“The artists that I used to love when I was a teenager, I wanted them to surprise me,” M83 leader Anthony Gonzalez told Rolling Stone via Skype, during a recent break from tour rehearsals. In April, the French electro-rock mastermind released Junk, the follow-up to his most commercially successful album to date, 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. In the interim, he scored two films, the Tom Cruise sci-fi epic Oblivion and his brother Yann Gonzalez’s erotic drama You and the Night. When he finally sat down to make Junk, he wanted to do something different. “I feel like it’s boring to just put out the same record over and over,” he says. “I’m trying to experiment.”
Ever the nostalgist, Gonzalez looked to the music he loved as a kid for inspiration, acquiring a Korg M1 (the synth responsible for the bass in the Seinfeld theme) and even enlisting Eighties guitar god Steve Vai for a solo. It’s a level of dedication to a bygone sound that has drawn some criticism, to which Gonzalez isn’t immune. “You feel like you’re at school again,” he explains. “I feel like I’m going back to college, with the stress of getting a bad grade.”
As with most experiments, the outcome of Junk was unpredictable for its maker. But as Gonzalez notes, that’s kind of the point. “That’s the beauty of it, in a way,” he says. “There’s a lot of hit-and-miss. That’s what music is. For me, it’s important to keep moving, to keep trying stuff. I can be happy because I tried something.”
Currently touring Asia and Australia, M83 returns to the States May 28th for a run of shows. Gonzalez spoke to RS about his attraction to the “broken” sound of Seventies and Eighties music, how writing French lyrics helped him combat homesickness and how old home movies inspire him.
You stepped back from lead vocals a bit on this album, sharing the role with artists like Beck and Mai Lan. Why?
I just find it quite intense. I hate my voice. I can enjoy it on some songs, but on Hurry Up, it was just way too much. It didn’t sit well for me. Especially when you’re singing the same songs for two years of touring. Getting other people to sing on my record was kind of like fresh air.
You wrote some lyrics in French on this album, which you haven’t done before.
It’s something that I’ve always been reluctant to do, because it’s really difficult for me. There’s something very poetic about the French language, something very deep about the words we use, about the way we make them work together. It’s a very difficult exercise and I never was confident enough to do it, but with this last five years being in Los Angeles, I really started to feel homesick. In a way, writing in French was a way to connect to my roots again. It may sound a little cliché, but that’s really what it was. I was feeling really sad in the studio, far away from my family and friends, and I just wanted to get closer to them.