The French band sits down with Vogue Philippines for an exclusive interview.
Phoenix’s third-ever performance in the Philippines comes just months after the release of Alpha Zulu, the band’s seventh studio album. Vogue Philippines sits down with the band, consisting of lead vocalist Thomas Mars, bass and keyboardist Deck D’Arcy, guitarist and keyboardist Laurent “Branco” Brancowitz, and guitarist Christian Mazzalai right before their performance at the Wanderland music festival.
The group has been in full swing since they released their latest album. Beyond their Alpha Zulu tour, which has already taken them across North America, with upcoming dates in Asia and Europe, Mars lets us in on an exciting new project. “You can expect a soundtrack! We’re working on Sofia Coppola’s new movie,” he reveals.
Mars has been married to the acclaimed and award-winning director behind titles like Lost In Translation and Marie Antoinette since 2011. The two met during Coppola’s directorial debut film, The Virgin Suicides. Beyond their romantic relationship, the couple has become frequent collaborators. Phoenix scored several of Coppola’s films, like The Beguiled and On The Rocks, and Coppola directed music videos like “Chloroform.”
“It’s a period piece,” D’Arcy describes the new project. Mars continues, “You will see Phoenix’s work, but you will not really experience it as Phoenix, as music.” According to the singer, the band will be involved in choosing and arranging the songs, scoring, sound design, and curating and directing other bands’ work for the movie. “It’s a little bit of everything.”
Outside the hotel function room, the roaring crowd across the street can already be heard. Phoenix is the final act of the two-day-long festival by Karpos Multimedia.
“It’s a special crowd in the Philippines,” D’Arcy says and jokes that they’re always nervous before heading out the stage, hoping the crowd is as good as they expect. So far, thankfully, they haven’t been disappointed.
Just hours later, the crowd outside lively jams to their setlist, which beyond songs from their latest release, also includes familiar favorites like “Lisztomania,” “Too Young,” and “Trying To Be Cool.”
Phoenix formed in their French hometown of Versailles in the 1990s when they were just teens. The group seems to be one of the rare few that have remained solid throughout its lifespan. The key lies in the group’s balance, with one just as essential as the other.
In an interview, Nicolas Godin of fellow Versaille-born band Air says that Phoenix is unlike many bands he’s met, where the chemistry ends off the stage. “Phoenix never takes a break from each other; when they stop working, they go on holiday together; if they want to make a decision, it has to be all four of them.”
The two bands have had a long history of working together. “When we started, we were all the backing band for Air. I was playing drums, and everybody was playing their own for a few months,” Mars tells Vogue Philippines.
For Phoenix’s lead singer, music was always a uniting point for each of them in their quiet hometown. “We knew we were all driven to write music,” he explains.
“It’s a void that fascinated us,” guitarist Branco continues, referring to Versailles and France. “There was no recording industry that was relevant… All the people you know from France did music on their own, separated from the industry, in their bedrooms.”
It’s difficult to limit Phoenix to just one genre. The Grammy-award-winning band is generally regarded as indie rock. Yet over the years, and without losing their signature sound, they have expanded their range to new wave, indie pop, synth pop, and even disco.
“We’re just following the compass. It’s a compass of emotions,” Branco says. “Sometimes it brings us to places we already know, and then it’s a bit disappointing. We prefer to discover new territories.”
Still, alongside their masterful ability to move beyond a single music style, the band’s essence and identity have never been lost. Playing any of their songs from any album, you can always tell: that’s Phoenix.
Of this, guitarist Mazzalai says, “The subconscious part is very important in the creative process.” Meanwhile, on the other end of the group, bass and keyboardist D’Arcy interjects with a joke, “We have no clue what we’re doing!”
In the nearly three decades the band has been together, music was always their way of connecting with one another. Being separated for months due to the pandemic proved hard on the group, which previously never spent more than a month apart. Yet again, music became a way for them to reach each other. In an interview with Billboard, Mars explains that it “was our way of saying we knew everybody was okay but on standby.”
When restrictions were eased, the band was aching to create. After months of searching for the perfect location to make their new album, they received an offer they couldn’t pass up; to create and record their new album at the Louvre Palace’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs.”How can you refuse? We were looking for a studio in a nice place, an unexpected place. We had this offer, and it was impossible not to accept it,” Branco says. They spent nearly two years in the space, writing, producing, and recording. There, surrounded by artifacts of the world’s history in the world’s largest museum, Alpha Zulu was born.
The album is widely considered the band’s most ambitious work to date. To complete the work, the band enlisted the help of Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. The collaboration marked Phoenix’s first time featuring another artist in one of their songs. “It’s new for us to open our hearts. It’s exciting,” Branco says.
Mars says the band has had a relationship with Koenig for some years now, so it felt like an obvious choice to bring him on. “We don’t really work with other people. Because working with us is a commitment, it’s a leap of faith, a little bit. There are a lot of things that could go wrong.
“Between us, it’s not a problem, but with someone else, you don’t want to bring them along if something happens. But we know Ezra well enough, and we were sure enough of our move that it would work.”
The group called Koenig their younger American cousin and said it was very charming to work with him. “We would sing to each other. He was in the studio sometimes. He was FaceTiming me like, “how do I sing this part?” as I was boarding a plane, and I was on the phone [singing] “What if we last ’til it’s dawn…” very quiet,” Mars says.
As the interview draws to a close, the nearing call time doesn’t seem to phase the band, who each seem nothing more than calm and casual—a mark, perhaps, of years being on stage. “This is for Vogue?” Mars asks before ruminating. “I would love to make the perfect shoe. To find the right person to make the perfect shoe. Only because we’ve always bought the same shoe, I’ve bought like 30 pairs of the same [brand], and now they’ve stopped making them.”
The brand in question belonged to Mazzalai and was based in the south of France. “It’s fun for us to do side gigs, you know, fun projects. Like when we design our own merch, and everything. Do our own music videos. All these things that are on the side of music are fun,” the singer muses.