Now the sole creative force behind electronic pop group M83, Anthony Gonzalez has only expanded his ambition over the years. M83’s sixth record, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, is an epic, whimsical double album that lands somewhere between the ambient shoegaze of 2005’s Before The Dawn Heals Us and the ’80s-inspired synth-pop of 2008’s Saturdays=Youth. The latter album was a breakthrough for Gonzalez, but Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming has pushed him even further into the spotlight. “Midnight City” even showed up in a Michael Bay-directed commercial for Victoria’s Secret. Gonzalez spoke recently to The A.V. Club about his old-fashioned production methods and how it feels to hear his music in lingerie ads.
The A.V. Club: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is such a lush, slick record. Did you go into the album knowing you wanted it to sound that way?
Anthony Gonzalez: Definitely. The way I make albums is very old-fashioned. I love to work on demos and then go to a proper recording studio with full drums, bass, guitars, and I like to use an analog deck to make my albums. I love to use the old tools, I don’t like the digital way of making albums, and this album is kind of a tribute to the albums we used to listen to when we were kids, in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. I wanted to use the same kind of tools as the bands I loved used to use in the past.
AVC: You’ve mentioned the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness as a kind of model for the album. Was there anything specific about it that inspired you for Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming?
AG: Not really. I wasn’t really inspired by the songs of that album, but more by the aesthetic. When I was a teenager and I first had that album in my hands, I was like the happiest kid on the planet because I was waiting for the album for so long. I missed school to be able to go to the record store and wait in line in the morning to buy the album. Once I had it in my hands, I was listening to it over and over, nonstop, for one month. We don’t do that anymore with records because there’s so much stuff out, there’s so much information. You can be excited about one album for 20 minutes, but then there’s something new coming out. It’s kind of a big jungle, and I feel lost. I don’t know what to listen to nowadays. This album is kind of a tribute to the way we used to listen to music back in the day.
AVC: Did that feeling contribute to the scope of the album? It’s a lot longer than Saturdays=Youth, and more similar to Before The Dawn Heals Us.
AG: I guess so. I love big, epic, ambitious music. It’s a reflection of what I’m listening to and what I’m watching. I always dreamed of doing something ambitious and maybe too big for me. I wanted to do that. I know most of the [negative] criticism I received for this album was like, “It’s too big, too melodramatic, too nostalgic, and too melancholic.” But this is exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to have any regrets. That’s the main part of this album. I just wanted to enjoy myself while making music. I had my tools and I experimented a lot, I was just having a lot of pleasure composing music for this.
AVC: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming features a lot of big, expansive peaks like “Steve McQueen” or “New Map,” but it has other tracks that feel much more reserved. How did you work on that balance?
AG: I feel like it’s very important to have movement when you’re listening to an album. I like to compose my albums like a movie soundtrack, with very intense moments and very ambient ones. For me this album is like a journey, with mountains and deserts. I love to create something with a lot of different atmospheres, different moments. I tried to ad a lot of pop, epic songs, connected to slow, quiet, ambient ones.
AVC: When you think cinematically about a song, are you being specific with how you see a song? Do you imagine particular visuals?
AG: Yeah, I’m a very visual person. I love to imagine a lot of different landscapes while composing my music. I’m very influenced and inspired by movies as well. I like to have a visual reference when composing, it’s very important to me.
AVC: The titles of your past three records [Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Saturdays=Youth, and Before The Dawn Heals Us] convey the idea that you have a limited amount of time to enjoy life. Dreams don’t last, and every fun night ends with a new day. Do you see that as a thread connecting your records?
AG: Definitely, it’s exactly what you describe. It’s very cliché to say it, but my youth went by so fast. I feel like my life is going very fast as well, and I don’t really like that. I really want to take my time to enjoy it as much as possible, but it’s hard. There’s this very dreamy side on this album, but also this very urgent thing. Dream now, because otherwise it’s going to be too late. I like that about life. I think it’s beautiful that we don’t have much time here to enjoy ourselves as human beings.
AVC: When you were sequencing the tracks, how did you envision the album? Did you look at it as sides of a double-album or as one continuous 74-minute piece?
AG: I had a lot of tracks, a lot to choose from. I really wanted to do a double album, and I really wanted to have two almost identical sides. The track listing is always the hardest thing for me, and I really like taking a lot of time working on this. It’s almost as important as the songs, so I took my time to do it and I really wanted to have something well thought out.
AVC: There’s probably more of your voice on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming than all of your past records combined. How did you end up singing so much?
AG: I always loved singing, but I was kind of shy singing on my own music. During the last two years I’ve been touring a lot and putting my shyness away. The experience of me touring brought a lot of confidence in myself, and especially for the vocals, I’ve been touring with bands like Depeche Mode, The Killers, and Kings Of Leon, and seeing them perform onstage taught me how it’s important to be confident with yourself when you’re onstage. This is exactly what I tried to do with this album, I tried to be less shy in front of the microphone and try to have no regrets after the recording of this album, to put everything into the recording.
AVC: You’ve said that the tracks are like little dreams. How did that influence the record, or even the dreamlike video for “Midnight City”?
AG: What I like about this album is that it can be about dreams, but it can be about other things as well. When I released the album I had my vision of it, but the beauty of music is that everyone can imagine his or her own story. This is what I like about being a musician. When the album is out, it’s no longer your property. I like that people can make their own stories with it.
AVC: Would you say the same thing about the Victoria’s Secret commercial that uses “Midnight City” as well?
AG: Yeah, exactly. Victoria’s Secret is part of trying to make money nowadays. I’m not going to make tons of money with my music because it’s hard, because I don’t sell a lot of albums. When you have an opportunity like this, it’s really hard to say no, even if you don’t really understand the point. [Laughs.] Obviously, when I first composed the song I really didn’t have the bras and panties in mind. But I think it’s kind of cool, honestly, that my music can all of a sudden be introduced to a different audience. It’s very important to me that my music is traveling and going to a lot of different places and reaching different kinds of people. This is why I’m making music, and I’m proud of that. Sometimes you have to make a living out of something.
AVC: A Michael Bay-directed commercial shot in Prague is about as big as it gets.
AG: Yeah. [Laughs.] That’s the reality.