Phoenix - interviewIn the barometer of global popularity that is the Google search, the band Phoenix is listed multiple times at the top of the search results. Ahead of the American city and the Greek mythological figure. That should give you some idea of their current fame. In March, the French group is touring Australia for the third time since 2007. We spoke to good humoured guitarist Christian Mazzalai about what the band is up to, compromises, dramatic moments in the set and a potential surprise performance.
Where are you at the moment?
I’m in Versailles. It’s the morning and it’s snowing.
You’ve been touring a lot this year, so it must be good to be back home for a bit?
Yeah, yeah. It’s a very good feeling. Family. Home. We almost haven’t stopped since the album came out. And we are going back on tour in one week. Then ending up in your country.
And how are you feeling about touring again?
Oh, very excited. I think we can feel it improving, we are doing better shows. We are very excited – we’re going to try new stuff. Every show is a little improvement or a little off, you know. For now I think we are halfway to doing a good show. I think we can do better. That’s why we are filtering.
Any plans after this, then, to do some recording – or is it just touring for now?
We are doing a soundtrack for a movie for Sofia Coppola right now [Somewhere], so that’s another plan. But we are touring and taking inspiration around the world to write a new album after we’re done, yeah.
Where do you think you’ll record next time? You’ve recorded in a few different places around the world—Berlin, New York, Paris.
The next one, we really don’t know right now. It’s a very, very big mystery.
I saw your Paris show on La Blogotheque and it seems like you could play or record anywhere – a bus or a square, wherever.
Yeah, we love to try new locations. So with La Blogotheque it was a good feeling to play in front of the Eiffel Tower. We started recording Wolfgang on a boat just near the Eiffel Tower too. So, yeah, we’ve done that. We appreciated doing that a lot.
This album has really got you to the next level over in the US now. It seems like getting an audience over there really helps people to make music a full-time concern, enough to pay the bills etc. So has that happened for you with this record—or did it happen a while ago?
I think success is fantastic, as long as you control it. Right now it’s perfect because it’s success, but based on music blogs and music lovers, you know? Now it’s expanding but it’s a very relative success, I would say. We try to be focussed on music and we want to use this success to do our next album with even less compromises, you know. That’s the main goal, to be totally free to write things that we want to write. So I think we will use it, all the power we have to do things which are, I hope, unique.
Using your power for good instead of evil?
Yeah, yeah. (Laughs.) I believe in doing what’s good for us – and if it’s good for us, it might be good for somebody else. That’s how we feel. When we write an album, we will do it this way.
So have you got used to playing shows on a bigger scale yet? Or is that what you mean about the shows getting better – that you’re still adjusting to bigger venues and stages?
I like to play in very big venues. Or very small venues, you know? We like these extremes. I like very cheap guitars or very, very expensive guitars. I don’t like things in the middle, you know. So, yeah, we like to play in a very small venue and then, the day after, in a gigantic place. It’s, ahh, like the contrast in life. That’s what we are looking for. And yeah, we are going to play much bigger venues on this tour. I love it. It’s going to be different and we are very excited about trying new things.
Like a lot of people, I imagine, I first heard you on the Lost in Translation soundtrack. Have the last two albums started to eclipse that period for you – or are people still wanting to hear those songs?
I remember when Sofia asked us to use this track ['Too Young'], we said ‘yes’ because we saw the movie and we liked it. And we were on there with other people we love – like My Bloody Valentine, Kevin Shields – so we said ‘yeah, of course’. But we never thought it would be as big as it became, it was a very low-key movie done in two weeks with a very low budget and it was very indie. It became very big, but it wasn’t planned to be that big at all at the beginning. Lots of people still talk about this film and this song.
So there hasn’t been a backlash against your success from those who liked you back then?
I think, ah, it hasn’t really changed from back then, you know? I think we are bigger but the fans are almost the same. (Laughs.) It’s not very different. It’s bigger, but our music is done with even less compromises right now, I would say.
Yeah, I can hear that. I noticed that Wolfgang has quite a few long instrumental sections (particularly ‘Love Like Sunset’) and they’re quite different from the three minute pop songs on there. How do you see those two things relating to one another?
Every album we have done – I don’t know why – has ten tracks with an instrumental. On this album, we wanted... well, the only idea we had was this instrumental when we began the album. It was the first song we wrote and the last one we finished. So we began the album with this track and we finished with it, but it took us almost two years to write this central track. It was obvious it had to be in the middle of the album, because it divides the album in two and it’s really the centre of it for us, the heart. All the other songs on there, they are like turning around this one. So that’s how I would see it, you know?
So do you play it somewhere in the middle of your live set too – or do you tend not to play the instrumental songs so much live?
Yeah, yeah, we play it. As much as we can. Yeah. We are going to play it in Australia. It’s the key moment. It’s very... we love to play it because it can collapse very easily. It’s very dangerous. So sometimes it’s perfect, sometimes it’s a disaster. There’s a big tension when we play it and we love it. We love this feeling. We are scared when we play it.
It’s a dramatic moment in the set.
Yeah, exactly. Drama comes always with this track.
Sounds great. You’ve been touring so much, do you remember anything of your previous visits to Australia – or has everything blurred together?
Yeah, of course. When we came the first time we were doing a festival tour with the Pixies. And it was a big thing for the band. As teenagers, we were big fans of the Pixies. So it was a very surreal moment to discover Australia with The Pixies on tour. So I will always remember this. Black Francis and kangaroos, you know? This thing of being in Melbourne and drinking espressos. With the Pixies.
Who would’ve thought?
Yeah yeah yeah. Very surreal.
There have been some rumours that you might be playing a festival while you’re out here, on top of the dates announced already. Do you know anything about that?
(Clears throat.) Ahhh. What’s the name of the festival?
Ahhhhhm. I don’t. Ahh. I don’t know. (Laughs.) Maybe. Maybe not. (Laughs.)
Oh. I see.
We are going to Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. And there may be surprises, but I don’t know really.
PHOENIX - AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES 2010
Mar 1 - CONVENTION CENTRE, Brisbane, QLD
Mar 2 - HORDERN PAVILION, Sydney, NSW
Mar 5 - FESTIVAL HALL, Melbourne, VIC
Mar 6 - BELVOIR AMPHITHEATRE, Perth WA
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