Justice's Xavier De Rosnay On How Graphic Design Turned Him Into an Electronic Music Power.
In the summer of 2007, there was no record bigger than Justice's debut, Cross.
Known for incorporating strong rock influences into their sound, the French duo soon thereafter usurped Daft Punk as the key principals of France's always-progressive electronic scene. Not surprisingly, the Grammy-nominated album found its way onto nearly every year-end “best of” list and garnered a reputation as one of the most preeminent party records of all time.
Without question, besting their debut effort would be a monumental task.
Four years later, after having songs from Cross appear in several ad campaigns and video games — and after turning in remix efforts for artists like Britney Spears and MGMT — their followup, Audio, Video, Disco, earned its release. The band describes their sophomore effort as being lighter and less aggressive than their previous work, as they've begun to incorporate more arena-rock influence, prog, and live instrumentation into their sound.
While it hasn't proven itself to be the game changer that Cross ultimately became, to say that Justice has taken a step back wouldn't be completely accurate.
In preparation for Justice's Halloween night Palladium Ballroom gig, we phoned Xavier de Rosnay in France to discuss the band's past as graphic designers, their creative process and their obsession with '70s arena rock.
We both agree that your second album has a much lighter sound than your first. What inspired the change in sound?
We were very natural and we didn't think too much about it. We just kept doing what we felt natural to keep on doing, and we changed what felt natural to change. At first it, was not a big change. [It just happened] very simply and naturally.
Before you guys started making music, you were graphic designers. How are those two jobs similar?
Actually, there are a lot of similarities. Like, when you're a graphic designer, it's not about being a good painter or being good at drawing or anything. It's about being good at translating ideas into images. And we make music in the same way. We just translate ideas into music. The makeup is the same. The way of thinking about music is really the same.
How does the music you make for the live shows differ from the music you make for the albums?
Listening to music in a venue and listening to it at home [are] two completely different things. So we think of albums and live shows as two dramatically different things. For albums, we know the concerns and what we want to listen to when we do it. The thing is, when you listen to the music on the record, you don't have to understand everything the first time because you always get a chance to listen to it again and again and again and get into it or not. But, live performance, you have to make everything understandable immediately because you only get one chance. So we think about making our live shows in a much more simple way. Also, because we have two albums, we like to make them coexist in our live shows as well. We can't make everything sound like the first album or everything sound like the second album. We just find a new sound that makes a whole new image. We have to perform in a simple way because it is impossible to perform this album on stage.
Do you ever see yourselves hiring musicians for your live shows or incorporating a live backing band?
I don't, but never say never, as they say. But I would the first to be surprised. The things we like about our music [are] the electronic sound of it and the electronic power. We like the simplicity, the power and the possibility offered by computers and machines. It allows us to be just the two of us on stage and make the music we've been doing, the way we make it. So, no, for the moment it's not the plan now.
Your live setup includes loads of Marshall stacks on stage. Does a lot of that aesthetic come from big '70s arena rock bands? Does a part of you look up to a band like Led Zeppelin or want to emulate them in some ways?
Yeah, of course, we do love bands like Led Zeppelin. We love the singer and we love Zeppelin. I don't know if they know us as well! The amps, the first time we thought of it, we liked this idea because it was something that we could use on stage for electronic music. The way this music was represented on stage was always trying to be futuristic. We liked the idea of having something a bit more, like, [retro] on stage although the music we were making was a bit more modern. It's a good thing with very modern music to have something that balances it. In our case, it was with the Marshall stacks. And it's also from seeing the power of reason. It's almost in the name of like being in a band and being on stage.
When working with outside vocalists, do you guys record yourselves doing scratch vocal takes or do you leave a lot of room for the vocalist to bring in their own creativity?
Usually what we do is we write the song first — or most of it — and then it will make us think of someone to perform it. Then we bring that person to Paris to our studio. Of course, we give them the freedom to improve it — if they have something to improve it. On “Civilization” or “On'n'On,” while I was the performer, I did like some lines to it, [but then the singer] made it better than the demo we were making. On “New Lands,” we brought someone in from the start, so this time it was very much like one other person collaborating. On “Ohio,” we already wrote all the [vocal] lines and when we brought in [the vocalist] to perform it, we wrote the lyrics together. He found ways to make it better. There's always room for improvement, and we really believe a third party can always help us improve something.
Justice performs Wednesday, October 31, at Palladium Ballroom.