M83 mastermind composes odes to youth

As M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez hits the road on his second tour of America this year, VOICES chatted with him about the record, his influences, and playing live.

By Derrick Teo Wee Ghee

One of the highlights on M83’s best known album, Before the Dawn Heals Us (2005), was the song “Teen Angst,” an energetic, synth-heavy, shoe-gazing ode to the impermanence of innocence. On his latest album Saturdays=Youth, Anthony Gonzalez, the mastermind behind the M83 flagship, expands this theme into an album’s worth of flashbacks and nostalgia, a fuzzy tribute to his teenage years. As Gonzalez hits the road on his second tour of America this year, I chatted with him about the record, his influences, and playing live.

Derrick Teo Wee Ghee: Your latest album is called Saturdays=Youth. There’s a very uplifting vibe on this album. In a way it’s less dramatic than what you’ve done previously—it sounds more immediate, more hopeful. What was your youth like to you? Were there any specific incidents that inspired the record, or any songs?

Anthony Gonzalez: Yeah, I was born in 1980, so I was a bit too young to discover the music from the ’80s because I was a kid. But I discovered the music from the ’80s when I was 13, 14—when I was a teenager. So I have to say that the music from the ’80s reminds me a lot of my teenage youth, brings pretty memories to me, a lot of great experiences during my teenage years. It’s normal to do a kind of tribute to this period of my life. It was just the general feeling, you know.

DT: This was your first album where you recorded with a producer—two of them, in fact: Ken Thomas and Ewan Pearson. How did you find the experience? Did it change the way you record? I’ve read before that you’re very possessive of your work and ideas.

AG: It’s kind of different because I really wanted to keep it the same. When working with people I really wanted to keep the power…and I always felt confident enough with Ken Thomas to say what I wanted to say and do what I wanted to do with my music.

DT: You have Morgan Kibby (lead singer of Los Angeles band The Romanovs) contributing vocals to this album. Are there parts of songs, or whole songs even, where you changed or wrote new parts to complement the sound of her voice?

AG: I think there was; I wanted to work with her because I really liked her voice. I really had a crush on her voice. For me, she belonged to this album, she writes most of the melodies she’s singing on the record. She did an amazing job and I chose her because of her voice…. I just felt free to try whatever she wanted to try. We just collaborated together.

DT: So would you say this was your most collaborative record?

AG: Yeah, I mean, I like to collaborate with artists. I did it also on the previous one—I had a female singer as well…. I was working also with the same drummer, with more musicians…so I think on the last couple of albums I liked to compose the music on my own, but also I like to share my music with other artists.

DT: There’s a very cinematic scope in your music, and also a lot of talking—you must watch a lot of movies. Which films/actors/directors would you say have been the most influential on you and your music?

AG: To start with, the big influence on me is John Hughes’s movies, like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink were really big influences for me on this album. Yeah a lot of different kinds of movies because I’ve watched a lot of movies since I was a kid, it’s like a part of myself, watching movies, even more important than music. So yeah I think the reason why my music is so cinematic because I’m watching a lot of movies, and I also listen to a lot of movie soundtracks, so…yeah.

DT: Is your live sound as cinematic as your music?

AG: Well live it’s pretty different—you can’t really reproduce what you’re doing on the records. It’s almost impossible—the record is too produced. Live is a different experience. It’s more vibrant, it’s more rock ’n’ roll, it’s more…electric, I would say. And also we’re playing a lot of songs from our previous albums as well. And it’s a really eclectic show with a lot of different kinds of atmospheres in it.

DT: How much is accessibility a concern in your making music? Is there some part of your writing process where you say, “OK I’m going to reach more people here?”

AG: I think when you’re making music you want to touch more and more people, you know. I like contact with people, and I like to share my music with people, and when you’re playing live you meet with people, you know…. So when I write music it’s also myself, but also live, actual people.

DT: Now with your last three records, you’ve had three very distinct sounds. Any indication or idea where you think you’ll be headed next, any ideas you feel like trying out?

AG: I don’t know yet, it’s too early. I just want to focus on the end of the tour now, and wait for January or February next year to start writing for the next album.

DT: This would be your second trip to Chicago this year. Obviously you’ve had enough fun the first time to come back round; tell us about the response to your music on the first leg of the tour?

AG: Yeah it was really good, we played in a small venue, the Empty Bottle… The people there are fantastic—we hadn’t played in the same club for three years. Now we’re going to a new venue, so that’s going to be exciting as well.

DT: You’re touring this time round with a pretty new band, School of Seven Bells. I can see similarities between your sounds—lushly produced songs with strong melodies and a very dream-like character to it, and I can only guess at how complementary your sounds are. How did you spot them? How has touring with them been?

AG: I really love the band. I love their music. We used to be the supporting band for the Secret Machines on their tour in the U.K., a few years ago, so I knew [School of Seven Bells founder and guitarist] Benjamin Curtis before. I’m really pleased to go on tour with him again because he’s a really talented musician and he’s playing with a different act this year, a really good act. The tour’s been cool; it’s positive.

DT: Well, I guess that’s it for now then. Have fun on your tour and in Chicago!

AG: Thank you.