M83, Deep in Dreams

By
Photography Benjamin Stelly

Published October 17, 2011

 

Anthony Gonzalez, the French dream-pop musician better known for the last decade as the frontman of seminal electro act M83, doesn’t sound how you might expect him to. Particularly if you’ve had the pleasure of hearing Gonzalez’s latest release, a double album called Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, you might expect someone self-assured, even cocky. Gonzalez has earned the right to be: this new effort is expansive, ambitious, and well thought out, with the singer himself taking vocal center stage to an extent we haven’t heard before. It’s a biography (or autobiography) in dreams, and it builds on some of the most disparate elements of M83’s prior work in a way that feels new and exciting.

But even if 30-year-old Gonzalez has earned the right to be cocky, he definitely isn’t: he’s soft-spoken, sweet, and a little shy, even on the eve of the release of an effort of which he’ll admit he’s very proud. More than once during our interview, he mentioned that his most pressing objective is just to create music that’s sincere. We discussed that goal, his own dreams, the adorable little girl who tells a story about a magical frog on his track “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire,” and much more.

ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: How are you doing?

GONZALEZ: I’m good, thank you.

SYMONDS: It’s been 10 years since you started the M83 project—does it feel like that long to you?

GONZALEZ: [laughs] I don’t think so—I mean, it went really fast. It’s weird for me to say that it’s been more than 10 years of making music. It’s a hard statement. [laughs] But it’s cool I feel like there was a lot of changes, and I feel like my career is—I’m just proud of what I’ve done until now. It’s a feeling of pride.SYMONDS: Yeah, you should be proud! Does Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming feel like kind of a benchmark album to you? Like a statement album?

GONZALEZ: I don’t know—I don’t see it that way; for me it’s just an album I really tried to make as good as possible. I really try to just make what I do best, music, and just try to be sincere with my music.

SYMONDS: Sure. Why did you make the decision to collect all of this material for one double album instead of splitting it up?

GONZALEZ: A double album has been a long dream for me. Since I was a teenager, I always loved the idea of one day, maybe, why not make a double album? As a teenager, I was listening to a lot of great albums. The double album from the Smashing Pumpkins in the ’90s was a revelation for me. So I’ve always been fascinated by big, epic, very dense albums.

SYMONDS: Yeah, I wanted to ask you whether mean for Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming to be this kind of epic experience—do you want people to sit down and listen to it all at once?

GONZALEZ: I don’t know, I wish people would listen to it from beginning to end, but it’s probably not going to happen. [laughs] I’m sure some people will really try to listen to it from the beginning to the end, but at the end, I’m just proposing an object to the people, and they can do whatever they want to do with it. I was talking with a friend of mine about how nowadays it’s more about singles, you know, downloading them off on iTunes. It’s very difficult nowadays to release an album like this, and I’m very conscious about that. I like to go to the record store and buy my CDs and my vinyls, and I hope people, with this album, will try to do the same thing. I definitely would push people to buy it on a CD and not download it.

SYMONDS: I think you’re entitled to wanting that. The thematic content of the album is pretty clear—it’s very obviously an album about dreaming—and you’ve mentioned that one thing you wanted to address with the album was the way that dreams change as you grow up, from being a child to a teenager to an adult. Do you have a sense of the album as a dream biography of a single character, or is it more an exploration of just how dreams affect people in general at different points?

GONZALEZ: I like the idea of making this album more like a retrospective about someone—about the life of someone, the way this human being will dream as a kid, and growing up. For me, this is a journey, a travel in a life, a lot of changes, different experiences, and moments in life. This is what it is, yeah.

SYMONDS: How did you get in touch with the idea of childhood dreams that you remember having as a kid? How did you get back into that mindset? It can be so difficult to remember what it’s like to truly be a child.

GONZALEZ: Well, I moved to LA in January 2010, and the first two, three months of my life there were pretty difficult. You know, you’re in a new environment, a new city, you don’t really know anyone. I was staying in my studio, I was feeling kind of lonely, and I started to remember some memories of my childhood, and it made me happy to think about those memories. It was an escape. I don’t know, I just decided that this album could be about my life, from a kid to my life now.

SYMONDS: And you actually use a child’s voice pretty extensively at one part in the album—who is that?

GONZALEZ: This is the cutest little girl ever! She’s Justin [Meldal-Johnsen]’s daughter. Justin is the producer of the album. She did a great job on this. I mean, she’s only five but she is so smart, so intelligent. I remember the first time I met her, she talked to me for like 30 minutes, non-stop. She was telling me these crazy stories… She’s the cutest girl ever.

SYMONDS: Yeah, her voice is really beautifully evocative. It kind of sounds like the ideal of a child’s voice.

GONZALEZ: Exactly. Exactly.

SYMONDS: How did you work with her when you were recording? Did you just tell her to tell you a story, or did she have a script? How did you work that out?

GONZALEZ: My brother and I wrote the story of the song, and she just read the whole story in front of a microphone; she was incredible.

SYMONDS: What is the last dream that you remember having?

GONZALEZ: God, it’s crazy, but I don’t remember my dreams anymore. I don’t remember what happened to me. It’s very hard for me to remember anything about my dreams. It’s funny, because when I started to work on the album, I had some flashes about dreams I used to dream when I was a kid—which doesn’t really make sense, because I don’t remember anything now. But yeah, I used to have these flashes about me as a kid and dreaming, it was really weird.

SYMONDS: In terms of the instrumentation of the album, and all of the arrangements, it sounds like a development of the M83 sound without being a departure. Was there anything that you were trying to keep in mind when you were writing the actual music this time around?

GONZALEZ: Well, the main idea of this album wasn’t to make something modern; I don’t really care about doing something modern, I just wanted to make something timeless. Something you can listen back in 20 years and say, “Oh, well, this all sounds legit.” Yeah, this is like the main idea—it was the case with the previous albums too, I never tried to work with the new trendy producer. No, this is not my style of making albums. I just want to make something sincere and timeless.

SYMONDS: So there’s not going to be an M83 album with, like, RedOne?

GONZALEZ: [laughs] No, I don’t think so.

SYMONDS: Sorry, that was a bad joke; I apologize.

GONZALEZ: It’s okay, don’t worry!

SYMONDS: Can you tell me about the music video plans for this album? I’ve always loved your videos.

GONZALEZ: I love the videos we’ve had in the past, and I really want to keep the same spirit. We’ll see. I’m sure a lot of talented directors are going to be able to work on some stuff.

M83’S HURRY UP, WE’RE DREAMING IS OUT TOMORROW. FOR MORE ON GONZALEZ, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.