Every kid wants to be a superhero: by day, you’re a run-of-the-mill tweenager struggling with school and crushes, but by night, you transform into something powerful, mystical, otherworldly.
Hugo Leclercq had that life. To his friends and family in Nantes, he was just a skinny 16-year-old music geek. In the United States, he was Madeon, the boy-wonder producer who crafted fantastical sounds with nothing but bedroom gear. His live 39-song mash-up “Pop Culture,” posted to YouTube in 2011, made him a promising new name. He would eventually be producing for Elie Goulding, Lady Gaga, Two Door Cinema Club and Coldplay, but maintained his life as Hugo and wrote his 2015 debut album Adventure in his parents’ basement.
Adventure cracked the top 50 of the Billboard 200, and as the subseqent tour was winding down, Leclercq asked himself, “What would happen if I became Madeon all the time?” Following another quick tour with Porter Robinson in support of their collaborative single “Shelter,” he moved to Los Angeles and wrote his upcoming sophomore album Good Faith. It’s a project that does more than put daydreaming aside – it dares to live inside the dream.
Speaking about the album to Billboard Dance by phone in his L.A. home, Leclercq speaks quickly, and his voice is animated. He stutters now and again, as if stumbling against exhilaration in a rush to find just the right phrase. The word “context” is a favorite, as is an “augmented” sense of reality. If Adventure was a make-believe world conceived in familiarity, Good Faith is a true coming-of-age story, a walk through Madeon’s hyper-saturated life.
We caught up with the 25-year-old producer to learn more about his inspirations, and how his obsessive compulsions created a layered universe.
Billboard Dance: You started this album a bit before “Shelter,” but it seems your move to L.A. was a big part of it. Talk to me about the genesis of Good Faith.
Madeon: As the Adventure era was wrapping, I booked a studio in New York for a few days, and something kind of magical happened. I remember very vividly walking down Broadway in this perfect dreamy New York memory and seeing in the horizon the destination I wanted to reach. I felt like I had a new sense of purpose, a new ideal way to express what Madeon was about. I also felt freedom that Madeon could be anything I wanted. I challenged myself to to be exactly the artist I want, to celebrate all of my influences electronic and non-electronic alike.
For three days, I never left the studio. I just made song after song and tried to execute as much of that vision as I could capture, so I could complete it in the future. I realized I wasn’t couldn’t make that album immediately. There were a number of skills I didn’t posses yet. I needed to learn and improve, so I gave myself time. What’s cool is the vision didn’t change along the way. I did “Shelter” and all these other things, but in the back of my head, I knew this [album] is what I was going to make.
What skills did you need to learn?
I felt more excited about music that embodied a person’s [true story], and a natural way to make music that’s intimate and sincere is to write it and sing it yourself. I had done a little bit of that on an Adventure, but not on the single. “Shelter” was a great opportunity to test that and see what it feels like. [Porter and I] made that song, and I sang it. I wanted to see if people were going to reject it or not, and people definitely embraced it. I had a lot more fun on tour feeling like people were connecting with that music, so I decided to pursue that further. I needed to become better at those things, improve as a melody writer, lyric writer and overall artist to feel comfortable carrying an album in that capacity.
I wanted my production style to evolve, too. There were some techniques and tricks I wanted to unlearn, while relearning new ways to make music so the album sounded different and felt like progress. That took time, to figure out my sound set, different ways to produce that yielded different results. It feels coherent, because its still me, but the way I made it was very different. I recorded a lot of live instruments and live drums, live choirs – things like that.
And you thought a move to L.A. might help?
I knew Adventure was about my teenage years. That’s when I made it, and I wanted this one to be about my early adulthood. It was natural to move out from my parents’ basement and have more of my own-life experience. Then I’d have something to write about. I spent some time in New York, a bunch of time in Norway by the ocean. I landed in Los Angeles on a whim. I was there for a show. The sun was pleasant, and there was something in the air that called me. I moved with a couple of friends, and we just did it. I never left.
What did getting out of your parents’ house help you realize about yourself?
There’s a sense of safety, emotionally and practically, from being surrounded by people that care about you so much. Being out on your own, it forces you to figure out who you are outside of the familiar. Something emerges – your actual identity. When I was making Adventure at home, it felt like Madeon was this secret identity. I would tour in the U.S., and back home, nobody would care. Nobody would ask me about it. It was like this life on the side, and real life was my childhood friends. That felt great, really reassuring, but there wasn’t much pressure.
