justice's dynamic duo on their “friendly” new album
As they prepare to release their best album in almost a decade, we chat to the Gallic duo about music, ambition, and how they remain a pair of "nice lads."
It's been ten years since Parisian dance duo Justice rose to prominence, and the pair still possesses the same levels of Gallic cool that made it the most exciting prospect of the great French Invasion of the mid-noughties. Riding to fame on the back of Europe-wide hit We Are Your Friends in 2006, the leather jackets and skinny black jeans may be long since retired when we meet atop a trendy east London hotel, but the kind of easygoing insouciance practiced by messieurs Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay remains very much de rigueur.
Of course, that's not to say that everything remains the same. For anyone who's seen the riot of shots, shotguns, and shotgun weddings that was 2008 tour documentary A Cross the Universe, the Justice of 2016 is an altogether calmer prospect. Three albums down the line — this month's Woman LP arrives on the back of 2011's Audio, Video, Disco and 2007's critically acclaimed † — Justice is, as the band's quieter, hairier half Gaspard puts it, just a pair of "nice lads" making perhaps their most welcoming (and frankly brilliant) record in a decade.
"When we made the first album, there was this whole hype thing," picks up Xavier. "We were the new thing that was cool to listen to and that helped us. Second album, there's always a sense of rejection, that's fair enough. It was a very peculiar album. Now we're releasing a third album and, of course, there's no hype anymore, we're not a new sensation but there's not rejection either. Justice is just somewhere out there, part of the musical landscape." What does that feel like? "Quite cool actually." Naturellement.
You released your debut album ten years ago next summer. Have your ambitions for Justice changed at all since then?
Xavier: As far as we are concerned we have exactly the same ambitions. We still find it incredible that we managed to reach people, a wide range of people. It's not that there are so many people listening to Justice but there are young people, older people, people from different countries. And with music that is not so…
Xavier: It's been unfriendly so many times. We did a couple of friendly songs but our shows… We never expected it to be like this.
How about the new record, is that friendly?
Xavier: In many ways, Woman is maybe more welcoming. But in the same sense, every time I take a cab and the drivers puts on the radio, I realize how far we are from actual friendly music. I just experienced it ten minutes ago in a cab. He was playing an electronic music station and it was house music with saxophone and stuff like this. I'm not saying it's bad, it's just so different.
What are the essential elements of a pop song to you?
Gaspard: It's an emotion, you know?
Xavier: Most of the music we love, we love it because it's well written. And then the sound it has and the physical aspect doesn't touch us very much. I have to say, there are songs that we love and we have on repeat where the production is not good and it doesn't sound good but it's just very emotional. The harmonies make it emotional. But we are talking about 60s, 70s stuff. I think nowadays the music that is popular is more physical, it's music to dance to, whether it's rap or dance music. It's less our cup of tea, but once in awhile there's one track that we love.
How about when you were growing up? Was there a particular song that changed your life?
Xavier: The first one I'm thinking of, I don't know if it changed my life, but it makes you realize that the things that you listen to as a kid stick in you or whatever… I remember "The Logical Song" by Supertramp. My mom used to work quite far away from our house and I was going to school next to her job, so every morning and every night we had a 45 minute car ride where we were listening just to the French radio. And there was this song playing and I remember I was liking it. And at the same time, I remember it being very gloomy. It's a gloomy song, it's very sad, a bit depressing. But I think these kind of things conditioned me forever about my taste, what I like. Gaspard will tell you, every time we get asked what we liked or what our parents were listening to, the records that Gaspard's parents owned were so important.
Gaspard: I guess the two that stuck with me were Erik Satie, this very quirky, gloomy, melancholic piano pieces, and also these weird French medieval revival rock bands.
Xavier: Like French hippie bands doing medieval rock. It's very good. He got me to listen to it and it's actually a big influence on our last record, Audio, Video, Disco. It's kind of like hippies, stonehenge…
Gaspard: I think something we have in common, and this can probably be applied to every musician in France from the same generation as us, is that at some point on French TV you only had, like, Japanese anime and American TV series. So the blend of those two types of music definitely forged our sensibility.
