“Big drums, big guitars, big synths, big vocals,” is how Anthony Gonzalez describes his new live show as M83. For his first tour in nearly seven years (get tickets here), every note is meant sound huge. If you’re at all familiar with the French band, then you’ll know this is not a foreign idea in Gonzalez’ camp — since M83’s 2001 self-titled debut, Gonzalez and his collaborators have been in search of awe-inspiring sonics, climatic moments of pure emotion, and seismic displays of shoegaze, synth pop, and rock.
They reached the culmination of that grandiosity on 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and turned inward on 2016’s Junk (a wildly underrated album, for what it’s worth). Now on March 17th, M83 release their remarkable ninth studio album, Fantasy. Fantasy contains much of M83’s usual majesty, but perhaps the largest difference arrives in the influx of guitar and a deeper emphasis on the ambient-influenced soundscapes found in Gonzalez’ film scores.
Fans of the seminal Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming will certainly enjoy Fantasy — but there’s less of an homage to the new wave wonder of “Midnight City” and a more considerate effort to mirror the organic transformation found in songs like “Splendor” and “Soon, My Friend.” It’d be easy for M83 to cast a wide net and land only on the biggest, most powerful emotions. And yet, it’s littered with moments of complicated brilliance, finding a transformational power in the grey areas. For Gonzalez, the album is meant to be a combination of every M83 album.
“It’s really a synthesis,” Gonzalez tells Consequence, “But I think I really want to continue creating music without looking back at the past, because it’s kind of what I’m doing all the time, and I think people could get bored of me talking about memories, talking about nostalgia, talking about old stuff.” Fantasy, then, marks a major reemergence for Gonzalez: “To me, I truly believe that this Fantasy album is probably the beginning of the next chapter of my career, and I am truly excited about what’s next.”
Though the first half of Fantasy has been available to stream since February 9th, the sprawling second half continues M83’s exploration into a vast universe of sound. These songs patiently bloom into focus, with long intros and outros, sweeping washes of guitar, and vocals that build in harmony to anthemic heights. The vocals in particular were a challenge for Gonzalez; in our conversation, he admits to creating somewhat of a trap for himself on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. “I think I was maybe a little too ambitious at the time,” Gonzalez says, “It’s a difficult process because I don’t like my vocals — I don’t like the sound of them. I actually learned to like them and accept it, but sometimes when I finished tracking the songs in my studio on my own and had to do the vocals by myself, I really ended up crying in some moments. Because I felt like I put all my heart into this.”
Though Fantasy concerns the possibilities of imagination and escape, it’s no question that Gonzalez is still wrestling with the context of being an “indie” musician in 2023. Throughout our interview, he touches on artificial intelligence’s presence in the current landscape of art, the unsustainable cadence required by record labels and music industry heads, and even how he wishes “Midnight City” didn’t lead to a bunch of “EDM bros” becoming obsessed with his music.
Stream Fantasy and read our full Q&A with M83’s Anthony Gonzalez below.
It’s been nearly seven years since you’ve released an M83 album, and now, you’re only days away from the release of Fantasy. What’s going through your head right now?
Good things! A lot of fear as well as excitement — it’s a lot of different emotions combined, but I’m truly excited to go back on the road after a long break, and excited to promote this album live as well. I feel like the whole idea behind this album was to make something that translates really well live and now the challenge is to make that happen: How do we make a show that’s consistent, that also connects the older albums to this new album? So, it’s a very challenging process but it’s also very inspiring. I’m very excited about the band I put together, and I really think that it’s probably going to be the best M83 show yet. I think I’m more excited because I know the musicians are gonna be with me and they’re truly special, and I think they’re gonna bring a vibe that’s not been there for a long time. It’s a lot of excitement — fear, obviously — when you release new music. It’s a part of yourself that you reveal as well, and I’m a little always a little nervous about people’s reaction on a new album, but yeah, it’s part of the game.
Walk me through the journey of creating Fantasy. When did the journey begin, and how long did the process take?
