M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez doesn’t want you to think he’s a grumpy old timer.
He expresses this several times over his Billboard interview, as there are plenty of instances his views are decidedly un-millennial. Gonzalez just isn’t into the likes of Diplo and Skrillex, fears music might’ve peaked in the ’80s, and even worse, he’s worried there’s too much of it out there to really sink into anything new. But then again, he did soundtrack one of the most memorable scenes from one of the most millennial of all millennial films.
Like a teen tumbling through adolescence, M83 — with a little more tact — has navigated numerous styles and scenes throughout its 15-year existence, from panoramic shoegaze to glistening ’80s super-ballads. Gonzalez is 35, and Junk (out today on Mute) finds him sounding as comfortable in his own skin as he’s ever been. It’s the most M83 of all M83 records in that it’s completely unabashed in its absurdity. Gonzalez opened its press cycle by saying it was inspired by ’70s and ‘80s television, and let’s just say that, at times, it doesn’t not sound like the Punky Brewster theme.
It sounds like you had an awful lot of fun recording this album.
I did. It was some kind of a struggle, too. It’s always difficult to work on a new album, with the challenge in mind to renew myself, and offer something different to my fans. It was a lot of fun but there was also a lot of darkness to it as well.
There’s a song on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (“Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” ) about a little girl touching a magic frog. A lot of this album reminds me of that.
It’s a very eclectic album. I wanted to come up with something more fun and more fresh, maybe lighter. I still think there’s a lot of melancholy on this album and a lot of nostalgia. I think it’s a mix of those feelings. My idea was to make an album where you can have fun and cry at the same time.
She’s actually on the new album, on “For the Kids.” It’s funny how four, five years later, she has a completely different voice but still the same kind of character.
You keep stressing the melancholy side of the album; are there certain tracks where you feel that side is most shown?
A track like “Solitude” is a more nostalgic track or “For the Kids” or “Sunday Night 1987.” There’s just a lot of diversity to this album… I didn’t want to come up with just a ballad or a pop album. I wanted to have this collection of songs that aren’t supposed to fit together on an album, with the challenge in mind to actually make them fit.
On past M83 works — and especially on this album — you’re really mining your childhood for inspiration. Why do you think you’re often looking to the past?
Instead of trying to look towards the future, I’m mainly looking backwards. And trying to see what I can take from my instances when I was a kid and a teenager, what I can take from that era and make my own on an album. I’m not really interested in trying to find the sound of the future. That’s really not what I feel I belong to. I’m having a hard time with the way the music industry works. I don’t recognize myself in this industry, really. That’s probably one of the reasons I’m always looking backwards — back to instances from the ’70s and ’80s instead of listening to new music and being inspired…
Do you feel pop music isn’t as personal these days?
I think there was something great about music from the ’70s and ’80s — the fact that there were such new horizons to create new music, with the arrival of new production tools, new synthesizers… I feel like now we’re at a point in music where [there’s] not a lot to explore anymore because everything has been done. Also, the amount of new bands coming up makes things very difficult. Everybody is struggling to make new music or find their own identity because it’s becoming harder and harder. I truly feel what was playing on the radio in the 1980s was definitely avant garde… I don’t want to sound like an old guy who doesn’t like anything from our generation — that’s not true — but I feel like we’re a generation that struggles because of the amount of art that is around. And the way people are consuming music — they don’t necessarily buy albums anymore because they’re going to listen to your album on YouTube or Spotify. It’s really hard to make a living or career and it’s also hard to make a place for ourselves because of the amount of bands… We are in a transition moment, where maybe you’re not going to sell albums, but maybe play more shows. If someone doesn’t buy my album and streams it on Spotify, but comes to see my show, I think it’s a fair trade.
It’s time for us to think about the way we consume music, because I feel like we are going nowhere. I’ve seen bigger artists talking about this recently and that makes me happy because I feel like we’re in a very strange transition where the artist is being ripped off and it makes me sad.
But I think you’ve been able to connect with a lot of young people with how M83’s music has been used in popular films.
Yeah. When you’re a musician nowadays you really have to think about the way you can keep doing it — making money so you can keep investing on your next move and album. One way to do it is to have your music used in commercials and movie trailers. There’s still a lot of artists who think it’s like selling your music to the devil, but I’m taking it the other way. Sometimes a trailer or commercial can be really interesting. That’s an amazing way to reach a new audience.
What did you think of the way “Wait” was used in The Fault In Our Stars?
I think it’s such a great feature because it’s one of these movies that reminds me of classic ’80s movies that really talk to teens directly. This is one of the examples that shows you sometimes the usage of your music in films can be quite interesting.
Did you hear that teens loved that scene so much they stole the bench from where it took place?
Oh no, I didn’t hear about that!
Yeah, I think a lot of people will remember that movie the way you remember a lot of your favorites from the ’80s.
I went to see the movie and there were some young kids crying during that scene. I think it’s cool to be able to feel things when you go to a movie. As long as you feel something, it’s positive. I think pictures still have this power. The combination of music and pictures can actually be the strongest thing ever, in art. I still believe in that.
Are there any big, popular songs you’re into?
I’m not sure, actually. I can’t think of one. I don’t really listen to popular music. I feel like I already hear it even when [I] don’t want to hear it. It’s kind of thrown at me even when I don’t want to hear it.
But even artists like Daft Punk have had big hits recently.
Yeah, there’s some great bands that are very commercial. Phoenix, too, another French band. There’s probably really good pop music that I’m missing out on, because again, discovering music can really be hard.
Are you into really popular DJs, like Diplo and Skrillex?
No, not at all. It’s not a kind of music that really speaks to me. I don’t know. I’m having a hard time understanding the differences between these artists. I feel like they always have the same sounds and the same song structures and momentums. Even the way they look onstage is going to be the same. It’s going to be one guy behind a table putting his hands in the air. I don’t find that very appealing.
So you’ve got a new keyboardist in the band. Tell me how you picked Kaela Sinclair from your open online audition.
She’s going to be great because her pitch is amazing. She’s always in tune and I really like that about singers, because it’s something I don’t have. She’s a great musician as well, on multiple instruments. She can sing the most epic songs in my catalog and she can also sing the most fun ones from the latest album.
When she sent her video, I got in contact with her, I asked her if she could record videos of her singing all my material. We also talked on the phone for a long time about what she’s looking for, what she’s waiting for with this new adventure. It gave me the feel I wanted to get from her. It’s not easy to choose someone when you don’t meet them, but I took this risk with [current member] Jordan Lawlor and I’m really happy with that choice.
I think a lot of songs from the new album sound like they could be the theme for a TV show now.
I think the songs could talk to an older generation, one that’s closer to mine. The idea was really to make tracks that could live in a different era. I have this image in my head of a broken radio floating in space and playing songs from different eras of humanity.
That’s a theme on this album — we all have the same fate, whether you were an artist in the ’80s or 2000s. That’s very romantic and kind of sad at the same time. It’s also a way to reassure myself by telling myself we all have issues and we’re all the same, really. It’s kind of a way to make me feel better about my life sometimes.
It seems like the music of M83 has a very therapeutic value for you.
Yes. This is the only thing I feel I can really do. Making music sometimes — not every time — makes me happy. It makes me closer to people and it makes me share things about my personal life. It’s something very beautiful that I just don’t want to lose. I really feel lucky to do what I do.