On his fifth album (sixth, if you count ambient dalliance Digital Shades, Vol. 1), Anthony Gonzalez — the prime mover behind widescreen synthpop act M83 — goes all-in, crafting a sprawling double-album built on the kind of surrealist fairy tale plotline that typically powers Michel Gondry films. Taking place inside the parallel dreams of a brother and a sister, Hurry Up We’re Dreaming often feels like a road movie set on Mars. The album boasts Gonzalez’s most expansive, fully-realized music to date; there are swooping saxophone solos, rich, rococo orchestral passages and ink-blue bands of synth lines that pool outward endlessly. Call it Hansel & Gretel for the digital age. “We didn’t need a real world,” whispers the sister in the album’s opening moments. “We just had to keep walking and we became the stories.”
eMusic’s editor-in-chief J. Edward Keyes caught up with Gonzalez to talk about five albums he turned to for inspiration as he was crafting his own grand opus.
You had expressed some dissatisfaction with your last album, Saturdays=Youth, which I found a bit surprising. I loved that record. Why were you unhappy with it?
Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes when you listen to the finished product, you feel like you could have done better, and that’s exactly what happened with Saturdays. It was tough, because it was a hard period of my life. I was kind of depressed, I wasn’t feeling well, I was living in the South of France and feeling like I needed another experience, which is why I moved to LA. I need to be in a place where I feel confident in order to compose music. So, I changed my environment; I moved to L.A. and started from scratch. I didn’t use any of the compositions I’d made before the move. I really wanted to make sure that I composed everything in this new environment.
Once you got to L.A., though, you didn’t just stay at your own place. You were taking trips to the mountains and the desert…
I was doing that in the south of France as well — just driving to the mountains or driving on the coast. It was a good way for me to clear my head and to get away from the craziness of the city. I just love the fact that I can be in a place that I don’t know, and I’m just alone with my instruments there. It’s such a good feeling, and it gives me the strength to compose music. I feel like I can compose a whole album in that kind of environment. And that’s something else I love about L.A. — I like the fact that I can go to museums and movie theaters and live shows, and then get in my car and still be able to find some places where nobody is.
You mention movie theaters. I know you’re a big Terence Malick fan. I was wondering what you thought of Tree of Life.
Obviously, it’s beautiful. The photography is amazing, the acting is classic. For the first hour, it’s stunning. But I got bored of it. But then again, this is one of those movies where walk out thinking, “I’m not sure,” but the more you think about it, the more you love it.
The reason I brought that movie up is that there seems to be some overlap between Tree of Life and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Both of them have this kind of dreamlike quality to them, and both of them center around the innocence of childhood, a theme you return to often in your work.
It was such a happy moment in my life, and I don’t want to lose that. Music is the only way I found to remember my childhood, and to go back to that moment in my life. I had the perfect childhood, and I’m scared of not being able to remember it.
I’ve also been fascinated between the relationship between siblings. I grew up with an older brother. What fascinates me is the fact that you’re kind of the same person, but you’re thinking differently. It’s really weird, but so beautiful in a way. I feel like you don’t have to talk much to be able to communicate, and that’s exactly what’s happening on this album. Disc 1 is the state of mind of the brother, and the other side is the dream of the little sister, and somehow the two records are connected.
Let’s talk a little bit about the records you mentioned as inspirations for Hurry Up We’re Dreaming. The first is Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness.
I was like 14 when I got this record. I totally remember, because I was in high school, and I didn’t go to school the day it came out. I went to the record store with my friends, and we bought it and went to one of my friends’ place, because his mom was working, and we listened to the album the whole day. It was awesome. We were waiting for this album for so long. And when you finally have the object in your hand and can dig into the lyrics — there’s something very rewarding and satisfying about that.
For me, my new album, it’s a bit about the object as well. Mellon Collie is not a musical influence, but it’s more about that idea of the object, and the way we used to listen to music in the ’90s. It’s also an album with a lot of different musical styles, which is what I like about it. There’s a lot of slow, orchestrated songs, as well as a lot of very rock — and almost metal — songs. The instrumentation, the amount of different instruments they’re using on this album are all amazing.
Next on your list is My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. This was a band you discovered relatively recently, right?
Yes, so, when my first album came out, I didn’t really know about My Bloody Valentine. I’d heard the name, but I’d never heard their music. The journalists who were doing interviews would always ask about My Bloody Valentine over and over. It was a shock really, when I heard them, because it’s true that we have a lot of things in common. It was a mixed feeling — I was super happy to discover an awesome new band, but I was kind of sad, too. I thought that I’d created something new, and actually, I hadn’t [laughs]. So it was a mixed feeling.
Loveless‘s notoriously agonizing gestation period kind of introduced — or, at the very least, furthered — this notion that great art can’t be produced without great struggle. To what degree have you found that to be true?
That’s actually why I consider myself super lucky. I’m working with a label who gives me time. I’ve never felt rushed by anyone at the label, or that I had to make something I didn’t want to. I make the music I want to, and I take my time. For example, I was about to finish this album, it was five days before the end of the mix, and I talked to [a representative] from Mute and I said, “It’s going to be a double album,” and it was like they almost didn’t have a choice! [Laughs] They were like, “Oh [long pause] really? That’s a little bit crazy, Anthony. But we trust you. Hopefully, it’s a good one.”
Next on your list is Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. That one’s a bit surprising to me. It’s a minimalist work, and I’ve always thought of your records as distinctively maximalist.
Well, it’s true that it’s very minimalist, but it’s also the perfect music for when you’re travelling. I could listen to this album every day almost, and I wouldn’t get bored, because there’s always something to discover — a small sound or a small part. There’s something so cyclic, so repetitive. It’s like a trance, almost. In that respect, I actually think it’s very close to my music. It’s very repetitive. I like how it builds up, all these melodies and these little parts. I just love this album.
How about Popol Vuh’s soundtrack to Aguirre, a film by one of your favorite directors, Werner Herzog?
Well, I love the movie, first of all. It’s fantastic. But the strength of the movie is the music. The music is so important for a movie — you can have the best photography ever, the best acting ever, but if the music doesn’t fit, it’s not gonna work. And that’s what I like about this movie — everything is perfect. This is a big journey, this movie, and the soundtrack is not too huge, but there’s the perfect amount of strangeness. Something weird and enigmatic and ghostly, almost. Almost scary. It really helps you to travel with the crew and the actors and the movie.
And let’s close with a really beautiful piece on your list, Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3.
It was like five or six years ago when I discovered this piece. The first time I listened to Symphony No. 3, I was really blown away. There was something so sad about this music, but also something uplifting. I felt like I could move mountains with it. It gives me power. I don’t know how else to describe it.
It’s probably not a coincidence that all of the movements in this symphony are centered around the idea of lost youth.
Oh yeah, yeah. A lot of people are really scared about losing memories. For me, it’s this feeling of being scared of death and scared of forgetting the past — that gives me power to write my music. That idea is the biggest influence on my music — it’s my inspiration. Being a musician is a way for me to not be forgotten, because my albums will live on even after I die. It makes me feel better about myself.