To be a musician is to have a scarred adolescence. Formative years are spent as spitball magnets afflicted with a social leprosy that repels everyone but the most ardent lunch-money extortionists. And pubescence is as awkward and humiliating as losing one's virginity to Cinemax and a tube sock. But the wretched agony of high school also provides tortured inspiration for most indie musicians.
Except, that is, for Anthony Gonzalez. He didn't get the memo.
“I have so many great memories of my childhood and my teenage years,” Gonzalez—aka M83—says. “Living by the sea, partying with friends at the beach, having so many of my first experiences—with drugs, with sex, with everything—it was just a great mood and a great atmosphere to grow up in.”
Well, hooray for glitter and scrapbooks, Mr. Happy Camper.
Of course, it would be easier to loathe Gonzalez if the synth romanticism of his latest album, Saturdays=Youth (“A tribute to my teenage years,” he says), didn't feel so damn genuine. Then again, you'd be skipping down the sunny side of the street with a Day-Glo Sno-Cone, too, if you grew up on the French Riviera. That's not to say M83 is soft. Au contraire.
Earlier albums (like Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts and Before the Dawn Heals Us) delved into subdued electronic shoegaze that earned M83 comparisons with The Cure, My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. Those elements are still present on Saturdays, just with the frown subtly turned upside down.
“The song structures are maybe a little more pop-oriented,” Gonzalez tells CityBeat from a tour stop in Manchester, England. “I would say the previous albums had a lot of pop tracks, as well, but the spirit is just a bit different.”Gonzalez formed M83 (named after the Messier 83 galaxy) in 2001 with Nicolas Fromageau, and the collaboration survived two albums before the duo parted ways with Before the Dawn. Now, the 28-year-old Gonzalez is M83 (and a few guest musicians). Just the way he likes it.
“When I'm creating music, it's my baby and I'm sharing my soul, so it's a very personal thing for me,” Gonzalez says. “Afterwards, I love to share my music with other musicians and producers, but, at some point, I need to be alone with my music”
In the case of Saturdays, the shift toward “pop” accessibility simply means the album isn't entirely composed of ambient instrumentation. An increased attention to melody and vocals—by Gonzalez and Morgan Kibby of The Romanovs—also made Saturdays both critically and commercially laudable. Although ignored in his native France, M83 has been embraced more in the U.S. and U.K., having toured with the likes of The Killers and Kings of Leon and being tapped by '80s icons Depeche Mode to open for their world tour, including a June stop in Paris.
“It's a sort of, what you say, revenge,” Gonzalez chuckles. “We're playing with one of the best bands in the world, so it's a great opportunity for us to maybe get more of a presence in France.”
The tour is particularly apt given that as much as Saturdays is a tribute to youth, it's also an homage to the '80s, from Cocteau Twins and Tears For Fears to the John Hughes pantheon (just check out the gang of Breakfast Clubbers on Saturdays album cover). But that doesn't necessarily mean Saturdays will have a follow-up any time soon (Sundays=Hangover?).
“I really don't know what I'll be doing for the next album,” Gonzalez says. “I've always dreamed of doing a double album, and this might be the time to do that. Maybe I just need to smoke more weed and think about it.”
In the meantime, the success of Saturdays—particularly tracks like “Kim and Jessie” and “We Own the Sky”—has opened up M83 to new audiences, and, like any exuberant youth, Gonzalez is content in just enjoying the moment.
“To tell you the truth, I'm still behaving like I was a teenager,” Gonzalez laughs. “The big difference now is that I have adult problems, but I'm still having fun like I was a teenager. Maybe I will have to change and grow up one day—but not yet.”M83 plays Thursday, May 21, at Belly Up Tavern with DJ Lord Nelson.