This feature appeared in Amplifier Magazine, November 2004.
"The French are always listening to American bands" exclaims M83 brain-trust Anthony Gonzalez in his endearing Meridional Franco-phonic accent. Finding the proper words to express himself in an unfamiliar tongue is actually an enjoyable endeavor for the Antibes native. "It's almost like we speak the same language!"
Appropriately named after a celestial galaxy, M83's third official release is essentially a Gonzalez solo opus. His former partner in electronic shoe-gaze pop crime, guitarist/producer Nicholas Fromageau, with whom Gonzalez has recorded two acclaimed albums (an eponymous debut and Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts), has departed on good terms to pursue other projects. However the thought of going it alone does not faze the young multi-instrumentalist who favors discarded keyboards, abrasive e-bow guitars and odd instrumental configurations that most singer-songwriters dare not consider.
"Ever since I was a teenager, I've always done things by myself. I like to be my own boss.” He pauses again to choose his words carefully. “Like Brian Wilson!" Suddenly Gonzalez backtracks, correcting himself and recounting that Mr. Wilson had quite a bit of input from his fellow Beach Boys, Van Dyke Parks, and a bevy of top-shelf session players. "Nicholas was always there to help me. He's a fantastic, talented guitarist with a great sense of improvisation. My partner pointed me in new ways and inspired me to go in many different directions."
The new release Before The Dawn Heals Us continues M83's pursuit of Mussorgsky meets Mogwai meets Sonic Youth meets My Bloody Valentine. Gonzalez, who still resides in the seaside town of Antibes, composed the entire album in six months and recorded it all a mere month: broken down into two weeks of actual playing with a drummer and bassist and two weeks of mixing. Though the record packs a sonic assault on the senses - the surroundings had little to do with the content. "It all came together in a little house in the country, just outside of Paris," he notes. "It was very quiet, very serene."
Bouncing abstract ideas off sound engineers, session musicians, and his manager, Gonzalez captured the reverberations in his head for the pop world to figure out. "My parents used to play records from ridiculous French pop singers" he recalls with a laugh, "so, like any kid, I went against that, buying heavy metal records by Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest. Then as I grew older I became more interested in electronic music from Germany, and artists like Can and Brian Eno. It's important to me to have a wide variety of music. I'm always downloading songs and buying records. It's a great way to absorb different cultures and influences; essentially, I am my record collection."
From the heartening, anthemic character of the disc's first single "Don't Save Us From The Flames" to the bizarre avant-garde yearnings of "*," to the exploding sounds of fireworks that punctuate "Let Me Burn Stars" to the campy, nationalistic romp of "Farewell/Goodbye, to the epic conclusion of "Lower Your Highlights To Die With The Sun," Gonzalez has crammed a half-century's worth of pop magic into fifteen tracks. The spoken word vignettes stitched into the fabric of "Moonchild" and "Car Chase Terror," the latter composed by Gonzalez' brother Yann and recorded by American theater actress Kate Moran, afford Before The Dawn Heals Us a cinematic aesthetic that vacillates between high drama and kitschy sci-fi flicks." My brother and I love horror movies. First I had to make a good record, then I had to find a solution to play it live."
Bringing Before The Dawn Heals Us to the United States for M83's first extended concert tour requires a slight change of plans for Gonzalez. Whereas making records is a slow deliberate process for the artist, playing gigs presents a myriad of hurdles to overcome. "I want to play something different and more interesting for the audience. It was important for me to change some things and give new life to the songs." Gonzalez cobbled together a dexterous line-up drawn from notable French bands, namely drummer Ludovic Morillon, bassist Stephane Bouvier, and guitarist Philippe Thiphaine. The super-group gelled immediately. "I didn't tell them what to play," Gonzalez reveals with a measure of relief. "We just 'felt' each other. Everyone brings their own ideas into the music, and though we're very different, there is unity. These are very well-known musicians whom I really admire."
With only two weeks to rehearse M83 crossed the ocean to commence their trek on the east coast of America. "Since we came together it has been very intense. No time to sleep!" Gonzalez laments. "It can be scary, we really didn't practice that much. Fortunately when you are scared, you don't have time to worry."
Though France and America are officially at political odds, Gonzalez feels that the two cultures share common ground. "We see many movies from New York and Los Angeles, and we're glad to be here and experience the diversity of people and different points of view. In France we know that all Americans do not think like President Bush. But we are also concerned about how Americans view us because our government chose not to participate in the war."
Since the release of their sophomore effort Dead Cities, M83 have become stars in their homeland and the UK when their debut performance at the legendary Victoria & Albert Museum won the band raves which rippled throughout the indie rock grapevine. American record chain clerks championed their noble cause, playing the M83 record in stores and voting the disc as one of the most distinctive new releases of the year among other imported European acts such as Faithless and Keane. In early 2004 M83's gigs in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were sold-out within hours and hard-to-find copies of their first two albums were snapped up in a hurry.
Yet despite all the hoopla, Gonzalez' immediate plans are rather modest. "We don't have a lot of time here, especially in New York. Right now I want to check out American record shops and guitar stores. You can really get good stuff here at a low price. We'll figure out how to pay for it later I guess…"