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Interview with Phoenix

03 DEC 2010 | Posted By: TheVine

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Interview with Phoenix

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France wasn’t well known for its guitar bands before Phoenix. And Phoenix wasn’t a real global force until its fourth album, last year’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, went nuclear. Propelled by the singles and leadoff tracks ‘1901’ and ‘Lisztomania’, the album dominated year-end lists, snagged an unlikely Grammy for Best Alternative Album, and went gold in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Once mining a much spacier sound, Phoenix has spent recent years honing a breezy, nuanced take on guitar-pop that’s euphoric and melancholic in equal measure.

Locked in for this summer’s Good Vibrations, the Parisian quartet is just starting work on a follow-up record. With a palpable accent and a mobile phone that kept dropping its signal, guitarist Christian Mazzalai patiently discussed writing on the road, remixes and cover songs, playing festivals, and adapting Wolfgang’s centrepiece ‘Love Like a Sunset’ for the score of Sofia Coppola’s (partner of Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars) new film Somewhere.

Doug Wallen: Was it strange to win a Grammy?
Christian Mazzalai: Yeah, it’s like a surrealistic experience. We really felt like outsiders, and to win this Grammy was something that’s still very mysterious. Very unexpected.

DW: Did you go to the ceremony and everything?
CM: Yeah, that was a fantastic experience. We were in the heart of America, with its best and its worst. It was fun to be inside of it. We were like exotic animals.

DW: Did you notice an uptick in attention or sales after that?
CM: Not at all, because when we did our record, we did it without any label. We created our own label [Loyauté, which translates to “loyalty”].

DW: Have you started work on a follow-up to Wolfgang?
CM: We’re doing it right now. We’re beginning to write songs.

DW: Do you get time to write while you’re on the road, or do you have to stop everything to do it?
CM: We could but we don’t, because we tried and we write very bad songs when we’re on the road. So we don’t. We prefer to be more down-to-earth when we write songs.

DW: How collaborative is the songwriting? Does everyone get an equal say?
CM: Yes. We four are at exactly the same level. Every one of us individually, we are average, but we begin to be good when we are the four of us. But me alone, I am very bad actually.

DW: There was a whole record of remixes for Wolfgang, as well as 17 just for the song ‘Fences’. What do you guys generally want or expect in a remix?
CM: On our third record [It’s Never Been Like That], we did almost no remixes. We were bored with them, so we stopped. Then on the last one, we had this idea to give all of our tracks off the album away for free. And everyone could do exactly what they want with it. Just the idea of giving away everything for free, we loved. It’s more the concept, the idea. It’s like a gift. For example, we gave away ‘1901’ in very high quality for free, but we didn’t ask for an exchange, like an email address or something for a marketing plan. We like this romantic idea of giving everything away without anything in return.

DW: With remixes, is it weird hearing something that was once so close to you be reworked by someone else?
CM: Yeah. It’s always strange, even to just hear your song in the street or in a mall or on the radio. So when people take possession of it, it’s strange, but I like the idea. Because we don’t control our song anymore, and we’re not stuck with them. We are more free. It’s a good feeling, actually. They don’t belong to us anymore. That’s what I like about it.

DW: And your song ‘Love Like a Sunset’ has become the score to Sofia Coppola’s new film…
CM: Yes, in a way. We took lots of elements of it to do the soundtrack.

DW: So it’s different then, the version in the movie?
CM: There are elements which are the same and different. We did a very minimalistic soundtrack, almost Japanese in a way. Very, very light. ‘Less is more’ was the idea. So it’s elements that fitted with the movie. The movie is very simple and minimal. We had to do music like that.

DW: Why did you use a pre-existing song instead of starting from scratch?
CM: Because Sofia wanted that song. (Laughs) That’s the very simple reason. That’s what I like about soundtracking: you are not the master. The master is the director. So you have to please the director, and that’s a good feeling.

DW: I heard the Bob Dylan cover Phoenix did, which is really beautiful. Do you do any other covers?
CM: Uh … just one. We cover sometimes a song by a French guy called Johnny Hallyday from the ’60s. It’s in French. It’s called ‘La Fille Aux Cheveux Clairs’: ‘The Girl with the Bright Hair’ [link]. [Strictly speaking this isn't true. When we saw Phoenix earlier this year in Melbourne they performed the Air song 'Playground Love'. Yes, we know Phoenix were Air's backing band. Still. - Ed]

DW: Just finally, you’re coming to Australia to play a festival, so I was wondering if you do anything to bolster your sound when playing bigger spaces?
CM: In the last month, we’ve been playing very big places in the U.S. We’ve done everything: we’ve played in very small bars, in clubs, in theatres, and in arenas. So every night is different. It’s very hard to deliver something unique when you play arenas. We try to avoid the big clichés when you have lots of people, so we worked to do something different, in terms of the show. We tried to maintain dignity, artistic dignity, but with a power, with a force. We worked a lot on that, so I hope we achieved something. But I don’t know. You will see. That was our main target: to do something very different. Or at least, to try.

Phoenix will play Good Vibrations Festival in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and the Gold Coast in February next year.

Words by Doug Wallen. More at thevine.com.au.
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Comments on this Post
There are "1" comment(s) on "Interview with Phoenix"

Respect Jamie
Awesome group. Love their music.
Jamie  -  3 years ago
Reply  |  Report

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