"I've never really been that proud of Saturdays=Youth" - DiS meets M83
M83 should be something of a household name to any long-standing reader of Drowned In Sound. Having been championed by DiS from the start, sophomore album Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts receiving an impressive 9/10 back in 2003, to most recent album Saturdays=Youth winning the coveted "album of the year" prize in 2008, their status as both staff and reader favourites is firmly established. Now after a three-year period of touring and songwriting, album number six is ready to go. Monday 17th October will see the release of possibly M83's most ambitious set of recordings yet, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, a sprawling double album comprising twenty-two pieces of music that veer between the past, present and future of the band's peerless output.
In a rare interview, DiS managed to secure half an hour in the presence of Anthony Gonzalez, the founder member and brainchild behind the Antibes based project. As elegant and charming offstage as on, no stones were left unturned as collaborations, back catalogues, David Byrne, stadium rock and "single track culture" all came under scrutiny during our brief encounter.
DiS: It's been three years since the release of Saturdays=Youth. Apart from making the new record, what else have you been up to over the interim period?
Anthony Gonzalez: We spent a lot of that time touring Saturdays=Youth, the best part of two years as it happens. When you've spent so long on the road you need to have a rest, spend some time with friends and family and that's what I did. After that I worked on a couple of projects and also moved to California where I then started to work on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming around this time last year.
DiS: Because Saturdays=Youth received such a high level of critical acclaim, did you ever feel under pressure to have to make a better record with Hurry Up, We're Dreaming?
AG: I guess there's always an element of pressure when you're making a new album, it's part of being a musician and an artist. The funny thing is, I've never really been that proud of Saturdays=Youth if I'm honest, so for me this album is ten times better! But at the same time this is what scares me, people expecting Saturdays=Youth number two are going to be disappointed, and I'm aware of that and expect some level of criticism as a result. But then you can't always make music that everybody's going to love...
DiS: One aspect of Hurry Up, We're Dreaming that stands out for me are the new sounds you've embraced across the album. While parts of it have that traditional M83 sound, others seem to venture into brand new territories.
AG: Yeah, I mean it was always my intention to make a very eclectic album. There's a lot of different instrumentation on here, stuff we've never even tried before. There's acoustic guitars on a couple of songs for instance, saxophones and other musicians like Medicine's Brad Laner who've brought new ideas and sounds to what we've used in the past. This is a very ambitious record and while I can see the connections to our previous albums, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming also feels very different.
DiS: It's interesting you highlight the acoustic guitar, as I think one of the songs on the record which is based around an acoustic driven melody, 'Splendor', will surprise a lot of diehard M83 fans.
AG: I think it's an important part of being a musician to be able to surprise people, you know? There's nothing more boring than being in a band that sticks to a certain formula with every record. I need to be able to challenge myself on every album, as well as give my audience something new. I have to experiment otherwise I don't see the purpose of making a record myself, and I guess I'd like to be remembered as someone who always tried to be adventurous.
DiS: I've seen a quote from you that says Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is mainly about how every dream is different. How long did it take you to come up with the concept for the album and which came first, the songs or the idea?
AG: When you start working on an album, especially a double album you don't really know what the concept of that record will be, but very quickly I figured it out. I started to remember experiences from my childhood, mostly dreams from when I was a kid, and from then on it became a very obvious concept for this album. This album is also a tribute to my relationship with my brother. The album is in two halves for a reason; I don't know if you've seen the cover on the finished version but the first disc is meant to be from the perspective of a young boy, while the second disc is through the eyes of his sister. It's almost like two different points of view, two different states of mind even, yet both are connected somehow. This was the same when I was growing up with my brother. We felt like we were the same person even though we were different, and I always found that very fascinating. That's what I wanted to create with this record, like a double album for siblings.
DiS: Some of the song titles on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming directly reference certain characters or people - 'Claudia Lewis', 'Steve McQueen' and 'Klaus I Love You' being three. Were these a direct result of specific dreams about each individual?
