The gospel of dance music: An interview with Justice

The crucifix has landed. Justice are back, 5 years after their last album, and almost 10 years since the release of their earth-shattering debut ‘Cross’. However, the grammy-award winning French duo haven’t been entirely off the radar during that time. In the 5 years between albums, they’ve released live album ‘Access All Arenas’ and contributed to an Australian King Kong musical score. Back in Summer, ‘Safe and Sound’, the first track from their latest album appeared suddenly, prompting a wave of speculation from eager fans, followed by ‘Randy’ in September, and now ‘Alakazam!’, the third single from their excellent upcoming album ‘Woman’. Their new album is a homage to lady Justice and female power, finding Gaspard Auge and Xavier De Rosnay’s talents for creating highly-addictive dance hooks backed by a range of old and new collaborators, including Morgan Phalen, Romuald, Johnny Blake and both the instruments and voices of the London Symphony Orchestra. A surprise DJ-set in Berlin last month, held to celebrate the upcoming release of ‘Woman’ (18.11), attracted crowds of fans that stretched round the corner of Chalet club despite only being announced hours before. Kaltblut spoke with Gaspard and Xavier about powerful women, the compatibility of gospel and electronic music and the spot on the emotional spectrum between happiness and melancholy where great art is made.

KALTBLUT: What made you settle on ‘Woman’ as the name of your new album?
X: We had the idea of calling it ‘Woman’ quite early in the process of making the record, just because this word was in our heads for a long time. To us it’s a very powerful word. It evokes very strong things for us, for plenty of reasons. It’s because most forms of life come from a woman. The symbol of Justice is a woman, and also I think we’ve been lucky to always be surrounded by powerful women. So for us, it was very natural to call it ‘Woman’, in the sense of strength and power, and not in the sense of softness. It doesn’t mean we don’t know soft women but the main idea was more the power.

KALTBLUT: You had ‘Woman’ in mind for a while and you released ‘Safe and Sound’ back in Summer, how long had you been planning the album?
X: We started working on the album in January 2015, and we finished it almost at the same time we released ‘Safe and Sound’. We were mastering it and adding the final details to the record. For the release, it’s been very unplanned, in the sense that for ‘Safe and Sound’ we were just looking outside and the summer was beautiful. We knew that we were done with the record and then we could start releasing songs. We weren’t taking the risk of releasing a track and then realizing you hadn’t finished the record, and then you wait two years. Everything we do is a bit as it comes.

KALTBLUT: Did you tackle it as a single-by-single process rather than an album as a whole?
X + G: No.
X: Even in the way we release the singles, we don’t think of them as singles. We think of them as music that can tell something about the record. Otherwise, we would release 3-minute songs. ‘Safe and Sound’ is a six/seven minute track. They are not built to be hits, although we hope that they find their way to people and that people like them. It’s the same thing with the record. We write the tunes because they work well together, and they work as a whole for the album. For example, we made ‘Safe and Sound’ to be the opener of the record. When we started to make the song, we thought this is going to be the first track on the record. Every song we make is made to complete another track on the record or to be between two tracks, or to finish a record. It’s really about that. Then, from this, we extract songs to be released. Everything is thought of as a piece of the whole.

KALTBLUT: Charlotte Delarue designed Woman’s album artwork, featuring the iconic Justice crucifix, did you brief Charlotte on what you wanted from the album cover or leave it up to her initiative?
X: We had a very precise idea for what we wanted to do. That’s because of a photograph we saw, that we really love. It had this colour and texture. We came up to her with this photo and said, what we want is the colour, the mood and the texture of this photo but on the Justice crucifix. Can you make it happen? We knew it would be very difficult to do. There was a very big technical difficulty. It was hard to translate it. She made it happen. The other thing we wanted was, at the end, when you look at the image, we didn’t want it to be easy to say what it is. It’s hard to tell if the cross is big or small, if it’s a picture, a painting, a photograph or CGI. It’s not really any of these. We wanted it to be abstract, and to have these colours. Charlotte found a way of making it, but it took her about 2/3 months to make the image. She had to hire different people with different techniques, to make it happen. She made the image and then passed it onto someone, then they passed it onto someone else. The master at the end is a photograph. We’re happy with it.

KALTBLUT: Songs such as ‘Pleasure’, have a very Earth, Wind and Fire/70s Soul feel about them, while ‘Alakazam!’ feels Giorgio Moroder-influenced and ‘Heavy Metal’ sounds like John Carpenter meets prog-rock, part of the strength of the album is that it sounds so varied but also distinct, were you consciously making a nod to multiple genres and/or artists with ‘Woman’?
X: Not at all, we didn’t stop you because all the things you said are things we like. It doesn’t mean that we agree, because we love them they will always be in our music, in one way or another.
G: It makes sense that you hear them in the music.
X: With Giorgio Moroder I know what you mean, and of course there is a Moroder theme in ‘Alakazam!’. With ‘Pleasure’ it is kind of cool. I see what you mean, because it doesn’t sound like us. I think it’s the chord changes. The things you suggested are things we love. They were not conscious choices but even if we are trying very hard not to, they would be there. We just let it go. We’re happy like this.
G: The pleasure of making music is that everybody hears what they want to hear in the song. We really don’t like to say, you can’t say that because we weren’t thinking about it. Obviously what you said makes perfect sense.

