We got there early. Too early. The anticipation was frustrating. Julie had the idea of standing in the lobby before the movie started, in case he showed up early. We walked into the theater, gave our tickets to the door and posted up in the large hallway. I looked to my right and there he was, my artistic hero, standing in the middle of a lobby, eating popcorn, laughing with his friends.
A few weeks earlier, I heard that M83 frontman, Anthony Gonzalez, was going to be at the premiere of his brother’s first feature film, You and the Night, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. The film was open to the public, and Anthony and his brother, Yann, would be doing a Q&A following the screening. I’ve seen M83 live several times, but to have an opportunity to hear Anthony discuss his music in person was something I’d always dreamed. Anthony scored You and the Night, the soundtrack of which was released months ago. I’ve listened to it daily, usually when I’m writing. The words flow as “Un nouveau soleil” crescendos, a smile forms as “Nous” takes off.
My fascination with M83 took hold one hazy summer night in 2010. I was at a friend’s party, my mind fogged from humidity and cheap beer. Suddenly, a noise. An odd, soothing collection of electronic sounds. There’s no way to articulate the full impact that moment had on me, but the instant M83’s “We Own the Sky” blasted over that party, my life was forever altered. Within days, I purchased all of their albums and played them on repeat. Those songs, particularly the ones on Saturdays = Youth became the soundtrack to my life.
A year after first hearing “We Own the Sky,” I decided to seriously complicate my life. I told my female best friend that there was something more and she said she felt the same. But she was with someone else; whatever she decided, it would get messy. A month later, she called and told me she’d made up her mind. We lived two hours apart and agreed to meet halfway. I got in the car, heart racing. Instinctually, I put on M83’s “Midnight Souls Still Remain,” a haunting epic that repeats the same few bars for 11 minutes. A maddening track to some, but in that moment, it relaxed me. It kept my foot on the pedal, pressing just hard enough. When the song finished, I played it again. Another 11 minutes. Repeat.
Halfway was a gas station parking lot in central Virginia. I got out of my car and she got out of hers. “You and me,” she said. “So here we go.”
Months later, I had an idea for what I hoped would be a compelling short film. But consistent with my process, I enjoyed the idea of it more than actually writing it. So I put it off. I put it off until Oct. 4, 2011, the day Urban Outfitters began streaming the new M83 album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, on their website for free. At work, alone in my office, I hit play. The first song, simply titled “Intro,” built up slowly, before ripping me to shreds. Tears fell as I marveled at the complicated sonic rhythm of the track. The drums, so loud. The words, so high. Never in my life have I had such a strong, immediate connection with a piece of music. I went home and wrote the script for the short film in one sitting, letting “Intro,” guide my words. The film, a dark and challenging character study about a young woman trapped in the chaos of her mind, was to be called Earrings.
That relationship didn’t work out. We gave it a year, but things faded. And so it is and so it goes. Our break-up was a mutual decision, one reached shortly after I returned from Los Angeles after filming Earrings. While editing the film, I realized how odd it was that my personal life so closely mirrored the character within Earrings. Unlike Chlo in my film, I wasn’t using drugs or abusing alcohol to cope, but I was indeed alone. Scared and sad and alone. It was a dark time, a bad stretch of my life. I had nightly battles with myself – convinced that the film was crap, convinced that I had failed. But two things motivated me to keep going and finish the film. One: “Outro,” the song that closes Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. I knew I wanted to use the song in the trailer for Earrings, so I played it ceaselessly, noting every change in rhythm, every variation in instrument. “I’m the king of my own land,” Gonzalez echoes. “I will fight until the end.” Over and over. It helped heal.
“Intro” was my other motivation. From writing to filming to editing Earrings – the song never went away. And in the midst of emotional turmoil, I needed it more than ever. I ended Earrings with “Intro” blaring in the background. In the film, it’s a moment of hope. A young woman realizing there’s more. “We can stand, we can say, we are reborn,” Zola Jesus cries out on the record. “Hand on my breast, I’ll keep you warm. Hail.” Without “Intro,” there would be no Earrings, and without Earrings, my filmmaking career wouldn’t be where it is now. In my world, that song and film will be forever married, which brings me a great deal of joy.
