Interview M83: “I was obviously happy about the success, but also mad”
Anthony Gonzalez’ new album ‘Junk’ is a chaotic return. He tells Will Richards how he reacted to ‘Midnight City’’s insane success.
Thrown into the public eye, musicians either embrace the fame or retreat without a second glance. When Future Islands danced for millions on the telly, they repeated the feat for an exhausting but rewarding year. M83’s breakthrough, if we’re to call it that, was even more extreme. ‘Midnight City’ wound up everywhere, soundtracking posho break-ups and every house party this side of 2011.
Anthony Gonzalez’s return, ‘Junk’, has the distinct whiff of a record that’s avoiding the spotlight. Not to say it doesn’t have its moments. But even on the divine ‘Do It, Try It’ and the emotion-dripping ‘Atlantique Sud’, Gonzalez isn’t in the spotlight. “I’m not the best singer, I don’t really like listening to my voice, and my voice was so there on the last album, and I was singing in a different way,” he explains, speaking a month before the album’s release, in a Paris hotel.
Once ‘Junk’ comes out, Gonzalez will find himself on giant festival stages across the world. He’s not low down the bill, either. Brushing close with headliners, he’s poised to see ‘Midnight City’ become even more of a bonafide anthem. ‘Junk’ doesn’t play up to this fest-ready role, however. Instead, it finds M83 in a twist, torn between becoming genuinely gigantic or instead pursuing the experimental goods which came before his surprise breakthrough. Will Richards finds him caught between two choices.
How did you spend your year off?
I spent it in LA, playing soccer, having fun. Making music but not necessarily writing. I missed playing music just for my enjoyment, and not with the intention of anything coming out of it.
How much has living in LA affected the music you make?
I’ve been living in LA for five or six years now. I feel like the influence of Los Angeles is maybe more obvious on ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ than the new record. What really influenced me on that album is the fact that I was far away from France. In the last year I’ve been really missing France a lot, especially with the attacks in Paris. I felt so far away from my family and my friends, and I felt useless. I was in the studio in LA just making music, and I wasn’t close enough to the people I love. That was a strange feeling, bringing lots of sadness, and I think you can feel that in the album. As a result, I started to think about singing in French on a couple of the songs. I was missing home and I needed to get closer to my roots.
Did you ever think about moving back to France?
Yes. I’m thinking of it every day. I miss the culture, and obviously family and friends. I love California, but my roots are here. Because of my career, it’s important for me to be [in LA], and I love my life there, but I wish I could bring all the stuff I love from France to Los Angeles. That would be ideal. I still want to explore so many things and jump on new projects in Los Angeles first, and then maybe I’ll think about moving back.
Were there any specific things that you knew you wanted when you started making the album?
I knew that I wanted a collection of songs that are not supposed to live together. A kind of broken radio, lost in space, with the idea and the challenge of finding some kind of unity for all of them. Also I wanted the album to be less ‘big’, and maybe more romantic, and more human. Less bombastic.
"I had albums, and I wanted people to recognise that, instead of this one song."
Is there anything that does tie the songs together, in that case?
I didn’t want to do just a ballad album, or just a pop album. I wanted to follow my heart, and my heart was telling me to try and mix all the styles of different music together. The album is different because I wanted it that way. All of my albums always start with some kind of piano ballad that grows and grows, but for once I wanted to put all the bigger songs first, and have the more tender side of the album later. That was quite a change for me. It’s a crazy album, but I like that. I like diversity. I like eclecticism. It’s very important to surprise the listener, and that’s what I wanted to do, and what I’ll keep doing. I feel like a lot of people are expecting me to release ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ #2, but there’s no way I’m going to do that. I’m not interested. I’ve done it. I wanted to explore new things and this collection of songs works together because I hope the fans are still going to find ‘my sound’ in the songs; it’s not completely gone, just there in a different form.
Would you call the new album a reaction against what people were maybe expecting from the new album after first discovering you on ‘HU, WD’?
If they’re expecting this, that’s totally fine and understandable. There’s a lot of people who discovered my music through ‘Midnight City’, the biggest hit for me, and it triggered something weird in me. I thought I should maybe go far from it. It was a fantastic thing for me to have such a hit song which so many people loved, that you can play live and know that the crowd response will be great, but do I want to try doing that again? Especially because ‘Midnight City’ was an accident. I was obviously happy about the success, but also mad, because I had a career before that. I had albums, and I wanted people to recognise that, instead of this one song. But it didn’t happen that way, so I wanted to change things. The radio kept playing this track over and over, instead of going onto the other singles. We have a new single out, why don’t you try playing that one instead? It’s something you can’t control though. I realised I’m not in control any more. Once my music is out, it’s in the hands of the press and the fans. Even without this control of knowing what will happen when it’s out, I wanted to release an album that I am proud of, and that speaks to me, and if it speaks to me in a certain way, I am hopeful that it will do the same for others.
Were you worn out by being a frontman as well as a songwriter?
I definitely wanted less of me. On the last album, there was way too much. It wasn’t whispers any more. I felt like it was due to the fact that I was just starting a new life in Los Angeles, I was excited, I was confident, and I wanted to achieve big things. You can really feel that on the album. Now, with a little retrospect, I feel like it was a little too much. I wanted to come back with something - and this is weird - that’s more personal, but with less of me.
M83’s new album ‘Junk’ is out 8th April via Mute.
M83 will play Open’er (29th June - 2nd July), Bilbao BBK Live (4th-7th July) and Latitude (14th-17th July), where DIY is an official media partner. Tickets are on sale now. Visit diymag.com/presents for more information.
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