Well, this album has been finished quite a long time ago, to be honest. But because of COVID, we had to push back the release. And then we pushed the tour and everything got delayed, but that’s probably the case for a lot of bands for the last three years. But for Fantasy, we really wanted to make an album that’s created by a band — that had a “band” feeling to it. So, we gathered in the studio with Justin [Meldal-Johnson] and Joe [Berry] and we jammed almost every day — almost a new song every day, or a new idea at least. We did that for a year, and then after that, we just tried to create a consistent album with all our oldest ideas and turn ideas into songs, and that was probably the most challenging things to do in the process of the record. But also, it was just a new way of working. I had the habit of working on my own, mainly composing on my own, and it’s the first time that I’d been doing it in a group. Especially with Joe and Justin, these two partners on this Fantasy album that really did tremendous work on creating beautiful sounds. There was a lot of teamwork on that.
Now that you’ve been doing this for over 20 years, has the process of creating a song from start to finish taken more time or less time?
There are no rules. There were some songs on that album that were made really quickly and very naturally, and some other songs that we took a longer time to produce… but it doesn’t really matter. You’re talking about time, and it’s almost something that I really don’t want to think about. We live in a strange world where there’s so much pressure of releasing new music, and I feel like for me, taking the time off… it’s probably the best thing that everyone should be doing at the moment.
The pressure of releasing new music, almost like an album every year or otherwise you disappear from the picture… I really have a hard time dealing with that new format of music marketing and business. To me, the question I asked myself every day is, “Am I good enough to release new music and bother people with new albums every year?” I don’t think so. I think it’s good that you take a step back. The amount of albums that we have to digest every week and every month and every year just accumulates, and no one hears great stuff that people are making. That’s the trauma that I’m dealing with this new way of marketing, it’s just too much.
It’s the same in cinema, it’s the same in TV shows, it’s the same as Netflix and Amazon. It’s like we overfeed you with stuff, and I have a problem with that. So to me, taking the time is a good thing. That’s what I want to say. It’s good for me to have an artist disappear for a while, to keep the mystery alive and keep the excitement of a new release intact. That’s what I believe, at least, but I come from a different generation, a generation that really had to be patient with music releases. When you had a new Sonic Youth album, you spent some time with it, and you just don’t listen to a few tracks and then go to the next thing. You just be patient and try to enjoy what you have, because this is priceless. I think this is how art should be. Unfortunately, it’s not the case nowadays.
This is such a majestic sounding album, with really big emotions at the core. How easy or difficult has it been for you to mine these kinds of heavy, vulnerable emotions in your music?
To be honest, I don’t think I could do it differently. I think I’ve always been attracted to emotional music, emotional films, and ambitious music, not in the sense of harmony, but in a sense of emotion and feelings. So to me, it’s quite natural to go that way because my musical education taught me to create these kinds of feelings with my music. It’s just very hard to describe, because it comes from my soul and my heart. I don’t think I could put any words with that. In a sense, this is my tool to speak my emotions and music is my language. It’s almost easier for me to talk about my feelings through my music than communicate normally with a dialogue, with another person. It has always been a way for me to express myself, and also to travel — traveling with the power of creating chords and melodies.
I’ve been feeling quite emotional recording this album. You were talking about the vocals, it was a challenging one for me. I feel like I trapped myself on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming where I started to… I don’t know where it came from, but I started to really sing on that album. And it’s probably the biggest mistake I’ve ever made because now I have to do it! It’s a difficult process because I don’t like my vocals — I don’t like the sound of them. I actually learned to like them and accept it, but sometimes when I finished tracking the songs in my studio on my own and had to do the vocals by myself, I really ended up crying in some moments. Because I felt like I put all my heart into this.
It’s like you gather all that emotion, and then all of a sudden, it just goes out — and the music is not helping, you know, because it’s just big emotional chords. It’s just like, “This is the power of music that triggers some unexpected, raw feelings.” I think this is exactly the reason why I chose that path of being a musician, it’s because there’s nothing like it. I think probably the equivalent would be a professional football or soccer player where you have this adrenaline that kicks in, but it’s very unique and it allows me to express my vulnerable side. It’s a way for me to work on myself.
I love that you brought up the vocals — on Junk, we didn’t get nearly as much of you singing, but on Fantasy, you’re back singing all the way up on the rafters, to the point where it feels like you’re belting with your entire body. Have you found that you’ve gotten more comfortable as a vocalist, especially when touring and having to sing the high notes from the songs on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming?
To be honest, I’m gonna change a few keys from the older records… I think I was maybe a little too ambitious at the time. But yeah, of course. I feel like when we talked about time and disappearing for a while, I spent a lot of time just playing music and singing — not writing music at all, but just playing other people’s songs and learning harmony. I have a very punk background and a very punk approach to music. I started to learn the guitar, but just a few chords on my own. I would then say, “Well, that’s enough for me to create my music,” but I’ve never been to school and I feel like I’ve done that in the last 10 years.
