Rule number one of setting the comeback trail on fire? Tear up the rulebook. Release one of your finest songs (‘1901’) as a free download on your website (getting more than 2 million hits in the process) and then go on to play the biggest American TV show out there (‘Saturday Night Live’). Which is exactly what those masters of the Gallic pop-rock crossover, Phoenix have done. For their 4th album, ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’, childhood friends Thomas Mars, Laurent Brancowitz, Deck D’Arcy and Christian Mazzalai have returned to the spirit of their first album and conversely have produced their most forward-looking and adventurous album yet. Produced by Philippe Zdar of Cassius, they start as they mean to go on with the effortlessly breezy ‘Listzomania’, which then segues into the irresistible adrenaline rush of ‘1901’. Demonstrating the giant leap they’ve made from when they were Air’s backing band over 10 years ago, ‘Love In A Sunset’ is their most epic creation, a 7-minute swell of atmospherics that neatly divides the album in two. Elsewhere, the shimmering pop thrills on abundant display here point to this becoming an album to crank out loud during the encroaching summer months.
To celebrate the album launch, Dazed Digital commissioned emerging video directors, Bogstandard to make a video for their song, ‘1901’. In a first for Dazed Digital, this will exclusively be premiered here and on the Subterranean show on MTV USA. Here you can also check out behind-the-scenes photos from the video shoot and an interview with directors, Dylan Byrne and Ben Strebel of Bogstandard on the next page.
The day before the video was shot, I caught up with Christian Mazzalai and Deck D’Arcy on a balmy Spring day in the park.
Dazed Digital: Was there a conscious decision to change the band’s sound and go back to your roots?
Christian Mazzalai: Not of the sound, but of the spirit. It was the spirit of a wide range of styles and opportunities. Albums 2 and 3 were more of one style. Album 2 (‘Alphabetical’) was like soul and the 3rd (‘It’s Never Been Like That’) was more Berlin rock but on this one, we were open to almost anything.
DD: You just played ‘Saturday Night Live’. How was the experience for you? Are you familiar with the institution of SNL?
Christian Mazzalai: We thought we realized but when we got there it was even bigger than that. So when we were there, we realized it was like the Eiffel Tower! So it was like a beautiful dream for us.
DD: You wrote much of the album on a boat which sounds pretty idyllic – how did that impact on your creative process?
Deck D’Arcy: We started it on a boat. At the beginning of the songwriting process, we experimented with writing in different places. To be honest, we didn’t write that much there but it set up the frame for the album.
Christian Mazzalai: Yeah! That’s what we wanted. We wanted to achieve all of our dreams and fantasies with this album, to have no limits. We also rented a room in New York because Francois Truffaut wrote a lot of his movies in rooms. So we wanted to explore things like that.
Deck: We try to avoid fancy studios. We like personal places where we bring our own vibe there. Places that are not dedicated to music at all. So that’s why the album has a wider range of sounds on it.
Christian: We recorded the album in Montmartre with Philippe Zdar in his studio. Actually it was not a real studio but a construction foyer. We went to visit Sebastian Tellier there in the middle of winter and there was no light or heat! So the vibe of the studio was really not professional but it was the best for us.
DD: You generated enormous buzz by releasing ‘1901’ as a free download on the website. So you obviously embrace digital and internet as ways of sharing your music, unlike other bands
Deck D’Arcy: The song really reflects the album. We hadn’t done anything for 3 years and the album was finished so it felt good to give something for the fans. We would never expect that so many people would download it! That was the first time we did that.
Christian Mazzalai: That was a very natural idea. We didn’t want to wait. This sort of thing wouldn’t have been possible before. We created our own label, Loyaute to ensure all the money was being spent on making music. We did it the other way round. We went from a major label to an indie label and we feel much more comfortable. What we love is that from us to the guy who listens to our music, it’s direct. We just want to do it like kids and 2 days later, everyone has it. It seemed very fresh to us. We did it so we could control our own music.
DD: It seems a real statement of intent calling the album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. What’s with all the classical references on the album?
Deck D’Arcy: It’s not actually about classical music. ‘Listzomania’ is actually about Franz Liszt and who he was a person, much more than his music. Christian Mazzalai: He was the first rock star! We love this idea of adulation and at the same time genius. And calling the album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is just a childish act to destroy an iconic name.
DD: Do you think this is your best album to date?
Christian Mazzalai: When I listen to our old tracks, I’m never ashamed. All of our records are like fantastic memories. But for us the new one is always 10, 000 times better!You’ve known each other since high school – how has been in a band for nearly 10 years changed your relationships with each other?
Deck D’Arcy: Actually before! It was in primary school. So the band has existed since we were 12 or something.
Christian Mazzalai: The thing that we don’t want to lose is the feeling we had when we were at school where we were running home to play music at 13 years old. So we want to keep the excitement of when you create a song for the first time.
Produced by Kin Woo for Dazed Digital
Directed by Bogstandard (Dylan Byrne and Ben Strebel)
Editor Prano Bailey-Bond
Camera assistants Borja Martin & Carlos Galdon
'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' out on 25 May.