HomeInterviewsInterview: How Phoenix Found Their New Album While Living in a Museum

Interview: How Phoenix Found Their New Album While Living in a Museum

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

It’s been an unbelievably long five years, but finally our international nightmare is over because Phoenix has returned! Back in June, the French indie pop quartet made their first glorious return since 2017’s unforgettable Ti Amo with the release of “Alpha Zulu,” the hypnotic first track from their upcoming (and still untitled) album. 

Now, they’re getting ready to kickstart the Alpha Zulu Tour with a stop at Radio City Music Hall in New York City in early September. We spoke with lead singer and NYC resident Thomas Mars about making the new record in a museum, what it means to play live shows in New York, and what happens when your song plays in a TV show that’s released around the world.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today. I have been such a huge fan of the band since I first heard “If I Ever Feel Better” on an episode of HBO’s Entourage I believe. 

It’s possible! It’s weird because it went full circle. There was an era where if you had a song on a TV show it would break and then it kind of went away. Now today you have like Kate Bush on an episode of Stranger Things and it’s back like this thing matters again, which is nice to see for me. 

And [Phoenix] had that happen a few times. Not just appearing on TV shows, but also the Cadillac commercial that featured “1901” is what I think really helped break you through to US audiences. Did Kate Bush’s recent sort of “overnight” success make you reflect on your own?

It’s fun for us as we play in different countries, and they all have a different story. So, there are some places where certain songs will hit, and others will not. I guess today it’s different because now things are a little bit more even with [television] streaming and the fact that those shows come out at the same time, everywhere. I still like that we are seeing that in certain countries when you play a song it’s a hit and then in another country they don’t care about that same song. There’s a lot of ups and downs and humbling experiences. 

I don’t see it as one crucial moment when an album [comes out] and then all of a sudden, everything takes off. I think every time we make music, we always think and this is sort of a contradiction but we’ll always think that it’s our last record and our first record at the same time. Because we make it as if it was our last, but when it comes out, it feels like it’s our first again. Somehow it stays fresh. I think we do that because it’s a healthy way to deal with how you present music, how it’s done, and how it keeps us together and makes it fun for us.  

It’s been five long years since the release of Ti Amo. In that time we were (and are still) dealing with a global pandemic. Back in June, the band released “Alpha Zulu,” the first single off the next record. How long after touring Ti Amo did the process of starting to work on new music begin? 

Well, it took a while, but it started kind of fast, which is strange. I think we went on tour in Brazil, and we had a bunch of days off and there was this house that seemed like the perfect location to start a record. So, we started there and then we finished the tour. We kept adding dates because we enjoyed doing residencies. We played a week in the same place in Mexico City, New York, Paris, and Tokyo and that took more time than we thought. And then just before the pandemic, we finally got a studio.

We moved into the Musée des Arts décoratifs, which seemed like an unreal chance. The studio was ready and then the pandemic hit, so we had to wait a little bit. Finally, we moved into that studio when the pandemic was still happening. So, we were on our own in the museum recording, which is the most fun I’ve had in the studio ever. We finished the album on Bastille Day and I think we will put it out really soon because when we start the tour, we are going to play new songs. It wasn’t meant to be that long. We thought it would take us two years this time, maybe. But it took a ridiculous amount of time [laughs].  

Photo Credit: Al Mannarino/The Pop Break

Was there anything that the band set out to do differently with this record going into the writing and recording process?

We recorded in the Musée des Arts décoratifs and usually when you go to a museum, things are very curated and there is order and it’s well put together. This was in the museum during the pandemic, so the art was a mess, but it was like a joyous, inspirational mess. They would put stuff in our studio because they didn’t know where to put it. They would move things around. Things that didn’t have anything really in common would be next to each other.

And it felt similar to, a little bit like how we are inspired by music. We’ve never thought about musical styles and genres, and eras. As much as we can put things together, we’ll do it because it’s what makes it fun. So yeah, it turned out to be this weird Frankenstein of an album because the inspiration comes from a lot of weird places. It’s a little similar to maybe our first album, because that was also the case. That a lot of differenteven like a song like “Funky Squaredance” has all these [styles] in one song. So, there’s a little bit of that feeling on this record. 

What’s interesting for us is we have this little time with the record and just us, and we can decide if we put out a song tomorrow or in two weeks, then the album in a month or something like that. We have that little bit of flexibility, which we enjoy. We can decide like, “Okay, when we play New York City, we’ll play this new song here, and we’ll play this new one here, and then we’ll put it all out.” You work so hard on all these songs for such a long time that we want to give them away as we like.

The band is making their return to New York to play Radio City Music Hall, one of the most historic venues ever. Is there any difference playing in New York than in other cities or other countries for you guys? 

Well, I live in New York City, so it’s nice because I’m the only one in the band to live in New York City, so the guest list is mine [laughs].

For me, it means more [now] than before. When you play New York City, when we started, it was like you’re playing the heart. It’s like the one place that you feel like, “Okay, this is the most important show” because you assume that it’s like a turning point for some reason, which I don’t think it is necessarily.  But for me now it has a different meaning. It’s where my friends and family come to see us. So yeah, it is unique and then I’m a little more familiar with the venue.  

It’s also a little bit more stressful because it’s not that exotic. You’ve seen shows there. You know how great the room is. You know what it means to people. I’m really excited about it and nervous at the same time because I’d be pissed off if we don’t really do a good show there, you know?

Check out Phoenix on tour this fall in New York City and around the world. For tickets, click here.

Al Mannarino
Al Mannarinohttp://alfredmannarino.com
Al Mannarino is the Managing Editor and Staff photographer for The Pop Break. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino.


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