Inspired by a trip to the Joshua Tree, the new conceptual double album by M83, aka Anthony Gonzalez, is likely to polarise fans
'I am very happy," Anthony Gonzalez, aka M83, reassures me twice during our interview, lest the recurring themes of solitude and childhood reminiscence that he finds so inspiring lead me to think otherwise.
He is indeed genial, if a little serious, when discussing a career marked by a desire to broaden the epic musical soundscapes he creates. The name M83, to clarify, is not some Gallic street parlance or "txt" speak that's lost in translation, it comes from the spiral galaxy Messier 83.
His influences range from My Bloody Valentine, Sigur R�s, New Order, Psychedelic Furs, Talk Talk, Cocteau Twins and Spacemen 3 to the less cool Tears For Fears, Toto, Thompson Twins and Vangelis. But it is his first musical inspiration, Jean Michel Jarre, that shines through. He may now be resident in Los Angeles, but Gonzalez could hardly be more French. His last, fifth album, Saturdays = Youth, was his most rounded, commercial and critically acclaimed to date, a collection of astral cinematic paeans to his youth that webzine Drowned In Sound made its album of the year in 2008. But despite the acclaim, Gonzalez wasn't entirely happy. "I wasn't super-proud of the last album," he shrugs, sipping mineral water in a 15th-floor hotel bar looking out over London. "It was a period of my life where I was a bit depressed, and not really feeling super-confident about my material."
M83, originally a two-man outfit, was founded a decade ago by Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau in their hometown of Antibes. After their self-titled debut and 2003's Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, Fromageau left the group, and Gonzalez moved on alone to record 2005's Before the Dawn Heals Us, and the more ambient Digital Shades Vol 1.
Eighteen months ago, having finished the acclaimed Saturdays = Youth tour, and approaching his 30th birthday, Gonzalez decided to make an abrupt change, and upped sticks for Los Angeles. "I'd spent 29 years in the south of France," he says. "I needed to evolve in a different country and different culture. America has always been very fascinating for me. Los Angeles is a great city for music, and the weather is perfect."
He decided to draw a line under the tracks he'd begun. "California had a big influence on this album. I was doing a lot of road trips, driving to the desert for two or three days, just myself with a couple of keyboards and a computer, and recording stuff out there."
Driving out to, let me guess, Joshua Tree? "Exactly," he laughs ruefully, embarrassed at the lack of originality in his choice of destination. "It's so clich�d, I know, but it worked. I would rent a small cabin in the middle of nowhere, and I was just making music there, by myself. Those were the best moments. It was a good way to be inspired by something else, the energy from a different landscape." So productive were those trips that Gonzalez decided early on that Hurry Up, We're Dreaming would be a double album, the longer tracks interspersed with interludes and shorter transmissions. "I always loved the idea of a double album," he says, eulogising about those he grew up with, from The Beatles' White Album and Pink Floyd's Ummagumma to The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. "When you love big ambitious music projects you want to go for a double album one day, even if the music industry nowadays doesn't permit these kind of projects. This is what I like about this double album. It's a statement."
As if that wasn't ambitious enough, it's a double album with a concept. "The cover has a brother and a sister sitting in a bed," explains Gonzalez. "One side is the spirit of the young boy, and the other side is the spirit of the young girl. It's like how brothers and sisters are different people, but connected by blood and mind. Each track has a sibling on the other disc."
So the slow-burning synth wash of "Intro" is reflected by the mawkishly titled "My Tears Are Becoming A Sea". The upbeat swirling nu disco of "Midnight City" twins with "New Map", and the second single "Reunion" with "OK Pal" and so on through 11 sibling tracks to "Soon, My Friend" and "Outro". The warm vocals of Morgan Kibby that did much to define Saturdays = Youth are largely gone, with Gonzalez contributing more vocals himself, emboldened by touring with the likes of the Killers, Kings of Leon and Depeche Mode. "I had to say to myself, 'Anthony it's time for you to step forward ? Otherwise you're going to have regrets.'"
There are guest appearances by Brad Laner from 90s band Medicine ? "I was a huge fan of Brad's when he was in Medicine. I always dreamed of having him on one of my albums" ? and Zola Jesus ? "Zola has a really unique voice. When we met I was expecting a dark, Gothic person, but she's very uplifting and funny."
Gonzalez sees Hurry Up, We're Dreaming as a culmination of every previous M83 album, which makes sense on first listen, but means it also has the potential to polarise opinion, depending on whether you see him as a creator of post-acid-house shoe-gazing epics or a modern-day Jean Michel Jarre with low serotonin levels. Those who succumbed to Saturdays = Youth will love Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, while those who felt his previous outings were a little overblown and pretentious probably won't.
"With Mellon Collie I remember waiting weeks for the release date," recalls Gonzalez. "I listened to it over and over. It was like a discovery. There were so many sounds, that I kept digging. It was like treasure. I loved that ambitiousness. I just turned 30 and I think it was the right time for me to go for it and try something like this ? something I'd remember all my life."
Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is released on Na�ve on 17 October