Ahead of M83’s Tokyo gig later this month, we chat to the band’s frontman Anthony Gonzalez about his favorite Japanese animation, collaborating with Beck, and working on the film soundtrack for “Oblivion.”
In 2011 M83 won over throngs of indie rock fans with the panoramic ambient anthem “Midnight City.” And while the song helped its corresponding album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” earn a Grammy nomination, the band’s frontman, Anthony Gonzalez, felt no obligation to mimic its successful, widescreen aesthetic on its follow up. Instead opted for narrow, deeply intimate vibe throughout the band’s next album, the recently released “Junk”. Here, he tells us more about his aversion to repetition, the joy of working with his heroes who inspired that ethos, and more.
How are things since you released your new album?
Quite good. I’m really looking forward touring it, and especially coming to play in Tokyo. We’ve only played there once, Fuji Rock almost 10 years ago. I’m a fan of Japanese animation, and all things related to Japan, so it’s always a pleasure to go there.
What’s your favorite Japanese animation?
“Galaxy Express 999” and a million others, the list is too long [laughs].
It seems like you’re not only a big fan of Japanese animation, but also 70s and 80s pop and rock. I’ve read that Steve Vai was a particularly big influence on you, and you even got to collaborate with him on “Junk.” What was that like?
Yes, when I started to learn guitar at age 12, I was listening to a lot of metal and he was one of my favorite guitar heroes. I like artists that have a voice of their own, and he was one of them. Every time I heard one of his solos, I knew it was him. That’s the kind of artist I want to work with.
How do you try to make that distinctive sound of your own?
I’m trying to. People know me for a more cinematic sound. But on “Junk” I wanted to show a different side of me, something more 70s and something more human. All my previous albums are grand and epic, and I wanted to come back with something more simple. Less grand, and more fun and fresh. An album that people can dance to and feel some of the passion and melancholy as well. It’s a new direction, but I feel that people who loved M83 since the beginning will find it surprising, but still recognize the old M83 sound deep within as well.
You also worked with another hero of yours, Beck, on the new song “Time Wind.”
Yes, I’ve been a huge fan of Beck for so long. I love that he tried to take his fans on different journeys with each album. That’s the kind career that I’m always looking for. When I was a kid and listening to a new artist, I wanted them to take me on a journey. Repetition is the death of the artist. Some fans want the same sound over and over, but I think it’s better to get a little crazy and try new sounds. It’s a better way to approach music.
What was it like to work on the film soundtrack for “Oblivion”?
I met Tom Cruise and it was a wonderful experience. It was my first soundtrack, and it was a big film for your first time. But the director pushed me to be creative, and it was a great way to start my career as a composer. But on a film like this everything is changing, you can write a cue 10 times and it’s never right because the edit can change. Your job is to make the director and the production company happy. If you get into the process without knowing that, you’ll be disappointed. You’re not the boss. But it’s collaborative in that way – fun and stressful at the same time.
How was it stressful?
The director always gave me freedom. The production company, a little less. Because they’re the one putting the money in. But you can’t expect to have total freedom working on a big soundtrack. It was a great way to learn though. And I got to meet Tom Cruise on the set and at the premiere. He was very open minded, and very happy with the music. He’s a very nice guy, very sweet. He’s one of the biggest actors of all time, especially when you grow up in the 80s. But he always made sure he was approachable.
I would love to do another soundtrack. I’m doing another project now that I can’t talk about. It’s new, not a movie or an album. But for me being a musician is all about being on new journeys, that’s what I love about this job. I’m trying to always make it different – movies, live shows, albums, maybe video games one day. It’s always fun to experiment.
“Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” was so successful, but you didn’t feel pressure to follow that proven formula?
No, because the success was so unexpected and it’s a success that will never go away. Every night that I play “Midnight City” for fans I feel like a lucky guy. So I feel free to try new things, but the success of that song will never go away; it’s part of me.
What about the song “Sunday Night 1987”? What journey did do you take the listeners on with that song?
I just wanted to end the album with a ballad that was very melancholic. It’s also a tribute to my childhood, my friends I lost. It’s simple and heartfelt, and bring emotions at the end of the album. It’s a tribute to the moments I spent with my family and my grandparents in particular when I was a child. They played such an important part in my life, so I wanted to pay tribute to them.
Have they returned the favor, and been supportive of your career?
My parents always pushed me to do something I was passionate about. And when you’re a kid it’s important to have their support. Even when things got hard with my career, they always supported me. Music is not reliable, but who cares? I was happy, and that was the most important thing for my parents.
M83 will play Studio Coast on Thursday, May 26. More details here.
“Junk” is available now on Spotify and iTunes. More info at ilovem83.com.