There is a reason for Bankrupt! being the title of the fifth album from Phoenix, but suffice to say it has nothing to do with the fiscal state of the Gallic gents. Matter of fact, having already ascended to indie-pop A-list status with 2009's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and its ridiculously catchy singles "Lisztomania" and "1901," so poised is the shinier and more mainstream-courting new record to take them to even greater heights that if the quartet from Versailles save their Euros they may soon be able to afford a place like Louis's.
An SNL appearance and Coachella gig at which they welcomed none other than R. Kelly as a guest have only served as apéritifs for the main course, which arrives today. Fuse News' Matte Babel caught up with the band to talk leaks, that broke album title, and Phoenix's penchant for the cryptic.
So guys, you are in the position of following up a huge breakthrough album. What is that like?
Laurent Brancowitz: When we did Wolfgang, we did it thinking it would please only a very small amount of people. Actually, we had a good surprise. So if we follow the same strategy...I'm sure it's gonna work!
“The truth is, I don't think we're very talented, each person in the band”— Thomas Mars
What does that do to the psychology of a band, when you have an album that takes you to a level where all of a sudden everyone is interested, you're selling all these records all over the world, you win a Grammy... How empowering is that as a band?
Thomas Mars: Well, if you can have fun at the beginning, like I remember once we played a show in Mallorca, right when we started, it was on a football field, and the amount of people, the crowd was like six or seven people on a football field. But that was fun. We had a good time. And I think it happened in Switzerland once too, we played a huge place and for the supporting band there was no one so we went in the crowd to watch the supporting band and then they did the same. But those moments were really--if you can have fun and you feel that you're doing this for the right reasons, then it's easy to go along with the rest of it.
How did you feel about the album getting leaked? Did that bother you?
Deck D'Arcy: It's more important for the fans, actually. Because as a music fan before the Internet--we had a life before the Internet, when we were kids-- we would discover, we would wait like crazy for the release date. And a "leak" was not in the vocabulary of the music world. So we were dying for records to come out. There was a lot of emotion. So for us a leak is, we know the album, we know it's great. But for people, they don't have the same tension and that's a little bit of a shame.
And there is a deluxe edition of the record coming out?
Christian Mazzalai: Yeah we had so many extra tracks, like more that 2,000 little tracks.
Brancowitz: We thought, some people put on five or six extra tracks, let's put on 70! It's more like a diary of the recording. It's a lot of material. When we're recording an album, we continuously produce music, and most of it's pretty bad. We just take the best. But there's also a lot of things of poetic value but they don't fit onto this particular album, so this time we thought maybe we should release some of it. We don't know it people will like it, because it's very....
Mazzalai: It's very raw.
Brancowitz: But it's the truth.
It's interesting that there is no real "frontman" to this band. How does that play into your creative process or the band dynamic?
Mars: I think that is something that we really appreciate in the US, is that people understand we're a band. Some countries we go to and they're like (Italian accent) "Hey, the singer!" [laughs] I guess you can guess what country that is. But it's something we really appreciate because the truth is, I don't think we're very talented, each person in the band. Taken separately I don't think we would do great solo records. But together, there's something interesting, and there's a special chemistry between us. We don't really work on our instruments or try to master them. We work on a global concept, like bands like Kraftwerk, more than like a traditional rock band. And we grew up with that idea--that a band is more four brains than four egos or four skilled musician. It's more a school of thought.
So, Bankrupt! What's the significance of that title?
Brancowitz: We like the headline with the point d'exclamation. I remember I was in Rome and there was a Warhol exhibit at the modern art museum about only headlines. They would photograph the cover of a newspaper and redo it, repaint it. And I think this idea was important. We wanted to have this powerful thing that surrounds you and you don't really see the poetic thing in it, but if you put it in another context it becomes art. So we took this word that was powerful, frightening, and not used in popular music, and we just tried to make it our own.
There's always been a cryptic side to this band as well, and I think fans appreciate how cryptic you can be. Is that by design?
Mars: It's like a lot of things that define who we are. We are kind of forced to go in that direction. And it's the same with lyrics. We have this approach to it where it is a French brain thinking through English and then sometimes back to French. But there's something that comes out of it that's more interesting than a conventional approach. Something as you say maybe more cryptic. Or poetic.