Justice tells all about “Woman”, their latest record
A masterpiece of disco hedonism and epic electro, “Woman”, the new album by Justice confirms the French duo’s status as one of our era’s biggest pop duo. An encounter.
Numéro: In the music and the lyrics of your third album, love plays a lead role. Is that a response to the cynicism of our era?
Xavier de Rosnay: We’ve always described ourselves as great romantics. But that doesn’t mean we do it with a flower between our teeth in an unbuttoned flouncy shirt. You can feel it more in our approach to feelings, which are pretty diehard and literal.
Gaspard Augé: It undoubtedly comes from our fascination for “chansons de puceau”, those French love songs with a painful melancholy. The feelings are always very pure in them. I think our tracks are traversed with the same sort of naive romance.
Xavier de Rosnay: Love, for us, is not about going up to a girl and saying, “Hey babe, do you want a ride in my car?!” We understand it in a way that’s less first degree… well, most of the time. Love can also be for the familial, filial, fraternal and amical. What interests us is this need to commune with others and to celebrate joyful moments together. It’s those types of feelings that we try to convey with our music.
What is your ultimate reference in terms of love songs?
Xavier de Rosnay: Without hesitation I would say the Beach Boys, my all-time favourite group. Their music is instantly seductive, probably because of the simplicity of the themes it covers and its beauty which seems self-evident. And yet it’s much more complex than it might at first appear. You can apprehend their songs through their surreal aspect, the references to drugs… We don’t compare ourselves to Brian Wilson’s band but we do endeavour, even with our most frank and simplest tunes, to offer different ways of reading it. Our music is never uni-dimensional. The listener must always have something new to get their teeth into.
Every era has its own musical style and its own drug of choice. On listening to this album, we think of now and of the success of MDMA that provokes this general feeling of love. On the track Love S.O.S., you sing to Romuald: “There is a love emergency.” Is this the cry of a generation?
Xavier de Rosnay: This phrase is a good example because it led to a real debate between us. The track could be understood in two ways: either you see a romantic serenade about the couple – that is how we understand it – or you can see it as a way of envisaging the era – and that’s what Romuald defended. Our take on it was not to choose. Each track should be able to resound differently with each individual.
Why the title, Woman? Is this record more feminine than the previous ones?
Xavier de Rosnay: It would be reductive to define a music in relation to gender, masculine or feminine. Is soft music necessarily feminine? The album contains some very aggressive tracks too. And who’s to say that women don’t like brusque or harsh sounds anyway? Whatever, we chose this title because it embodies our music, but more for its evocative power. The idea of women associated with our combative music conjures up visions of very powerful women like the allegorical symbol of Justice herself.
This combative power of your music comes largely from the omnipresence of choirs and recording with the London Contemporary Orchestra. Had you planned to create a major pop opera?
Xavier de Rosnay: What like Michel Berger? [laughs]. All our records have had slight operetta edge… I don’t use the word opera on purpose because I don’t want to get into trouble with the experts. Our initial ambition was to produce a choral record, in other words an album where the themes and the voices are conceived to be sung by several musicians at the same time.
Gaspard Augé: And that had very concrete implications. The more performers there are, the more the music and lyrics have to be simple.
Together the tracks are like a hymn sheet for a science-fiction gospel choir, the music of a futuristic church…
Xavier de Rosnay: But the choral aspect shouldn’t concern only the production of our music. We want the album to be listened to by groups of people at a time, for it to provoke a musical communion of the greatest possible number.
Would you say that Woman is the most pop music-y of your albums?
Xavier de Rosnay: We’ve always wanted to offer a vision of pop music that could be anchored in our era. Having grown up in the 1980s, MTV formed the core of our musical culture… and we were nourished on Anglo-Saxon pop, which explains why our songs are in English, the universal language of pop music.
What makes a good pop tune?
Xavier de Rosnay: A good pop tune is one that deals with the most universal of feelings: sadness, joy, love, anger… It’s a song that frees itself of any musical style to talk to everyone. Pop isn’t just limited to Lady Gaga and Mariah Carey. Look at the French artist Gesaffelstein, his music comes from techno and is very cold, which could be perceived as the very antithesis of pop. And yet it manages to stir such powerful emotions, that when he was no longer underground, people followed him.
Does your pop ambition affect the way you compose?
Xavier de Rosnay: That ambition, in our opinion, didn’t affect a very radical proposition coming into existence. The completed record is an experiment: the tracks are all longer than five minutes, way off the traditional three minutes of the pop format. And yet Woman is perhaps our album that contains the simplest structures. Each piece has less than 24 tracks. It’s a bit technical but what that means is we tried our hardest to maximise the use of every instrument so it could occupy the largest space possible: only four or five including an electric harpsichord were enough to form the frame of the record.
The first part of the album is buzzing with disco and funk influences. Then there’s the Chorus which ruptures everything, like a grand galactic opera. The second part is more eclectic and experimental…
Xavier de Rosnay: We didn’t want the disruptive element to come too early on the album. The first part is very structured while the second is indeed much freer. Little by little, things disintegrate until we reach, what we hope, is a happy ending. We’re always playing with contrasts. Right in the heart of certain songs, a hard-core sound will blend with much softer elements. I remember that wasn’t always picked up on with our first album. Lots of people thought it was a heavy metal record, probably because of our look and the sound being very saturated, but we’d made it as a disco record.
Certain tracks evoke the music that John Carpenter composed for his horror and science fiction films, like Halloween and They Live… Are they among your references?
Xavier de Rosnay: I’d go further than that. If we had to choose three pieces of music that formed the very DNA of Justice, the track that John Carpenter wrote for Escape from New York would definitely be one of them. I’m not exaggerating when I say since three albums we’ve been striving to re-do the music from Escape from New York. In just one track Carpenter can do a piece of music that’s combative, romantic, dark and totally bad ass.
Gaspard Augé: His way of apprehending film music is very particular. With little means, in a very short amount of time, he succeeds in provoking very real emotions in the viewer. He is not a traditional musician. His music is very instinctive. It takes just a few notes to define his atmospheres.
Among the worlds that seem to have influenced you, with Heroic Fantasy or the last track, we can’t help but think of the video game Final Fantasy…
Gaspard Augé: Yeah we’ve always been fascinated by utopic worlds and the very romantic idea of reinventing your life through a fantasy universe.
Does current music influence you too? I’m thinking the recent experimental works by Frank Ocean and Bon Iver…
Gaspard Augé: It’s funny because those are the only two recently released albums that have made their way to us… and that we like a lot.
Xavier de Rosnay: Music always has the same role for me: I listen to it to provoke emotions, not like a professional musician who analyses all aspects of it. I’m not a crate digger searching for rare tunes in vinyl shops or online. Certain albums just naturally find their way to me, often via friends. As for Frank Ocean and Bon Iver, their impact is just great. They are the living proof that radical products can have everyone in agreement.
Woman by Justice (Ed Banger Records/Because Music)
An interview by Thibaut Wychowanok