AG: 'Klaus I Love You' is a tribute to Klaus Kinski. He's probably my favourite actor of all time. 'Claudia Lewis' is perhaps a little more complex. I don't actually know her but one day I was surfing on the net and I found a website about space poems. She writes numerous space poems, yet really bad ones, if that makes sense! I just felt she had a wonderful name and it seemed to fit in well with the music I guess! 'Steve McQueen' was more of a working title that we used for the demo recording and it just stuck right the way through to the final version of the album.
DiS: We've already touched briefly on Brad Laner's contribution to Hurry Up, We're Dreaming and also Nika Roza Danilova from Zola Jesus sings vocals on 'Intro'. Were either of them involved in the writing process for the record and are there any artists you'd like to collaborate with in the future?
AG: Neither Nika or Brad were involved in the writing process. I wrote the lyrics for 'Intro' with Morgan Kibby, although they were involved with creating the melody. Every time I work with someone I always try to give them a lot of freedom. The reason I choose to work with certain people is purely because I love what they do as artists and how they interact with their music.
DiS: Are you a big fan of both Zola Jesus and Medicine then...?
AG: Yeah definitely. I think Zola Jesus is one of the most unique artists anywhere in the world today. She sounds like no one else, and that's what I really like about her.
DiS: You've worked with Justin Meldal-Johnson from Nine Inch Nails and Tony Hoffer who's produced the likes of Air and The Kooks in the past on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. How did they come to be involved and what did they bring to the recording process?
AG: Justin (Meldal-Johnson) was my producer right from the beginning to the end of making this album. He was there every step of the way, and I think the fact he's also an experienced musician as well as being a producer had a massive impact on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming's overall sound. We share the same vision of music, and I think it's very important to work with someone like that. He's also a fan of M83. He knew all our previous albums inside out, and I like that. I've never worked with a producer that isn't familiar with my music. Tony (Hoffer) did an amazing job compiling all the songs and putting them together in an album form. It couldn't have been easy for him with so much material to wade through . He's been one of my favourite mixers for many years and being given the opportunity to work with him was like a dream come true. He's made so many great albums and worked with so many great artists, so it really was a privilege to have him working on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.
DiS: What's your favourite album which Tony (Hoffer) has worked on in the past?
AG: I like the Phoenix album Alphabetical the most.
DiS: Again, we've already touched upon the eclectic nature of Hurry Up, We're Dreaming but in terms of touring the record, are there parts of it which you haven't considered replicating live at this moment in time?
AG: There are some songs on the record that almost certainly won't be in the live set straight away. We've got strings and brass on parts of the album so unless someone gives us a huge budget for the live show it's unlikely we'll be playing any of those yet. We're planning on the live show being a huge mix that incorporates all of our albums rather than just concentrating on the new one.
DiS: Twenty-two songs is a lot for one record. Did you try to incorporate every piece of music onto Hurry Up, We're Dreaming that was demoed or is this the edited contents of those sessions, and if so, will any of the songs that didn't make the album see the light of day in the foreseeable future?
AG: We didn't use all the tracks on the record. We had somewhere between forty and fifty pieces of music when we started. We had a lot of material to choose from, which tends to be the way I work on every record. Once a piece has been discarded, I never go back to it again. If it wasn't good enough to be used on this record then it isn't good enough full stop. I'd rather erase something completely than keep it hidden away in the closet!
DiS: Did touring with the likes of The Killers and Kings Of Leon in huge arenas and playing some of your earlier work have an impact on your songwriting, in terms of writing songs that can fill those kind of spaces? For example, David Byrne once made reference to how architecture can help music evolve.
AG: Touring with bigger bands was a great experience for us. I wouldn't say I was necessarily influenced by their music, but I was definitely inspired by the way they use their music to interact with the audience. That is also one of the reasons why Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is very song orientated. I don't think we've ever used so many song structures in the past, so their influence has steered this record in that direction, definitely.
