Near the end of our Zoom conversation ahead of his upcoming Houses of Blues Houston performance, Madeon reflects on Gaga calling him from an unknown number (“I pick it up and it’s like: ‘Hi, this is Lady Gaga.’”), opening for her on the Born This Way Ball tour, producing three tracks for 2013’s ARTPOP, and most recently, contributing to production on “911,” the standout track on last year’s Chromatica. Placing the two artists together on a Venn diagram yields a sweet spot founded on forging connections with fans via grandiose stage productions - something Madeon feels the Good Faith Forever tour captures night after night.
“I feel a sense of really deep intimacy with the audience because I get to sing the songs with them and be so close and so unobstructed. I love that contrast between the sections that feel very staged and grand and ambitious, and then sections that feel so human and real,” says Madeon. His knack for straddling that juxtaposition in performance translates in his songwriting as a balancing act between the distinct and the ambiguous, turning hyperpersonal lyrical concepts into universal dance cuts.
“That's what Pop music is best at. It's trying to trick you into thinking it's very specific, but giving you the opportunity to think that it's specifically about you. It's informing a lot of the way that I write songs these days. I tried to be a little bit more clear, and it's funny because sometimes you write songs that you think are incredibly specific and bare and people understand them completely wrong.”
He points to fans often misinterpreting “Shelter,” a Porter Robinson collaboration about fatherhood and legacy, as a love letter to themselves. “I’m like - I love my fans but sorry, the song’s about my dad. It’s not about you,” he says laughing, acknowledging the nature in which fans attach their own meaning to his music.
“All My Friends,” Good Faith’s signature track and a capital-D Dance diamond in Madeon’s discography where his Daft Punk affinity burns brightest, finds the French DJ both embracing and questioning his friends to the tune of an inescapable hook and impeccable dance production.
“[It’s] meant to be heard in a very positive way. You can imagine everybody: they’re watching, they're talking, they're hyping me up, they’re rooting for me. Or you can hear it in a sense of paranoia,” he says of the song whose lyrics change meaning for him depending on his mood.
He says that the lyrics to Good Faith cut “Be Fine” take on multiple meanings for listeners, who extract themes of toxic relationships and addiction from the track that he originally wrote about “the danger of manic, unhealthy joy.”
“I like trying to make sure that it comes from a place of sincerity, but it also invites people to adapt the meaning to what is true about their lives, you know? I find that people that struggle with mental illness and have had some of these experiences in their life can resonate with the work that I do on a deeper level which is awesome.”
He maintains an equilibrium of transparency and mystique in our conversation by generalizing any psychiatric struggles he may live with, refraining from romanticizing living with mental illness. (“You can be healthy and still be your most creative self.”) That aversion to the tortured artist archetype, paired with a mature, however metaphorized, perspective on the matter is a masterclass for a generation of artists steeped and versed in commodifying their mental health struggles as artistic output.
“Some of the episodes I try to survive, [I] think about them like weather, where you know it's going to rain no matter what; it's going to last however long it lasts. Maybe a few days, maybe longer. That, I can't control. What I can control is having brought an umbrella, and keeping myself sheltered, keeping myself safe, keeping in mind [what] I can control can make it a little bit easier for me. Then wait for it to pass with patience and love. And that's what I can do - stay in control of what I'm in control of, and be patient and resilient with what I can't control.”
Madeon’s mentioning of inclement weather seems fitting ahead of his Houston concert this Saturday night. But flooding isn’t what comes to mind when he thinks of the Bayou City - it’s the music.
“I love Houston. We've done many shows there in the past, it's always been a blast. [There’s] a really strong electronic music community there,” he says, recognizing the scene’s enthusiasm and high energy.
“I notice from night to night in certain cities, you can tell that they're more or less familiar with the premise and format of an electronic show. The way they react to the musical moments tells you a lot about the local culture and the local scene. So it's always been clear for me over the past five, six years of playing in Houston that there's some great electronic venues [there.]”
The DJ’s inclusion in the inaugural Day for Night lineup at Silver Street Studios only solidifies his street cred in Houston’s electronic circles. Fans in attendance at that 2015 set who plan on going to this weekend’s show are in for a revamped presentation, as Madeon’s live show has evolved considerably since that outing.
“Even though I come from a DJ background, this show is very much not a DJ Show. I'm singing, I'm moving, I'm not hiding behind a table. My body, my silhouette [are] a big part of the show and the look of the show,” he says of his current Good Faith Forever tour.
The tour, conceptualized by Madeon and visual collaborators The Architects, aims to merge EDM and pop concert formats. It strips away the center stage deck of computers and keyboards that oft barricade the DJ from the audience and replaces it with Madeon as
“I wanted to be a human on stage owning this performance, and being at the center of it, and communicating my joy, my enthusiasm to the audience directly. There's nothing in front of me except a mic stand. So when I'm there, I'm singing the songs. I'm singing most of the music on Good Faith - a lot of people don't realize that. So I get to sing the songs with people, but then whenever the music is more high energy, electronic, and hyped up, I have all of the synthesizers and analogs around me,” he says.
Madeon first debuted the show in 2019 at Lollapalooza in Chicago; since that iteration, he says the show has undergone two major updates: one for the album’s headlining tour later that year, the second, for this current outing following the pandemic-induced touring drought. His decision to continue touring in support of Good Faith almost two years after its release felt natural for the singer, who says he knew the creative reservoir underlying the album hadn’t run dry yet.
“I knew this was going to be a long ambitious era and I want to see it through to its climax before moving on. I'm always thinking about the next thing and working ahead on what's next but I could tell that there [were] more stories left to tell and that the best version of the show and the music was still ahead. So when shows became an option again it was very natural for us to do all these updates that we had conceptualized all along.”
Artists and fans alike are adjusting to the complexities of resuming concert tours in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Madeon says he doesn’t feel any added layer of stress resuming touring in the COVID era because he and the crew are “blinded by the joy of doing this,” but safety protocols probably keep that joy alive - and the show running.
“I stay isolated all the time even though we're all vaccinated and careful. You know, you can never be careful enough because you don't want the tour to get canceled, so we're doing a lot. But it's an absolute dream, for real,” he says.
“I'm lucky to have an audience that I think appreciates the situation, and they understand some of the rules and requirements that each of the venues in various cities that we’re hitting have in place, and they want to be safe, and they want to have a good time. So that's what I believe we're able to deliver right now.”
Madeon plays House of Blues on Saturday, October 9 with opening support from Devault. Doors 7 p.m. All ages. Tickets start at $30. Proof of full vaccination or negative COVID-19 test within 72-hours of the event required for entry.