I wanted to try the opposite. I wanted to move to an environment where my entire life was dedicated to that vision. The walls at my house, I covered them with concept art, drawings and ideas. Everything around me relates and contributes directly to the project. It’s really immersive in that way, really inspiring and intense. It helped the overall project direction feel more substantial. It’s not just something I’m working on, it’s literally my life. I decided to chronicle that to some extent by capturing as much of it as I could. Over the past few years, I’ve been filming, documenting that process. I want to shape that into a narrative to help give context to the work. What I was making before was fiction dreamt up in my parents basement. Now, I’m just designing a life for myself. That is the project.
It’s like method acting, but you’re not acting.
It kind of is, honestly. I went on a road trip with my friends and colleagues across America because I wanted to experience this sense of unfamiliarity. I went there with just a pen and paper, writing down lyrics along the road and filming things to use as visuals. It was this crazy, magical, collaborative, experimental time. It felt very special to dedicate my private day-to-day life, where I live and what I do, to this vision.
It sounds like stream-of-consciousness creation.
What’s fun is that you find purpose and meaning in it retroactively. When I relive the past two, three years, I get it now. I understand what I’ve been through; the hardship, what it means. Things I was attracted to initially were instinctual. I thought they were purely hypothetical desires, “I want to make that sound because it sounds cool.” In the process of archiving the experience and learning more about myself, I understood “oh, this is what this was about.” Things that felt abstract become very concrete. It has newfound perspective. I’m glad I waited and didn’t share music along the way or make it in real time.
Does “All My Friends” reflect the LP, sonically or philosophically?
It’s definitely related to the album, but the album is not 12 or any number of similar attempts at that song. They’re all very different. They have a consistency, but this is the most directly and structurally pop song. It’s a fun statement to start a campaign with the most confidently pop song. I’m a big fan of Daft Punk, and I love how, when they released Discovery, they started with “One More Time.” It was the most pop song, and then they released more things that continued to give it context. When you pick the single in isolation, it’s one thing, then when you sit with a large picture, it’s something else.
Good Faith definitely captures a lot different sounds that I like. I think joy is a key theme to the music, but it’s joy that is sometimes being challenged and questioned. It’s not purely a celebration, it’s more about re-earning your joy or celebrating the joy you’ve found again, drowning in it purposefully. I love that song very much, but I’m very excited for the next one. It’s going to show the other side of the album. The combination of those two songs is a great way to explain what I was trying to do.
I enjoyed sleuthing out the secret song “All My Friends Are Asleep” on your web site.
I am a superfan with certain artists. I’m on fan communities and know what it’s like to be a big fan. All I want is to hopefully, eventually become an artist that it’s worth being a fan of. It’s fun to be a fan when there’s some substance there. I try to invest a lot of effort and energy into making sure there’s more to it than just music on streaming platforms and marketing, that it feels worth being interested in and discussing. All those experiences in the real world and online, I’m trying to create. It augments and gives context to the music, but also makes the experience a more magical memory, which is obviously what I care most about. I’m glad you found that, and there’s a lot of stuff coming. There’s a reason it took so long.
I want to hear about the live show, which I’m sure it’s just as detailed.
We’re debuting an early version at Lollapalooza. You’ll be able to see the intention behind it. I’ve developed the live show and album in parallel and in tandem. The way I see it, Good Faith audio, meaning the album and singles, feels very much like daytime, and the live show is the nighttime version. It’s the same spirit, but it has the mystery and energy that night possesses.
It’s me alone onstage. There’s no live band or anything, but there’s a really, particularly art-directed live show; a complicated and intense logistical thing I’m very proud to have come together. it’s an idea I’ve had and been obsessed with for years. I’ve built a maquette – Is that a word in English?
Like a scale model?
Yeah. I built a scale model in my house to test out content, see what it feels like. I’ve dedicated rooms of where I live to do that. It’s really all I do. I don’t want to spoil anything, because I’m really excited about it. It’s going to feature a lot of my past music, but hopefully re-contextualized and augmented. I drew a lot from “Shelter” live with Porter, because it felt very true to our taste. It felt like dance music, but it wasn’t a DJ set. It was a live show with all our own music. We were singing, playing keys and drums, and the audience really reacted. The energy felt pretty special, but we also had emotional moments that you don’t always get at dance shows. That’s important to me as well.
If you put so much of yourself into something, it’s bound to resonate with others as well.
It’s always more fun anyway, because having 10 people care about something you’re proud of is way better than having 1,000 people care about something you don’t feel you were very honest with. No matter what, it’s always the right move. But I hope this resonates.