Waking From A Fantasy: M83 Interviewed

“The music market has become like a very cruel monster…”

It’s hard to have a conversation about M83 without mentioning ‘Midnight City’ – the 2011 single that earwormed its way into every corner of Western culture from GTA5 to Made in Chelsea. For a while, that song and the album it came from, ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming’, were literally everywhere. But instead of serving up more of the same, Anthony Gonzalez – the band’s one permanent member – composed several film soundtracks, released a wilfully odd album named ‘Junk’, and followed that up with ‘DSVII’, an introspective ode to 1980s video games.

Now Gonzalez has made a new album, ‘Fantasy’, that hearkens back to the wide-eyed soundscapes of his pre–‘Hurry Up’ work. In the run-up to its full release, we chatted to Anthony about scary monsters, growing up in the ’80s and the strange parallels between football and music.

I really enjoyed the new album – I wanted to start by asking how long it’s taken you to make it. What’s that process been like?

It’s been quite long. Especially given the fact that Covid happened in between. The whole process started with a year just jamming in the studio with Justin [Meldal-Johnsen] and Joe [Berry], my partners on this album. We gathered every day of that year, making different sounds – just the three of us in one room. When we were done we started to make an album around these ideas, always with the idea of creating a journey.

Now that feels like an old-school album, with peaks and valleys, and very intimate moments, but also very grand and ambitious moments. We had the idea of doing something very eclectic, and also that would translate really well live. When people listen to that album, I want them to be excited about seeing the band live.

That idea of a “band feel” is interesting. People talk about M83 as being just your project, but there’s a lot of collaboration involved. How do you see it?

I think it’s a little bit of both. I started my career being very personal about my albums – being very shy about sharing music with other artists. It was very scary for me to release an album when I started. But nowadays, I feel like opening up to people. The idea of a group of friends who are able to create music together is definitely a beautiful thing to me. It’s harder than being alone, obviously, because you have to deal with personalities and different characters and moods, and all of that – but it’s also probably the most gratifying thing that you can get in life.

You mentioned that you found it scary releasing music initially. Why do you think that was?

When you release an album, it’s a part of yourself that you reveal to the world. It’s like jumping into the ocean from a very high mountain. It can be very scary – very devastating as well, if the album’s not well received.

But it’s also a lot of excitement, and being able nowadays to release an album as a statement is truly a gift. So many artists nowadays struggle with finding a label, for instance, or making music that’s going to be listened to. It’s such a jungle out there that I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to make the albums that I want to make. Whether it’s being heard or not, it doesn’t really matter.

You’ve talked about the success of ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming’ and ‘Midnight City’, and the pressure you felt after that. You’ve gotten away from that pressure now, but do you ever worry about it coming back?

To be honest, I feel like I don’t get the pressure I used to get after ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming’. I had wonderful success with that, and it was extremely enjoyable, honestly. I was nominated for a Grammy. I had all the things that I could want. But now that I’ve had that, I feel finally free to make the music that I like, and if it’s a flop, so be it. I don’t really care.

Of course, I’d like it to have success as well. But I have a very different outlook on what success is nowadays, or what it means in this modern society. I see a lot of “successful” people, and I don’t want to be like them – all the Instagram girls or the influencers. It’s the cancer in our society, and if that means success, then I don’t want to be successful anymore. I don’t want to play the game of showing myself in my everyday life. I don’t want to tweet.

Nowadays, not only do we ask an artist to create good music, but most importantly we ask them to create a brand – and I find it quite disgusting. To me, you have to keep the mystery behind an artist. You have to be able to disappear for a while, and reappear with an album. And nowadays, if you don’t release an album every year – if you’re not at festivals every year and on socials every day – well, people forget about you. The music market has become like a very cruel monster. My monster on the cover [of ‘Fantasy’] might be scary, but he’s actually a very nice monster, and has a lot of feelings. It’s like the music industry has no feelings anymore. It’s just do or die, you know?

You mentioned the monster on the cover. The album’s called ‘Fantasy’, and the lyrics have all these themes of escapism. What’s the story behind that?

It’s a tribute to the things that I loved when I was a kid – like TV shows where you felt a human being behind it. I’m thinking about the Jim Henson puppets, for instance, where you feel the craftsmanship of someone, and all this animation from Japan that we used to have in France in the eighties, where there was a lot of emotion with beautiful music.

