After five years of silence, the sounds of EDM's enfant terrible, Justice, makes a welcome return to swanky rooftop bars and hipster dance dens with its third album, Woman.
Featuring a children's chorus on the vocals, the lead single "Safe and Sound" harkens back to the French duo's biggest hit to date, "D.A.N.C.E." from its debut, Cross. But the distorted, occasionally harsh sounds that made the electro group both musically divisive and criminally underplayed on the dance floor are toned down, instead allowing funky disco breaks, synths and slap bass to take center stage.
The end result is a more upbeat and mellow record, a take fans and music critics alike have uniformly praised. "We didn't expect people to welcome it so much," Xavier de Rosnay, who makes up the group with his more taciturn companion Gaspard Augé, admitted. "We're so used to having half of people liking something and the other half hating it. We're never overconfident."
Perhaps they're still feeling the sting of the reaction to their sophomore album Audio Video Disco, which unexpectedly veered into prog-rock territory. It was a commendable gamble, no doubt, but some critics said it was a middling follow-up to their Grammy-nominated debut (read: sophomore slump) and even lapsed into kitschy parody.
Fresh off unanimously strong reviews for their latest three singles, Xavier and Gaspard recently sat down with Maxim in New York to discuss their latest album, their infamous documentary, their controversial music video for "Stress," and what they think of American DJs (looking at you, Diplo!).
Why did call your new album Woman?
Xavier: To us, it represents power and strength. It's a symbol of giving life to something, which is an act of God. We were also thinking of Lady Justice, the symbol of justice that is the woman with the sword, some sort of goddess of life and war. We've always been inspired by very strong female figures, and it fit the feel of the album.
How is this album different from your previous ones?
Xavier: The game on this record is totally different. On Audio Video Disco, almost every riff was a reference to something that we liked. We had this idea of incorporating all this '60s and '70s British rock. You can listen to it and make it some sort of treasure hunt, and that's what we really like about it. This album makes no direct reference to anything, but of course we love disco, and you can hear a lot of that.
Is it fair to say Woman is more upbeat and even romantic?
Gaspard: We've always been romantic. It's just that with this album, we've allowed ourselves to make the sense of romanticism more tangible than in the other ones.
Xavier: We never really make dark, suicidal or depressive music. Even when our music sounded really harsh, there was always a sense of victory and triumph. It's just not romantic in the sense of wearing a white shirt and having a rose in between our teeth and singing out of a window to a woman.
And what do you mean by "make it Randy", anyway? Is that a sexual thing?
Xavier: The word Randy has three meanings: it can be a boy's name, a girl's name or a sexual state. I don't know. What do you think?
I'll take that as a yes. It's been five years since your last album. Do you ever worry that your popularity will dwindle?
Xavier: We passed the stage of being hyped a long time ago. There's been like 10 years between our first album and now so the concern of Justice being cool or not being cool doesn't really exist anymore. It's just there. I don't think we're the type of band to say it's cool that you listen to when you're in high school. So we are surprised when young people are interested in us. Maybe their older brother or sister was listening five or 10 years ago, and they get interested in this exactly the way we got interested in bands from the '80s when we were in the '90s.
A lot of people know you from your documentary. Are your lives usually that wild?
Xavier: No, no. A documentary is always a concentrate of reality. We had at least 300 hours of footage and then reduced it to 50 minutes so we picked like all the best moments and just put them together. Our lives are cool but not this cool.
Gaspard, the documentary showed you getting married to a fan in Las Vegas on a lark. Are you still married?
Xavier: [Jokingly] She's filing a lawsuit and is asking for a million dollars for the kids.
Gaspard: Yes, it's still valid in Nevada.
Have you had any contact with her since?
Aside from the documentary, do you prefer to stay out of the public eye?
Xavier: We're just not the type for social media and duck faces. It sounds cliché, but being famous is definitely a side effect of making music. We only show ourselves when it's necessary. But there are some people who do it with this star charisma, like Diplo for instance. It's fun to watch him because he's doing all these crazy things, and it suits his character.
Gaspard: As long as the music doesn’t change and you can keep your individuality, it's fine, but it's kind of rare to have both.
You're still remembered for your "Stress" video, which explored racial tension in France. What did you intend with that music video?
Xavier: We made this song to be an act of aggression. The way we mixed and edited it was meant to be very unpleasant and almost give you a headache, and the video was the perfect visual compliment to that. When we were sitting down with Romain Gavras, the director, we had several ideas: one of the options was to make it with hooligans fighting after a football match, but the option we chose is something that only exists in France because of the outfits, the surroundings and the type of thugs. It's what scares French people the most. We knew it would be the video that people would tell us about years after.
Lastly, what are your touring plans in North America?
Xavier: We hope to have a tour. We did a surprise party at Flash Factory [in New York] two days ago, and we played with Riton and a friend of ours called Max Pask. Whenever we go to a city to do interviews, we see if there is a club available on the night we are coming, and if there's one available then we just throw it and invite whatever friends we have in town to play with us. We did like four or five of them: we did London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, and New York. It's amazing to see that even in a giant city like New York you can throw something very quickly, and it can actually happen.
Woman debuts this Friday, Nov. 18.