For someone involved in what is officially a solo project, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez is remarkably generous when it comes to sharing the spotlight. In addition to the French multi-instrumentalist’s own subdued singing, M83’s fifth album, Saturdays=Youth, features memorable contributions from American singer Morgan Kibby, whose dulcet soprano adds a dreamy aura to tracks such as “Skin of the Night”. As the Antibes-based Gonzalez explains on the line from Paris, where he is about to head into a rehearsal with his touring band, it was a match made on MySpace.
“I was working on a movie soundtrack at the time, and the director told me about Morgan,” he says. “So I went on her MySpace page, and when I first listened to the music and to her voice, I just had a crush on her voice, because she’s got this Kate Bush style in her voice, which I really love. She’s got, like, a soft and crystal voice, which is really important for the kind of music I wanted to create for this album.”
The Kate Bush connection is especially apparent on “Up!”, on which Kibby’s tones float above a bed of warm, analogue-synth timbres. The track’s spare arrangement is a far cry from the densely constructed songs on past M83 releases such as Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (2003), and Before the Dawn Heals Us (2005), which bristled with sufficient layers of happy-when-it-rains guitar to find favour with fans of shoegazing noise merchants like My Bloody Valentine.
Enough of that aesthetic remains on Saturdays=Youth to suggest that Gonzalez isn’t completely over his dream-pop obsession. The hooky “Graveyard Girl”, however, bears a distinct new-wave influence, while “Couleurs” pumps along to a waiting-for-the-night beat that lends it the austere sheen of Depeche Mode circa Music for the Masses. The 27-year-old Gonzalez is unequivocal about his love for the music of the 1980s, which he discovered in his early adolescence while the rest of the world was buying Nirvana and Pearl Jam CDs. “I think it was the most important era in the music industry, because at the time a lot of bands started to experiment with new sounds because of the arrival of new keyboards and new technology,” he says. “So you could hear on the radio some really innovative songs. I think it was certainly the most interesting period for the music industry, definitely. I really love bands like Tears for Fears or Cocteau Twins or the Blue Nile, stuff like that. I just wanted to do a tribute to this period, and to some of the movies from the ’80s as well.”
It’s not hard to figure out which movies Gonzalez is talking about; the cover photo of Saturdays=Youth features a motley assortment of kids hanging out in a verdant park. One of them, a pouty redhead in thrift-store organza with a peony in her hair, is a dead ringer for Molly Ringwald’s Pretty in Pink character, Andie Walsh. If much of the album seems like it might have made the perfect soundtrack to a John Hughes teen movie, that’s no accident. Many of Gonzalez’s lyrics are rooted in his fascination with the adolescent rites of passage depicted in Hughes’s movies and the harder-edged works of directors Gregg Araki (Doom Generation) and Larry Clark (Kids). The title characters in “Kim & Jessie”, for instance, are getting stoned in the woods, and the 15-year-old Goth princess of “Graveyard Girl” prefers the company of the dead and wonders if it’s already too late for her to find true love.
“I’m very nostalgic about this period of my life, because I discovered so many good things: good friends, good bands, good movies,” Gonzalez says. “It was my first encounters with drugs and alcohol, and new sex experience as well. When you are 13 or 14, you really start to discover what life is. It was one of the most beautiful periods of my life. A lot of fucking great memories.”
Although he admits he would love to be a teenager again, Gonzalez says he has accepted that he can’t turn back the clock. “I’m kind of happy to be 27 and to do music,” he notes. “I quite like myself and my life, so it’s okay. I’m okay with that. Besides, I still behave as if I was 16. I don’t like to grow up too fast.”
M83 plays Richard's on Richards on Friday (May 24).