Now I feel like it’s not about craftsmanship anymore. It’s just about being present, and I find it all sad. There’s so much content that you don’t even know where to start. Existing in this jungle is becoming more and more difficult for a lot of artists, and if you don’t play the game… you’re dead.

There’s no hit on this album. I know that I’m not going to be played on radio, but I don’t care. I wanted to create something that gives emotion to people, and if people feel like they want to jump in their bedroom listening to this album, and they want to drive fast, and they want to run, then I did the right thing.

You’ve scored movies, you’ve got all these strong visuals, and people talk about your “cinematic sound”. When you make the music, do you have these visuals in your head, or is that something that comes later?

I think it’s there at the very start. This monster idea was there from the very beginning of the creation of that album – but then it evolved, and it became more and more real. The idea of giving life to someone that doesn’t exist is extremely exciting and adventurous, and the idea of adventure behind this album is very strong. I really want people to go on big adventures, to feel alive and to forget about the world – to create their own world and their own characters, and their own stories.

You mentioned that you don’t think there’s a hit on this album?

What I’m saying is, a lot of new artists just start by producing tracks. That’s not my education. I grew up in the eighties and nineties, and I was going to the record store, waiting for my favourite artist to release a new album. And once I finally had my hands on the new album, I was spending days – weeks, months – listening to that album, and making sure that I was in a way “adopting” this album. It’s a game of patience. You have an album, and you make sure that you listen to it and give it a chance.

Nowadays, if we don’t like the first two songs of an album, we’re gonna go to the next thing, because we have options. At the time we didn’t have options. And that’s the feeling that I want to recreate by releasing long and ambitious albums. I want to keep doing things “old-fashioned”, and trying to reject the new music marketing process.

Are there any other artists working today who stand true to that album approach?

Oh, yeah! I think nowadays we function as multiple groups of people who are sharing the same vision of music, you know? There are a lot of people thinking like I do, and a lot of people that are fed up of the Netflix industry – fed up of social media. We just have to find the people that we connect with, and then everything’s going to be all right.

Have you already started planning your next project?

My main focus is on touring at the moment, and the idea of really creating a beautiful show – probably the best show yet. So I want people to feel excited about that, and I feel excited about going on the road and connecting with my fans. It’s been a long time!

What can people expect from the tour?

Lots of loud, emotional music. We’re going to play a lot of the older albums. We’re going to make this show epic, really, and cinematic. I’m excited.

I was going to ask about childhood – because you mentioned it a few times in this interview, and it’s a major theme in your music and visuals. What’s that connection mean for you?

It’s this feeling of excitement when you’re a child. All the parents of this world can agree that a child is always excited about everything. And when you’re a teenager – at least, speaking for myself – there was so much excitement about making music, about going out with my friends, going on adventures to see our favourite bands playing live. The more you grow up, the more you lose that innocence. And that’s what I really miss about my childhood and my teenage years. The feeling of: “Tomorrow is another day, and it’s gonna be great.”

Did you know when you were a child that you wanted to be a musician?

No – more early teenage years, when I was 12, 13, 14. When I was a kid I wanted to be a soccer player. There’s some similarities between being a soccer player and making music: this adrenaline that’s part of these two worlds, you know?

There is this strange overlap in many ways.

Can you imagine scoring a goal in front of 30,000 people? It must be the best feeling in the world. It’s the same thing when you play live, and you have this love and connection with the people in the audience – it gives you so much strength. It’s funny, I always think that making music allows me to be different characters all at once, and it’s a way for me to not be myself anymore – just to be someone else, to play a role, to be an actor… to be anything I want to be. And there’s no limits to that. Being behind my synths in the studio, or with my guitar on stage gives me that feeling of “I can be whoever I want to be”, and it’s fantastic, a miracle. I feel alive, and it’s a great feeling.

Do you keep your life as a musician and the rest of your life quite separate, in that sense?

Music is definitely my secret garden. It’s my bubble, and it’s my safety net – and also a way for me to go on nice journeys and travel through my mind. It allows me to do so many different things. But mainly it allows me to escape this crazy world that we live in. It’s like when people do yoga for an hour to just escape, and they just free their mind of all the noise that’s around us. Music is that for me.

‘Fantasy’ is out on March 17th.

Words: Tom Kingsley
Main Photo Credit: Jeremy Searle
Internal Photo Credit: Anouck Bertin

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