DiS: Do you think epic albums like this, Amplifier's The Octopus and Joanna Newsom's 3 CDs are part of a rebellion against the single-track, playlist led world of the internet and daytime radio? For example, although 'Midnight City' was issued as a lead single, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming strikes me as an album that demands to be listened to in its entirety.
AG: Totally. I'm so glad you said that because for me this album is a statement. It's my way of saying that I don't really like the way the music industry works nowadays. I don't recognise myself as a part of it. I grew up in the eighties and nineties and, you know when you're expecting a new album from one of your favourite bands? You'd be so excited by it that you'd wait outside of your local record store for hours until they opened on the day of release, and when you received the object in your hand it was a great feeling. You'd then spend days, weeks even, listening to the album over and over. Now I feel you're excited by a band for like, five minutes and then you move onto the next one. It's like a big jungle. There are so many big releases now every single week. It's hard for me as a listener to digest everything. That's why I want people to appreciate Hurry Up, We're Dreaming as an album, preferably on vinyl as an object.
DiS: Do you envisage other artists following suit in the future and concentrating more on making an album rather than individual tracks?
AG: No, not really. I think I'm quite different in that I prefer albums to singles, but most artists I come across these days are more focused on writing radio friendly "hits". I have no interest in satisfying radio playlisters. I've never heard M83's music played on the radio. I mean, we could talk about this for ages but to me, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is mainly for record lovers. For me, listening to an album on MP3 is like a bad compression, you know? It's really terrible and it makes me angry, as does the fact that people are going to download my album off the internet for free. It makes me quite sad, especially when you've spent such a long time working on the mix for the album. You can't control everything or give people orders that they have to buy the record or else but...I guess it's part of being a musician and something we have to accept, but it doesn't make it any easier.
DiS: You're off on tour in the States throughout October and November, then into Europe at the back end of that month with your only UK show so far pencilled in at London's Heaven venue on 1st December. Are there any more UK shows to be announced in the near future?
AG: Yeah, we're scheduled to come back to the UK in the early part of 2012, either January or February I believe.
DiS: Looking back through M83's back catalogue with the benefit of hindsight, are you satisfied with the way your recordings have turned out so far or are there certain songs or albums you'd like to change?
AG: I consider myself to be very lucky. I started my career thirteen years ago and ever since then I've been able to release pretty much whatever I wanted. I have an amazing working relationship with my label Mute to the point where they've never asked me for any demos before releasing my records. With this album, we were about five days away from completing the mix and the label called me to see how everything was going and I said "Oh, by the way, this is going to be a double album" and they were like, _"Wow! I hope it's good!" And that pretty much sums up our relationship, one that's based on trust. I feel like I'm working with music lovers and that's quite a privileged place to be because most new bands starting out nowadays have to listen to their label or risk the consequences of being dropped straight away. I like the feeling of being free to release whatever I want, and sometimes I'll make mistakes, but the way I see it and the way my label see it is being nothing more than part of the process.
DiS: Finally, bearing in mind the timescales between Saturdays=Youth and Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, does this mean we shouldn't really expect the next M83 record before 2014 at the earliest?
AG: I don't know. I'm not the kind of artist who releases an album every year. I love making music, but I also enjoy doing other things as well. I don't want to spend every day making music for twelve hours. That's not the kind of artist I am. I like to travel, spend time with my friends, see my family....I think it would be detrimental if I just spent every waking hour making music. I've just finished this record so couldn't really say when to expect a follow-up.
The album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is out on Monday 17th October. M83 have announced one UK show in 2011 so far at London's Heaven on Thursday 1st December.
They're back in the early part of 2012 though, playing the following dates:-
17 Bristol Trinity
18 Manchester Ritz
19 Glasgow Arches
20 Leeds Cockpit
21 Birmingham Institute
22 Brighton Concorde
16 London Shepherds Bush Empire
For more information visit the official M83 website.