Hailing from Antibes, France, M83 has been creating dreamy, electro-shoegaze splendor for close to a decade, and recently has garnered the appreciation they have long deserved. In 2008 they toured with the likes of Kings of Leon and The Killers in support of their overwhelmingly successful, instant classic Saturdays=Youth. To learn more from his genius, we chatted with M83 mastermind, Anthony Gonzalez the day before he hit the stage in front of an electric, sold-out crowd in Nashville a few months ago.
First of all, I wanted to ask about the March performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra that was announced recently. What can you tell us about what that will look like?
I am really excited first, because it is dream for me to perform with a Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s going to be a great show and I can’t wait.
Did you work out the arrangements with them? How will you go about doing that?
I am working out the instruments with them, yeah.
You’ve also recently scored Eva Husson’s film Tiny Dancer. Has that been released yet?
No unfortunately not yet. She is having problems with the producers. The movie is finished actually but it’s just complicated right now. Maybe next year, I don’t know.
I wanted to ask you about your approach to scoring the film. The storyline seems to fit in with the teenage paradigm of Saturdays=Youth.
Oh yeah definitely. For me this is definitely a teen movie because it talks about teenagers and all the issues teenagers can have. It’s also a story about dance, and I did all the music for the dance scenes. It’s beautifully filmed and directed. It’s a shame the movie isn’t out.
You’ve talked in the past about how your teenage years are dear to you and were an experimental time for you. Why was it important for you to make an album referencing that era of your life for your very youthful audience? Were you merely reflecting and relishing in that time period or where you trying to communicate something specific to your audience?
This album is definitely a means to express my feelings and thoughts because I am not very talkative and am kind of shy. So the music is definitely a way for me to talk about myself, about my life, about my fears, and about my feelings. So that’s the reason why I wanted to talk about my teenage years.
This morning to prepare for the interview I sat down and tried to listen to all of your work in chronological order. Each of your albums explores a new aspect of your musical identity, but there’s a continuity between them all, as if you pick up where you left off at the last album, and proceed in a fresh direction. Saturdays=Youth seems to represent the most drastic change in direction but you manage to maintain your hard-won sonic identity. How intentional did you have to be in the creative process to maintain your unique sound while you explored new musical territories?
That’s pretty much the aim for me when I’m making an album. I want to keep my identity and my sound in those albums, but I also want to explore different paths and different ways of doing music. That’s the reason this album is very different from the previous ones, but you can still feel that it’s an album with the M83 sound in it. It’s not that different from the previous ones because of the sound, but it’s more like the mood of this album is different. I think I tried to keep my sound as much as possible on this album too. I don’t see myself as doing the same albums over and over, otherwise it would get boring sometimes. Music means a lot to me. If I don’t change things, if I don’t evolve then I fail.
How difficult was that to do something new all the while maintaining your “sound.” Was it that difficult or did it just come naturally?
Well, it’s always difficult when your are creating a new album because you want to be happy with the sound, you want to be happy with the concept of the album, you want people to like it, so it’s not that easy when you are trying something different because you are really scared of the reaction of the press and of the people, but I’m happy because all the fans seemed to like this album a lot. The same with the press, I’m really excited and am really proud of it.
I have read a lot about your favorite ’80s influences that found their way onto this album, and although this record sees you diving deeper into that sound, I can hear shades of that era of music in even as far back as your self-titled record or in Before The Dawn Heals Us. So it seems to me that Saturdays=Youth is more of a specific representation of a pre-existing aspect of M83, rather than a really drastic mood change. Would you agree?
Yeah, yeah definitely. I was a kid growing up in the ’80s so all of my influences come from the ‘70s and from the ‘80s and the ‘90s. I feel that my music is just a mix of all my influences so it sounds like all the bands that I was listening to, because I was listening to all different kinds of music. I definitely agree with you. In all the previous albums you can feel an ‘80s influence on it.
I know you really liked Cocteau Twins, Tears for Fears, and Kate Bush–what where some of your favorite albums from that era?
I love Heaven or Las Vegas [Cocteau Twins]. I think it is one of my favorite albums from the ‘80s. I also like Songs From The Big Chair by Tears for Fears and plenty of other great albums . . . Spirit of Eden [Talk Talk]. I mean the ‘80s music is really rich, and there are plenty of kinds of music, plenty of styles of music in the ‘80s–and I like that.
When we talk about ‘80s music, certain images and sounds come to mind from that era. What sort of icons and representations do you think will have a lasting impact and come to represent this current era of music? What do you think will be uniquely identified to this time? Does anything come to mind?
Ummmm . . . not really because I think [the ‘80s] is certainly one of the most important periods in music history. I have a feeling that plenty of bands from the ‘80s created something new at that time, like a new kind of music, with new electronic sounds and a new way of making music. I think bands in the ‘80s tried really hard to create a new sound, and that is the most important thing coming from that time for me.
Once you had completed the album did you expect it to be as successful as it has become? Even with so many artists right now drawing inspiration from New Wave and ‘80s music?
When you’re making an album, it’s very difficult and very scary to release it. You don’t really expect anything from it because you don’t know how people will react to the album. I think this has been one of the most successful albums from M83 so I am really proud of it. And because I tried to do something different on this album it’s really encouraging.
Yeah, does that sort of encourage you to explore where you can take M83?
Yeah that’s what I wanted to say. It gives me the strength to keep on doing that for the next album. That’s what I like about doing music: each album is experiment in something new. That keeps the music really interesting for me.
I have always wondered about your use of dialogue clips from movies and speaking samples that you have used throughout your records. Do you use that medium to evoke the human emotions in your music, or is it sort of a theatrical dynamic?
I don’t know, I love to do that because I think that my influences come mostly from the movies. I have been watching a lot of movies since I was a kid and a teenager; cinema is definitely a big, big influence for me on all my albums and for all my music. I think it is just a part of myself. I think that cinema is more important than music for me. That’s why I use a lot of dialogues and spoken words.
What films or directors have influenced you from France’s rich film history?
I love plenty of French directors, but because I am watching a lot of different kinds of movies . . . I’m just a huge fan of movies. I can watch stupid comedies, but I can also watch French movies from the ‘50s. It doesn’t really matter for me, as long as the movie is good and I am enjoying it.
For instance, The John Hughes movies and the teen movies from the ‘80s have this comedic, nonsensical element, but there is also this intimate view of the human experience and being a teenager.
Oh yeah, yeah. John Hughes movies are very important to me in this album. Saturdays=Youth really shares the atmosphere of his movies. I don’t know, there is something special about his movies. When I am watching a John Hughes movie it is great experience, I love it. The music is always connected to the pictures. It can be really funny and also be really sad-they’re great movies.
Since our magazine is geared towards songwriting, what sort of insight/advice can you give our readers in regards to your songwriting process?
The only thing that is really important for me to compose music is to be in a good space or a good environment, otherwise I can’t do anything. I used to live Paris for a couple of years but I couldn’t hear anything in Paris. I was so bad at making music there because of the city life. I don’t know, I wasn’t confident enough to write music there.
What do you have planned next for M83? Are you working on any new material? Any ideas of where you will go next?
I am working slowly on my new album but since I am on the road, it’s difficult. We will be touring until the end of the summer so I will be working on my new album at the beginning of September or something like that.
What have you been listening to while on the road?
I have been listening to a lot of School of Seven Bells. I think Alpinisms was one of the best albums of 2008. I also really loved the new Fleet Foxes album, and am listening to a lot of the new Animal Collective album.