What did you both want to do when you were growing up?
Xavier: I had so many ideas. When I was very young I was hoping I would do the same as everyone else. Policeman, private investigator…
Xavier: Not vet actually. But around the age of high school, so it was pretty late, around 14, 15, I thought that I was going to become a medium, a fortune teller.
Gaspard: I did not know that.
Xavier: I was thinking of that. Then I thought maybe I could become an anaesthetist. Because my father used to work in the hospital and I gathered that anaesthetists worked, like, three days a week. Because it's a very intensive job so you can't really work more than this. So I thought, a good pay check, I don't have to work more than three days a week. But I was too bad at sciences and stuff. So I then thought I would become maybe a lawyer, because that's what my brother was doing. But my brother knew that I wouldn't be able to handle it and he put me on the list for a graphic design school in Paris. And by miracle I got enrolled. And this is where I met Gaspard.
Thinking of that graphic design background, what came first for Justice, the look or the music?
Xavier: They didn't really interact together. We really started making music almost by accident because we met and…
Gaspard: That said, we made the Justice T-shirt before the first song was written.
Xavier: Yeah! We had Justice T-shirts!
With the cross on?
Gaspard: Not with the cross, just a logo. And we had pins before we made any music!
Xavier: And then we were encouraged to make music in the same way that we were quite good at graphic design without really knowing how to draw or anything. We knew that it was possible to make music without actually being good instrumentalists. But more by channeling ideas and making them happen. And also because it was the early 2000s and equipment to make music was starting to become affordable. We were completely broke at the time, so we used to spend a lot of time in thrift shops and pawn shops, buying cheap samplers and sequencers and stuff like this, making music like that together. Our first tracks, for example We Are Your Friends, were made without a computer. It was really just a sequencer, sampler, and a synthesizer. So I guess that's the way we relate graphic design to the music we make.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Xavier: My first impression was very accurate and I still think exactly the same. Because we have a group of friends in common, they're still the same friends, and so I heard a bit about him before I met him. And my first impression was of this guy that looked a bit quirky and a bit anxious but very, very fun at the same time. And a bit like a genius, you know what I mean?
Gaspard: That's nice.
Xavier: You know, most people who have lots of things happening in their mind look a bit weird when you see them, you know what I mean? Not aloof or anything, just a bit weird. And it's still exactly the same.
Are you happy with that, Gaspard?
Gaspard: Yeah! It suits me well.
How have you both changed over the years?
Xavier: In many ways we've changed because there's just nothing you can do about that. We are both older and our place in the world — I'm talking about us being musicians, just being citizens, human beings — is very different now from ten years ago. But then, in terms of our own characters and temper, I guess we are exactly the same. Flaws and qualities together.
Gaspard: I guess the older you get, you just become a caricature of yourself. Even physically, because as men we are doomed to have the ears and nose still growing.
Xavier: After our deaths, probably.
When do you think you were happiest?
Xavier: Right now we're quite in a good place. It sounds like American actors promoting a movie, but I actually do have a very good memory of making this album. When I thinking of the making of the album, it almost feels like we didn't make it. It was just like coming together very simply and very naturally. And I don't have too many memories of moments making the record. Which is actually a good sign because normally what you remember is all the struggles and the long periods of time because you don't get what you want. And on the previous two albums there were moments like this. This time it was just flowing. It's a bit like a hazy dream.
When you begin a record, is there something in particular that you want to get across or do you just feel your way through?
Xavier: We usually don't want the album to say anything but we want it to sound a certain way and to convey a special type of feeling. It's very immersive for us, an album. Because we still think of albums as a global thing, and of course most people don't listen to records from A-Z. But for us, it's really an immersive experience. And so the first thing you have to determine is the kind of universe you want to put people in. And this line is very clear from the very beginning. There has to be a purpose.
'Woman' is released today, November 18.
Text Matthew Whitehouse