Recently I had an opportunity to interview Anthony Gonzales of the French electronic band M83 for Kevchino. M83, named for a distant galaxy, was formed in 2001 by Anthony along with Nicolas Fromageau (who has since left) and early on they were compared to shoegazing bands like the Cocteau Twins. Since their first album in 2001, they have released four more, and their sound has continued to progress from spoken words with music to full-out singing and greater popular and dance sensibilities. Their most recent album, 2008’s Saturdays=Youth, mixed its 1980s film soundtrack quality with a blend of old and new. I had a chance to speak to Anthony Gonzales in New York during M83’s latest tour.
TN: I wanted to start off by asking you about France and America. In America there is a common belief that the French don’t really like America or American values. As an artist who really seems to understand both France and America, I wanted to know what your perception is of that belief.
AG: You think that France doesn’t like America?
TN: I don’t really know, but many Americans believe that the French don’t like America.
AG: No, no, that’s not true. When you are French and you are a kid growing up in France and you are listening to American music and watching the American television, you are eating the same food, you are buying the same products, so, no, I think we have the same kind of culture even if we grew up in a different country. I think it is absolutely not true. [laughing]
TN: That’s interesting. Maybe it’s just a misperception. How do the French feel about the election of Barack Obama?
AG: I think it is a great move for France, and for America first. Our French people were really active in this election. I think it is going to maybe change things for the world and the U.S. and the connection between the world and the United States, so it is absolutely going to be a good thing for everyone.
TN: I wanted to ask you a little bit about your hometown of Antibes in the South of France. The area has always attracted artists and creative people. How has it influenced you as an artist?
AG: Well, it is difficult to say because it’s just a beautiful area; there is the sea and the beaches. But the thing is, there is no life out there, especially for the music. When you are a teenager and you want to go and see shows, it’s almost impossible because nobody, like, no band comes to play the South of France. I think it’s one of the negative parts of living in the South of France. Otherwise, it’s fantastic. I love it, especially when you are a musician, ’cos it’s really quiet and you can really focus on your music, but it’s a bit boring. [laughs]
TN: Your music definitely has a sense of the cinematic. I wanted to know if you ever had any aspirations of actually making a film along with the music yourself one day?
AG: I don’t know if I’d be capable of doing a movie, but I am definitely interested in making soundtracks in the future for movies. My brother is a movie director, actually, so he’ll do the movies and I’ll do the music.
TN: How much does having a brother in film help you understand the world of cinema?
AG: Oh yes, when I was a kid, he showed me plenty of good movies, and because of it now I am huge fan of cinema. I can’t live without watching movies and stuff like that. It’s definitely a more classic influence than the music.
TN: I wanted to ask you a bit about your new album, Saturdays=Youth. It’s a bit of a departure from your previous work, a little more upbeat. What was going through your mind when you were making it?
AG: I guess the first thing was to do something different from the previous album. That was my main concern, just trying to come up with something different. I wanted to try something more pop. That was the reason why, working on this album, there are a lot more vocals on it. But I guess that’s the thing—I just wanted to create something different, sort of like keeping my sounds and keeping my identity, but also adding something different to this album
TN: Do you see it as a challenge at all when you are adding more vocals and pushing the sound forward? Does that come naturally to you, or was it a difficult process?
AG: It was difficult for me because I’m not a singer; I’ve never been a singer. I’ve been doing it in the studio, but it is difficult for me singing live because I’m not really good. That’s the reason why on most of my albums I am singing with other people, you know? [laughing]
TN: Right, on this most recent album, you worked with a couple of new musicians like singer Morgan Kibby of the Los Angeles band the Romanovs. How did that come about?
AG: I was just looking for a girl with an 80s style in her voice. When I first heard Morgan’s voice, I really had a crush on her voice. She was, like, perfect for this album. She has the voice I was looking for, and I am so glad that we met each other. It went pretty well. I mean, it was a good experience with her. She is a professional. She speaks French as well, so it was very easy to talk to her and to explain what I wanted from her, and she is coming along on tour with us. We started to work together, and now she is a really good friend of mine. Yeah, she is great. I love her.
TN: It’s funny. She has a background in films too, doesn’t she?
AG: Yeah, she works on trailers and soundtracks too.
TN: With the new album, there is definitely an obvious 80s influence. I was wondering if there was ever a fear of making it too 80s and not having a modern-enough feel to it?
AG: Yeah, that was the trap. We really tried to make it as modern as possible. That was the reason why I said I wanted to keep my identity on this album and not treat it like a tribute to the 80s music, because a lot of bands have already done that, so it was useless to do the same thing.
TN: In the past you had a chance to collaborate with many musicians and do some great remixes with them too. Are there any musicians out there that you would really like to work with in the future?
AG: I love the voice of the Chairlift’s singer. Chairlift’s album is one of my favorites this year. I would love to work with them.
TN: Your music has a lot of variation from ambient instrumentals, to dance, to the more poppy sound with vocals. Do you try to embrace the variation and the experimentation, or do you see yourself building towards something?
AG: I mean, I always start with creating a melody, and after that I’ll start with tracks and tracks of music. That is the way I do music (laughing), so it doesn’t have a chance in the beginning.
TN: Your music often features some spoken word segments and different ways of using words in general. What is the inspiration behind that?
AG: I guess it’s movies. Sometimes I just want to create movie scenes in my albums, and that is the reason why I am doing that. I am always interested in and inspired by movies.
TN: Have you given any thought to what direction you might go next? I know you are on tour right now. Is it a slow process when you are coming up with the idea for your next project?
AG: Yeah, it is very slow (laughing). You said it; we are on tour right now, and my head is, like, focused on the tour. I really don’t have the time to work on music, but I definitely have a bunch of ideas in my head for the next album, but it is too early. My head is still in this album for now, and I am going to wait a while before I starting working on it.