A few days into a national tour supporting a new release, Anthony Gonzalez of M83 sat down in a room full of press and public at the Moog Factory in Asheville, North Carolina. He had just arrived in town for a stop at Moogfest, the annual music festival in late October honoring synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog. Just weeks after his sixth album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, dropped, Gonzalez was game to discuss how he approaches creating music in a charming French accent while flashing an impish grin. With a band named after a spiral galaxy (Messier 83) and a love of all things electronic, Gonzalez felt right at home. He was also looking forward to seeing James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem (who was playing a dj set with Pat Mahoney as ‘Special Disco Version’) and seeing fellow tour band Active Child on a larger stage.
“It’s fantastic to be here with a ton of synthesizers all over the place—it’s like a museum and I’m super excited to play,” Gonzalez said. “We started the tour four days ago so it’s kind of a work in progress, but I’m super amped to be back on tour and connect with my fans”.
The new album features an expanded instrumentation, utilizing power pop hooks to maximum effect in an electronic soundscape. The new album was mostly produced in Los Angeles, with some songs recorded in the Joshua Tree desert. Gonzalez moved there two years ago right as he began to work on this latest collection of songs. “Music is the only way I found to express myself,” he said. “To express my feelings and my fears and the way I feel about my childhood, my past and my memories”.
Translating this music to the stage is very complicated, he explained. Wishing he had the budget to have twenty musicians on stage, the band instead plays with prerecorded tracks in the background. “Sometimes I feel bad about playing live, because I work so hard on my sound for my albums and then I’m like, oh now I have to play that live? What was I thinking?” Gonzalez said, smiling. “So we have to find a good balance between the sound of the album and create something new for the audience. It’s challenging but fun”.
When asked about this tour, Gonzalez joked how he was traveling with “two dogs, three ponies like a circus” before discussing the group. “The band is basically a four-piece: there’s a drummer [Loic Maurin], keyboards [Morgan Kibby] guitar and bass player [shared duties with Jordan Lawlor]”. With a small crew, he thought it was nice having a total of only nine people on the bus.
As far as equipment, Moog products were deemed “too expensive” but he loves the classic Voyager synthesizer. For creating his music in studio, Gonzalez used to work with Pro Tools and Logic but for the past three or four years he has been using Ableton products only. “I love Ableton and I’m really convinced it’s the best thing that happened to music in ten years,” he said. “It’s so easy to be creative with it, really inspiring”. Gonzalez also singled out the vintage synth Yamaha CS-80, even though he doesn’t own one, he uses one in studio production. “It is so easy to use and play,” he said. “It’s so old that you have to tune it over and over but it’s fantastic. It’s so satisfying and rewarding when you can come up with a great sound”. He also favors the Roland G3P for the classic synth sounds of composer Vangelis (Chariots of Fire).
To list music that has inspired him would “be too long”, but Gonzalez decided to fall in love with music at a young age. He remembers watching television around age six with his parents and seeing the iconic French electronic composer, Jean Michel Jarre, performing while surrounded by synthesizers. “He looked so futuristic,“ Gonzalez recalls. “The sound was so new to me, it was a shock”. For a boy obsessed with science fiction movies (e.g., George Lucas’s first movie THX 1138) and space adventures it seemed natural fit. Growing up, he listened to countless soundtracks and ‘70s prog rock as well as German electronic music. He also counts the ambient work of Brian Eno, such as Music for Airports, as a favorite.
“I would say that movies are probably my biggest influence.” Gonzalez declared. He usually has one playing in the background at his studio and would like to get into film scoring—hence the move to L.A. “What I find interesting is when there’s a great combination of music and pictures. It can be perfect because you have everything in one art form”. While his brother is a filmmaker, Gonzalez finds the role of director daunting. “I don’t know if I’d be good at making movies”, Gonzalez surmises. “There’s so much pressure. The crew’s so big and you have to be really confident about yourself when you’re a director”. Although he continued with the thought with a “never say never,” he explained how he’s shy but a responsive audience gives him what he needs to perform on stage. “What I like about music is it accepts my mistakes”. Gonzalez clarifies, “I can be myself and still be touching and moving people. Movies are way more complicated. I was a musician since I was a young kid—I couldn’t live without it”.
Gonzalez does enjoy the creative process of making videos, translating his own music into imagery. He seemed sincerely pleased after a compliment that his music videos were really beautiful. “This is obviously very important to me, choosing the right director for my videos and the right moods and atmosphere,” Gonzalez explained. “I try to be as communicative as possible with the director and to talk with him about my ideas so we’re working on the same thing”.
Later in the day, people were running across town for the first time slot at the Asheville Civic Center in order to catch M83. There were text shout outs on a screen inside about how some people had attended the festival just to see them and other media feeds suggested that M83 was the most buzzed about band of the weekend. A large crowd had gathered and Gonzalez graciously thanked everyone for coming to their early show. It was a tight set by a well-rehearsed group who clearly understood their roles while having a great time together. Gonzalez easily fed off the energy of the audience, finding that confidence he spoke about earlier in the day as his music reverberated across the venue.
// Notes from the Road
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