It’s almost like I caught up on music knowledge. I think it was a necessary step for me because now I feel much more confident about my music skills. Of course, I’m not a virtuoso and that’s okay. I have my strengths and weaknesses, but the idea of being able to translate what’s in my heart and brain is definitely helping now, after all these years of learning music as almost as a student. So now, I definitely feel more confident with my vocals and my studio skills, and yeah, excited to go on the road. It’s an experience that you have to feel, and the connection with the fan is something that’s probably gonna feed me. The beginning of the tour, I’m expecting some mistakes and fuck-ups, and then you have to feed yourself from that energy to make the show better and to make yourself better.
You discussed feeling uncomfortable with the industry standards around release cadences. So, I’m wondering what it means to you to still be in a “rock band” in 2023, considering how much the industry has transformed even since Junk.
To me, growing up in the ’80s and discovering a lot of music from the ’90s is really important for me to keep that intact. It’s funny you brought that up, because I feel like now we’re in the era of artificial intelligence in art. On Instagram, I started to look at some artists, and I came across a couple of artists’ songs, and I thought, “Wow, this is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in a long time,” and I didn’t know anything about AI, it was just a few months ago. Then I discovered that everything was computer generated, and the feeling I had, knowing that I thought it was probably the best thing I’ve ever seen in years, and knowing that it was not human in a sense (or barely human), I had a strange feeling of a void in my stomach and guts. I felt like, “Is it the beginning of the end?” So to me, being able to gather in a room with musicians, put a lot of sweat in an album…. Creation is crucial. And I hope I’m not gonna go that route of using AI software to make my next album [laughs].
Something tells me you don’t really have to.
Well, it would probably be really good, and AI is already kind of amazing, and scary amazing — like science fiction-amazing, but also science-fiction-scary. So where is the place of the artist in all that? Well, I don’t really know. I’m gonna keep focusing on doing things that I love, which is making music, listening to music, being with people I love, and watching films. I think this is what everybody should do. Just make sure that you spend some time doing things that you like. Being quite an old fashioned guy, I probably will be making albums the old-fashioned way till the end of my career. Knock on wood.
Now with nine albums to your name, how difficult will it be to craft the setlist for your upcoming tour?
Let’s put it this way, there’s gonna be songs from pretty much every album except the very first one. But otherwise, we’re going to play songs from every album. It’s probably going to be more shoegaze-y, electronic show-based. I mentioned this in an interview before, but it’s almost that I want to keep the fans of “Midnight City” away from entering — which I mean mostly as a bad joke.
For me, the struggle with being a successful artist with that album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and especially with that track, “Midnight City”, is that all of a sudden, I had this huge EDM following. EDM is probably one of the styles of music that I hate the most. All of a sudden, I have these bro EDM DJs playing my music, and I just can’t even care less. Sometimes I wish that I could erase that fan base but I don’t think it’s possible to do that. Maybe in a few days, there’ll be some apps that can do this, but yeah, we’re gonna play a lot of noise music and have some very ambient moments. Big drums, big guitars, big synths, big vocals.
It’s funny that you bring up “Midnight City” and Hurry Up‘s success, because it feels like certain songs on Fantasy have a through-line to that album.
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think Fantasy is probably a synthesis of a lot of older albums. There’s a bit of Before the Dawn Heals Us and Saturdays = Youth and Hurry Up, of course, a bit of Junk as well. It’s really a synthesis. Looking back on Hurry Up in particular, I feel like it’s still kind of surreal in my mind. I remember me moving to the US like 12, 13 years ago and creating that album and creating all these beautiful memories around that sound, and of course, success is a beautiful thing and makes you feel stronger.
I think I really want to continue creating music without looking back at the past because it’s kind of what I’m doing all the time, and I think people could get bored of me talking about memories, talking about nostalgia, talking about old stuff. To me, I truly believe that this Fantasy album is probably like the beginning of next chapter of my career and I am truly excited about what’s next. Also, I’m creating my own label, so Fantasy is going to be the first release on that label. So not only do I want to keep creating music, but I also want to promote other people’s music and in a very old fashioned label-way: Very art-y and very minimal with no expectations, just making good art and talking about it.