Published May 01, 2008Anthony Gonzalez has been making music to capture the sound of his dreams for seven years now. A vivid, expansive and climactic songwriter, the Frenchman who records and performs as M83 (formerly a duo featuring departed co-founder Nicolas Fromageau) has built an impeccable body of work based around sweeping soundscapes, lush melodies and an array of mood swings. At first considered an electronic artist with his breakthrough second album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, Gonzalez expanded the possibilities of M83 when his partner left, resulting in 2005's expansive, breathtaking opus Before the Dawn Heals Us. Not content to sit still, Gonzalez rather quietly released the inaugural instalment of his digital-only ambient series, Digital Shades Vol. 1, last year, while concurrently moving ahead, shaping M83's amorphous sound into a pop-fitted experimentation: last month's radiating Saturdays=Youth. On the road traveling across Europe, Gonzalez took the time to answer some questions about trying to recapture his teenhood through song, and John Hughes films.
You've said that Before the Dawn Heals Us was the end of a chapter for you. Can you explain what exactly that chapter was about for you? And if Saturdays=Youth has begun a new chapter for you, what were you intending to start with this new album?
My previous albums identified as more shoegaze and many compared it to My Bloody Valentine. A lot of the previous albums were similar with equal songs. With the new album, I wanted to make something new, to evolve. I think its always better for a band to evolve. I also wanted to try something more pop-oriented with more vocals. It's quite new for me to work with pop songs so I made an effort to have more singing on this album. It was really quite a challenge for me. I listened to pop songs from the 80s. When I was younger, I listened to a lot of experimental music, but for this album I wanted the songs to be simple, more direct.
Songs like "Kim and Jessie," "Graveyard Girl" and "Dark Moves of Love" demonstrate your newfound interest in more pop-song-structured songwriting. Is that something you see becoming more and more prominent in your future?
Im just learning to make these structures and its not so easy. To make a good pop song is one of the most difficult things. Its easy to make sad songs with a good melody, but I am just learning to make pop songs. Maybe on the next record it wont be the same thing.
I read that for Saturdays=Youth you were using themes such as teenage life, primarily that inspired by John Hughes films, and the '80s as a decade for the new album. Can you explain what significance those things have on your music?
Ive always been fascinated with teenagers. I feel really close to what John Hughes says in his movies. I feel like I had the same kind of experiences when I was a teenager. His movies mean a lot to me. I have the best memories from when I was a teenager, the best memories of my life. I would like to be a teenager forever. When youre 13 or 14, you start to discover new things, what life really is, its beautiful thing. In my teenage years I was experiencing new things, new bands, new movies, first drug experiences, sex experiences. I felt so strong, I wanted to try everything. Saturdays=Youth is tribute to the ages of being a teenager.
What do you feel are the biggest differences between Saturdays=Youth and your previous albums?
The biggest difference is Im growing up, Im evolving, and my music is evolving because of it. You can still feel some melancholy in my music, but its different. Im 27 now, when I did Before the Dawn Heals Us I was 24. Three years is a lot between records. Ive gained some experience, Ive grown up a lot.
What made you employ both Ken Thomas and Ewan Pearson to produce the album? Were they each brought in to work on different ideas of yours?
Its quite new for me to work with producers. For the previous albums I was doing everything on my own so it was a new thing for me and I just wanted to try that. I chose Ewan because I love the way he treats sounds; he has a modern vision and hes a young producer. Ken Thomas is more experienced and he worked with the Cocteau Twins, which I love. Hes also worked with a lot of great bands from the 80s so he definitely brought that element to it. What I thought was cool was the combination of the two producers and it was interesting because the production on my record is very different from other productions in music today. They were both aware of what I wanted to do so it was easy working with them. The two of them just listened to me and my feeling about the record.
Morgan Kibby was a perfect choice to contribute vocals. Can you tell me how you found her and what inspired you to include her so prominently on the album? Will she be accompanying you on tour?
Morgan Kibby will be on tour. When I first worked on my demo, I was looking for a girl with a natural English voice. A French director, who is a friend of mine, told me about her. I looked her up on MySpace and listened to her voice which reminded me of Kate Bush, very soft and crystal clear. Shes so talented and can do so many different styles to where on some songs we didnt really have to use any effects on her vocals. She was really easy to work with and she was familiar with M83 before, which made it natural and easy.
Has how you perform live changed at all with the new album?
Playing live has always been difficult for me because of all the layers. Its very difficult to reproduce on stage. The best thing is to do the songs differently. Ive been working together with this new band for one month so its brand new. This is my fourth album so we can play many different songs and make the performance very eclectic. Weve been experimenting a lot with songs and playing them in different ways than how they are on the record.
It was a nice surprise seeing you embrace your ambient side and release something like Digital Shades. Can you tell me a little bit about where the inspiration for that project came from? And when can we expect a second volume?
Ambient music I listen to a lot, I just really love it. I grew up listening to ambient sounds and could listen to it 24 hours a day, just have it in the background. Brian Eno is one of my favourites, I love artists like that, hes done all of the artists in the 80s. I find it kind of easy to work on ambient sounds; its peaceful for me and I can do everything on my own. I also live in the south of France and the landscapes are really beautiful there, which influences my music a lot. I want to do some other volumes and I plan on releasing one every year.