I met someone quicker than I wanted to. After Earrings, I needed a break. I put everything I had into that film, so when Earrings was out in the world, I stepped back. Did nothing. Tracks like “Safe,” “Farewell/Goodbye,” “Beauties Can Die,” “Waves, Waves, Waves” and especially “I Guess I’m Floating,” were the fuel to my emotional leisure.
And then I met her. We had known each other professionally but had never met socially. She had seen Earrings and said many kind things about it. I had read a final draft of her memoir and was equally impressed. Her name was Julie and she was like me. We were writers and fighters, lovers and dreamers. Julie and I met one hot and humid night in Washington, D.C. The attraction was instant. Coffee turned into drinks, drinks turned into dancing. The DJ played “Midnight City.” The city was our church. A few weeks passed, and when I told her I loved her she told me the same. In the acknowledgments of her book, she thanked me for my love and quoted “My Tears are Becoming a Sea,” the song that had become our song.
The idea for my next project took hold. A feature. A film about testing love amongst tragedy, in which the characters were as devoted as they were disloyal, kind as they were cold. There was never a doubt about what the film would be called – Wait, a title lifted from the fifth track of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. “Wait” was to Wait what “Intro” was to Earrings. I had the idea for the film long before I heard the song, but when “Wait” came into my life, I knew I had to make the film immediately. The script came out exactly how I wanted, but I knew I couldn’t make the film I envisioned from Virginia. So in early spring 2013, I told Julie it was time for me to move to Los Angeles, but I wouldn’t go unless she came with me. She said yes, and come August, away we would go.
In the months between finishing the script for Wait and leaving for LA, I decided to make room for what would be the most personal film project of my life. In 2002, one of my best friends, Corrin, was in a car accident on Christmas evening and died as a result of the accident on New Year’s Day. Ten years. An idea: interview the people who knew him best, creating a film of remembrance about a wonderful young soul. I hesitated with the project, thinking the idea wouldn’t be received well by Corrin’s family. But while thinking about the project one afternoon, I heard a song. A song I’d heard a thousand times. It came on randomly at a specific time of immense vulnerability, and everything clicked. I would make this film, and end it with this perfect M83 track. I told Corrin’s mother about the documentary, and with her enthusiastic support, the film took off. After a few weeks of preparation, every interview was set. It was to be my biggest project yet; something important, lasting.
And then everything fell apart.
People got nervous. Family members became anxious. Old friends stopped returning calls. I filmed one interview, with a dear friend from way back when. It was sad and intense and real, exactly what I hoped for. But that’s all there was. Most everyone else backed out. The film collapsed, and I was utterly devastated. I’ve never spoken about it publicly because it still shatters me to this day. A few weeks after deciding for certain to cease production (one of the hardest decisions of my life), I heard the song that was to end the film. I couldn’t take it. It haunted me. I’ll always love that song; it helped close doors I didn’t know were still open, but it’s the one M83 track I can’t bear to hear. I can’t even bring myself to share its title with you, that’s how personal it is to me.
And now we have Wait. A film that has consumed my every waking minute for well over a year. Shooting the film was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Problems, money, doubts, breakdowns. It’s difficult to admit this, but because of these complications, I fell out of the love with the movie while making it. Take away my passion to create and you take away all that is me. But now that I’m nearing the end of editing, I’ve developed an even stronger relationship with the material. The soundtrack to You and the Night has helped a lot with this. As has Julie’s unwavering support.
I’ll talk more about Wait in the ensuing months, because I’ve said enough for now. But the point is, the music of M83 hasn’t just motivated my artistic endeavors, it has motivated my life. I can’t expect you to understand, because I hardly understand myself. I trust the music of M83. I trust it to calm. Trust it to listen and understand. It plays through my tears and widens my smile.
So, how do you articulate this to the man who is responsible for it all? You don’t. You tell him Thank You. You shake his hand and steady your voice. You hold back tears, and you say Thank You. You remind yourself, in the moment, that this is going to be a moment that defines you. Maybe he’ll ask you your name. Maybe you’ll learn that he’s as cool and relaxed and genuinely kind as you’ve hoped. Maybe he’ll thank you for your gratitude. Maybe you’ll tell him about the film you’ve just made, and the influence his music had over it. Maybe he’ll smile and say he’d love to see it.
And maybe he will. One day.
Maybe he will.