He’s only 26, but M83’s Anthony Gonzalez has already produced five albums of lush, experimental, thought-provoking, and sometimes gut-wrenching soundscapes. His most recent, Saturdays=Youth, takes a sharp detour into pop territory — breaking his intensely flavored sonic soup down into a more palatable meal of shoegaze, ‘80s pop, and electro, with just a dash of goth for good measure.
Here, he talks about the new direction he took on Saturdays=Youth (incidentally, he regards his own youth, as a teenager in France, as the happiest of times, bursting with discovery and exhilaration), his passion for film, and what he thinks about his fellow countrymen on Ed Banger Records.
Saturdays=Youth has been embraced by critics and fans alike. It’s also brought in a new, much wider audience for M83. How do you feel about getting so much attention?
It’s always surprising when you get a good response, because the music business nowadays is really, really difficult. It’s a good thing to have people behind you to push a project. A lot of people seem to like the album, and I’m glad. It’s fantastic, because we can go on tour and propose our live shows to people in different cities. [The tour] is sold out every night, which is really impressive and really cool for us. I’m proud of that.
Unlike your previous records, most of Saturdays=Youth is made up of more traditionally structured pop songs.
That’s new for me. I’ve never done that before, except on two or three songs on previous albums. There are a lot of classic songs on this album. It’s really difficult to work on pop songs, much more difficult for me than working on a sad or melancholic song. I’m just learning to make pop songs. On the next one, maybe I’ll do better.
Was the decision to take things in a more pop direction a conscious one?
I just wanted to do something different. Compared to my previous albums, it’s more pop, but every time I do an album I just try to make it different from the previous one. I don’t think repetition is a good thing in music. What I wanted to do with this album was a tribute to ‘80s music, but I wanted to keep it personal. Keeping my identity was really important for me.
Saturdays=Youth has been described as sounding like what it was like to be a teenager in the ‘80s, but you weren’t a teenager until the ‘90s.
That’s funny. I think for me there are two tributes in this album: one tribute to ‘80s music and one tribute to being a teenager. I was a teenager in the ‘90s, but I also loved the pop music and movies from the ‘80s, so I just tried to mix these things on the album. I discovered ‘80s music when I was a teenager, and also I think it’s important to me because I am fascinated by my teenage years. It was certainly one of the best periods of my life so far. I have a lot of great memories about it, so for me it’s kind of an homage to this period of my life.
What bands were you listening to?
A lot of Cocteau Twins, Tears for Fears, Talk Talk, the Blue Nile, Duran Duran. All these really good bands from the ‘80s. I was a huge fan of Cyndi Lauper, as well, and Kate Bush. In the meantime, I was also listening to a lot of ‘90s music, like Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Slowdive, and My Bloody Valentine. I think this album is a kind of mix of all my ‘80s influences and also more modern influences.
Besides music, what inspires you?
One of the biggest influences for me is watching movies. It’s even more important than music for me. I always have images in my head when I’m composing music. I think there is a really good connection in cinema between music and pictures, and I really like that. What I’d like to do in the future is work on a movie soundtrack.
Your music does have a very cinematic quality. Have you been approached to work on any soundtracks yet?
I really try to be careful with what projects I choose. I have good proposals, but sometimes I don’t like the movies. I worked on a movie soundtrack a year ago for a young French director. It was a cool project. I’m looking for an American project this year. I’d like to do it more in the future.
What have you been listening to lately?
To tell you the truth, I don’t listen to a lot of new music. There are so many bands today, it’s hard to be focused on one band I really like, so I just listen to a lot of music from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. I’m still buying a lot of records, but from before.
France has been getting a lot of attention recently for artists like Justice and the Ed Banger gang. Do you feel an affiliation with that scene at all?
I don’t know the artists [personally], but I think that Daft Punk, for example, at the end of the ‘90s, did a lot of great things for French music. Nowadays, if bands like my project can have a little success here in America, it’s because of them. They’ve built something very strong. The American people really have a good image of French music because of Daft Punk, Air, and now Justice, so I’m really respectful toward them. I really like some of the songs, as well. I think my music is very different from what they’re doing, but I think it’s a good thing for the French scene.
Do you think the next record you make will be pop-oriented, as well?
I’m sure it will be different, because, like I said, I really try to do something different each time, but I’m not sure what I really want to do on the next one. I’m really trying to find a concept for all my records, and I didn’t find the new concept yet. [laughs] I love to experience things in music.
Will Morgan Kibby, who did vocals on Saturdays=Youth, provide vocals on the next album?
I don’t know yet. I like to work with different people and change my crew each time. I like to share my music with new people and new artists.
With all the success you’ve had, is there more pressure on your next musical project?
I always feel pressure with my music, because I’m a “stress guy,” you know? [laughs] So I’m always pressured, but it’s a good pressure. I like this kind of pressure — it pushes me to make something good.
Will you also continue with the Digital Shades series?
Oh, definitely. It’s more like a side project. It’s a series, and I really want to work on the new one before the end of the year.
What’s next for you after this tour is finished?
Is there anything we’d be shocked to learn about you?
I’m not the type of artist who tries to shock people. I’m kind of shy; I’m just a really simple guy. I like to spend time with my friends, doing a lot of sports. I’ve got quite a healthy life actually. And I watch movies a lot.