Anthony Gonzalez is the driving force behind French band M83. Since 2001 M83 have released several albums of hypnotic electronica combined with effects laden guitars, and softly sung vocals. Static’s Chris Berkley managed to track down Anthony on his first Australian tour and discussed airline mishaps, growing up on the French Rivera, the new M83 album Saturdays=Youth and the influence of director John Hughes.
Welcome finally to Australia, although you haven’t been having the best of times?
Yeah it’s been a bit hard since we got here. But I’m alright now.
For people who didn’t know your gear didn’t turn up in Sydney. Has this ever happened to you in the history of being a touring band?
No this is the first time actually.
I guess you have to go through all those things in a band at least once.
Apart from all these calamities It must be nice to get to come here. Were you aware that the Midnight Juggernaut’s wanted you guys to come and play with them?
Yeah. I really love their records and knew they liked my music as well. It’s a good thing to play here. It’s my first time in Australia and I’m really excited to play here. The country is beautiful and people seem to be very kind to us. So I’m really glad to be here.
That said you come from a pretty beautiful place yourself; you come from Antibes on the coast right? Not a bad place to come from?
Yeah, it’s a beautiful place, with beautiful landscapes as well. But, it’s a small town on the south coast on the French Rivera. So it’s beautiful but there are a lot old people so it’s a bit boring sometimes, especially in winter, but in summer it’s a great place.
So was growing up there boring? Did you have much to do or is that why you locked yourself into your room to make records?
It wasn’t that boring. When you are a teenager you can have fun pretty much everywhere, you know? But they are not a lot of live shows; there is no real music scene.
So you had to travel to Paris to see bands did you?
Yeah exactly, or Marseilles which is only a two hour drive.
What kind of bands where you reared on then? Was it rock bands you would go and see or would you go clubbing. What did you grow up listening to?
When I was thirteen and fourteen I was into noisy rock music like Sonic Youth and Mogwai and stuff like that. And I was listening as well to some Krautrock music, German music from the 70s. I grew up with that.
A lot of Sydney-siders will be surprised to learn that M83 has been around for ten years or so. The first album from 2001 (the self titled M83) was bit more of a straight ahead electronic record. Back then did you have an idea of the type of sound that you wanted M83 to be?
I really like the evolution of the project since the first record. I think it’s a very interesting progression and evolution. We started with a very electronic album which was made in a small bedroom with only an eight-track recorder and now with the new one it’s totally different. We went to a big studio in Wales and in London to record everything; it’s more professional I think. It’s cool because I like to compose music alone but I like share ideas with people as well. So I was grateful with this recording to work with two producers and musicians, it was a really good experience.
It seems also, leading up to Before the Dawn Heals Us, that you were getting grander visions as well as a grand sound. Was it starting to envelop itself by that stage? The last proper M83 album was pretty epic and operatic album in some ways.
Yeah. When we first recorded Before the Dawn Heals Us it was made in a house in the countryside of France and I wanted to have wall of sound, but a very spacey sound and a bit of psychedelic sound as well. The new one, Saturdays=Youth, is quite different — it’s more about pop songs. There are ten different songs; it’s very eclectic compared to the previous one which is more unique, like a soundtrack made for a movie.
I want to talk to you about that in a minute. You said you like composing but then making music with others, but at the same time Before the Dawn Heals Us was the first M83 album you made after Nicolas had left. You had been working with just him for those first couple of records. Was that much of challenge, or a different thing, for you to lose that band member and do this stuff completely solo?
It was so great to have Nicolas around for the two first records, I really appreciated that. But I always compose for the band, so even when Nicolas was part of M83 I was working alone on my compositions. But yeah, it was a bit new to work all alone throughout the whole process of the recording. That’s okay I like that. I like the feeling of being alone just me and my music.
Did that free you up as well? In between you did the Digital Shades record last year which was composed of more ambient pieces, which is pretty much what the Sydney audience got as your live show. Did doing that record in between albums give you a better idea that you really could make any kind of album as M83?
The idea of Digital Shades was to try different things. I’m a huge fan of Brian Eno and his ambient works.
It’s your Music for Airports is it?
Exactly. It’s a bit of a tribute to Brian Eno and his ambient works. But it’s like recreation for me. It’s good to try something different sometimes. I like to make the project evolve individually.
As well as having this ambient side to yourself is there also a soundtrack composer in trying to get out? Because a track like “Car Crash Terror” on the last album had those acted vocals on it. Do you imagine that a lot of M83 could soundtrack a movie?
My relationship with cinema is very important. I’m very fond of cinema; I watch a lot of movies. I guess most of my influences come from movies and not from music. I think my music could bring something interesting to (the world of) film. I’d like to work on movie soundtracks one day.
I read you saying about Saturdays=Youth that obviously musically it owes a debut to things like The Sugarcubes and Cocteau Twins but equally as important to you was its relationship to the films of John Hughes. Do think not enough bands confess that movies can be equal an influence as other bands?
Yes. I’ve always been fascinated by teenagers, especially John Hughes movies from the 80s.
Is that because you were in France? Did America feel very different? Did that culture seem different?
I don’t know, maybe it’s more exotic when you’re a French guy and you’re watching his movies.
And all the American kids are watching Jean-Luc Godard films or something and wishing they were in Paris?
Yeah. I like his movies, I don’t know why. He talks to me. I think that the actors are great, I mean Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink is amazing. They’re really strong movies with good soundtracks.
Even Some Kind of Wonderful?
Yeah, yeah, of course.
Even Curly Sue or Home Alone or some of the kiddy stuff he started making or do you draw the line there?
Um, yeah [laughs] I draw the line there.
Thank you so much for talking to us it was great to nail you down for five minutes.
Thanks a lot for inviting me.
First broadcast on Static on 14/03/2008. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3FM) and via the internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).