided to put everything in one album this time,” he explains, “instead of doing a Digital Shades number two. I love doing ambient things like that, and I hope to do another Digital Shades in the next year or so.”

“I love singing but I have always been scared of singing loudly. On this one I think I achieved a new dimension with my vocal”
– Anthony Gonzalez

Recently Gonzalez has been taking M83 on tour, supporting stadium fillers such as The Killers and Kings Of Leon. Does he see this as a natural fit for his music? “Natural is not quite the word. I honestly am not a huge fan of the bands I’ve been opening for, but I think it was a great experience, because they are a much bigger band size and have had much more success. I just wanted to feel what that was like, and honestly it was a hell of an influence on this album, the fact we toured with these bands. It gives you a sign to be more communicative with your music, and for me with my vocals especially. When you see them perform in front of a big audience, and connect with the audience, it makes you jealous almost, and you say ‘I want to be in their place, doing the same thing’. It really gave me the strength to do a big album like this.”

The sense is that he is emerging from his shell as a vocalist. “I love singing but I have always been scared of singing loudly. On this one I think I achieved a new dimension with my vocal, and I think people will be surprised by the way I’m singing on the album. I think it’s good because it’s almost like a new feature for M83, it opens windows and doors into my world. I was very happy with that aspect.”

And what of M83, does he regard it as a solo project or a band? “M83 is like a constellation of multiple people. For me every person that has worked in the past or will work in the future is part of M83. It’s like a big family, not a band but more like a community.” With Gonzalez as the sun at the centre? He laughs. “Yes, the guru. I’m a big guru of a sect, yeah! It’s weird. But I’m a very nice guru, a nice guy.”

A guy who loves to dream, as in the album title? “I just love dreaming. Unfortunately my memory is so bad – or I smoke too much – that I can’t remember much of my dreams nowadays. It’s funny because when I first moved to LA I felt kind of lonely but what kept me going was thinking and remembering some of my memories from childhood. I was watching a lot of Japanese animations when I was a kid, and there was this one called Galaxy Express. It was the story of a kid who was travelling in a train from planet to planet, and this TV show was amazing – beautifully animated, and the music was fantastic. Every episode was on a different planet, and there were 150 episodes of a truly amazing show. I was obsessed with it, and I had dreams about it myself, like I was captain of a spaceship, moving from planet to planet. I started to remember some of those dreams when I started to work on this album, and now here we are!”

The new M83 album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, will be released through Nave on 10 October 2011, including the single Midnight City. Anthony Gonzalez and crew will play Heaven, London on 1 December 2011.


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