KALTBLUT: ‘Randy’ has a very positive feel, without seeming overly sentimental, are there any pitfalls you try to avoid when crafting new music?
G: I think we’ve never made a blatantly happy track. It can be uplifting but there is always something slightly melancholic about it. It’s never 100% happy.
X: It’s always happy and sad at the same time. When we write the songs together, we are only satisfied when we have something that navigates between these two. When it’s just completely happy, it doesn’t inspire us to continue with it. We always transform it to the point where it has something melancholic about it.
G: There is a specific type of chords that we can’t use, we never use, because it doesn’t have the same emotion.
X: It’s the same when we make darker stuff. If it’s only dark, it bores us very quickly. We have a hard time finding the energy, and the pleasure, to continue working on this music. That’s why all our songs, even if they have very different styles, sound similar. We only continue the ones that sound like this. These are the songs that give us inspiration. I think there’s also something else, when you work on a very happy collaboration, there aren’t many things you can do that haven’t been done ten thousand times before. You always come up with the same ideas. That stops you working on it very quickly. It’s been three albums. Although the sound of these albums is very different, the type of track is always the same. We are very happy when we release them and people think they are different. We always feel guilty that we’re always doing the same thing.

KALTBLUT: You work with a variety of handpicked vocalists, this album features Morgan Phalen, Romuald and Johnny Blake for example, how do you pick which singer is best suited to which track?
X: I think the main singer on this record is the choir. The choir that appears on ‘Safe and Sound’, ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Stop’. They were musicians from the London Contemporary Orchestra. They are on most of the tracks. We pick lead singers, like Morgan, because we worked with him on the previous record. We think his voice works well with our music. He has a timbre that works. We also became friends so when we started making the record, we asked him to make more songs with us. We wrote ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Randy’ and then invited him to finish them with us. We wrote ‘Stop’ (featuring Johnny Blake) and ‘Fire’ (featuring Romuald) completely on our own, and then decided who would be the most suitable singer for each track. We were looking for a special kind of voice. We made ‘Fire’ very quickly with Romuald. While we were recording ‘Fire’ we had this other idea for a hook that became ‘Love SOS’. We also made ‘Love SOS’ very quickly, and it was great to work with Romuald on the track. Romuald is a French guy who in the course of 15 years has made maybe 5 or 6 tracks. They’re very rare but amazing. You never hear of him and then he puts out an amazing track.

KALTBLUT: You’ve just mentioned one of the interesting collaborations on ‘Woman’, with the London Contemporary Orchestra, how did it come about?
X: We knew from the beginning that we wanted to make a choir album, and to have a choir singing on the album. Even one or two years before we started working on the record, one of the ideas we had was to make an hour-long gospel record. Gospel, not in the sense of traditional gospel music, but in the sense of music being sung by a lot of people, for a lot of people. It’s powerful in this sense. We were writing the first songs on the album for a choir. We also started to write orchestral parts for the songs at the same time. The bass of the record was very electronic so we thought it would be good to use an orchestra for these parts. We got in touch with someone who sings in the orchestra. She’s a classical musician and a lyrical singer. She connected us with this orchestra and organised the session. She had this idea of making the musicians sing, so we didn’t have perfect singers, but because they are musicians they will sing in tune. We didn’t want the choir to be too technical. That’s why she suggested we use the same musicians to do both playing and singing.

KALTBLUT: You’ve released live albums after both of your last two albums, do you have any plans to release another in the wake of ‘Woman’?
X. We have these ideas in the moment. We felt that what we were doing live was different enough from the record to be interesting. It depends. If we feel that there is something interesting then we will do it. What might be tricky now is that ‘Genesis’ and ‘DANCE’ are already on two live albums. So if we start with ‘Genesis’ again, I don’t know if there’s any point.
G: There are a thousand ways to play them.
X: We’ve always tried them that with the live albums. It depends; if it sounds good we will do it. Especially in terms of business, it isn’t interesting for anybody because we know that nobody buys live albums, almost nobody. It’s really a fan thing. It’s a very limited run of records. It’s really something we do for pleasure. We are lucky that our record company follows us and allows us to do that, because it’s definitely not for the money. It’s just for the fans.

‘Woman’ is out 18. 11 on Warner Music