M83 makes the kind of music you think you've heard before.
By DAVID BRINN
If your local DVD rental outlet has recently had a run on those John Hughes 1980s teen angst classic films like Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, it might by Anthony Gonzalez's fault.
That's because anyone who hears his French pop band M83's album Saturdays=Youth will immediately experience an '80s flashback - and it's not just the image of a Molly Ringwald look-alike on the cover. Snippets of Echo and the Bunnymen, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and a slew of synthesizer-drizzled pop from that era permeate the upbeat music on the album.
"The album is like a tribute to music from the '80s," explained Gonzalez in a call from his home in Paris, ahead of a month-long tour that will take M83 - named after a far-away galaxy - to Tel Aviv on July 1st at the Barby Club. "I was a teenager then, and I look back on it with such fondness, because I really had a wonderful time in my teens. I was discovering new things about life and myself every day."
Wearing his Hughes on his sleeve, Gonzalez readily admitted to being taken in by the teen culture that unfolded on the silver screen as experienced by the genre's haplessly loveable losers and troubled cool kids.
"I was really influenced by those movies. I especially loved Molly Ringwald - her look and her style. She was amazing," said Gonzalez, with a strong French accent. "Cinema has always been just as important to me as music."
Still, Gonzalez chose music as his artistic obsession, forming M83 as an electronic music band with Nicolas Fromageau, who left after two albums. Gonzalez recalled totally immersing himself in the music and film coming out of the US and England when he was a teen, even at the expense of his homegrown offerings.
"I wasn't listening to a lot of French music when I was growing up. It was mostly American influence, both in music and in film. The American culture is very strong in France. For a young Frenchman, everything coming out of the US was new and interesting," said Gonzalez.
By the time he formed M83 however, Gonzalez's style was completely his own. The band gained a growing following with its reverb-drenched wash topped by softly spoken lyrics. Since the split with Fromageau, Gonzalez has used various musicians to fill the roles in the keyboard-heavy band.
"I like to compose all by myself, even back when I was with Nicolas. But afterward, I like to share it with others. I always give a lot of freedom to the other musicians to do whatever they want to try with the songs to make them interesting," said Gonzalez.
CURRENTLY ON tour with a drummer and with vocalist/keyboardist Morgan Kibby, of the Los Angeles-based band the Romanovs (who also provided the siren-like vocals on Saturdays=Youth), Gonzalez said that he's revelling in the lighter, frothier music of Saturdays=Youth, a noticeable change from the shoegazing, cosmic electronica of 2003's Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts and 2005's breakthrough Before The Dawn Heals Us.
"I wanted to do something very different from previous albums, and I always found something special and powerful from the music coming out of the '80s. It was well produced and the sound was clear and there were so many elements to the songs," he said.
To create that authentic '80s sound, Gonzalez said that he recorded the album in that decade's style, using vintage instruments.
"We worked only with analog keyboards and analog synthesizers," he said.
From traces of Simple Minds and The Cocteau Twins to Tears for Fears and Kate Bush, Saturdays=Youth is like a vintage jukebox churning out instantly likable songs that you'll think you've heard before.
"Instead of more shoegazing, I was looking for something more easy and lighter to listen to. But I think it still sounds like M83. I think it shows that I'm evolving with my music. It's a progression, but it's also an attempt to simplify things and to have fun," said Gonzalez.
Eager to expand the band's audience, Gonzalez has taken the bold step of opening tours in recent months for some of the top bands out there - including Kings of Leon, The Killers and Depeche Mode. It hasn't always been a pleasant experience, especially with Kings of Leon's rowdy fans.
"It's always a challenge to play your music in front of an audience that's not there to see you, but it's a good way of promoting our music, and getting it out there," said Gonzalez.
"Kings of Leon was a difficult audience, though. It was in the UK and it was mostly teens, and they were really committed to their band. It was pretty tough. It worked much better with The Killers in America, where we found the audience to be more receptive. But I have a lot of respect for all the bands we've been touring with."
Gonzalez also respects the music of a lot of other artists, to the extent that he's developed a cottage industry of remixing songs by some of his favorites, including Bloc Party's "Pioneers," Placebo's "ProtÃ¨ge-Moi," Goldfrapp's "Black Cherry" and Depeche Mode's "Suffer Well."
"Remixing is fun, trying out different things that I wouldn't necessarily do with my music. I always keep the original vocals, and just redo the music and change the melody of the original song," said Gonzalez.
No matter what kind of music he's creating though, Gonzalez admits that he's seeing a picture in his head, a throwback to his love of cinema.
"I always compose with pictures in my mind. I love movie soundtracks and hope to write one someday," he said. "That combination of music and pictures can be doubly powerful, touching and beautiful."
Sort of like M83's music.
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