Phoenix Talk "Bankrupt!", Inspiration, Movies, and More
Mon, 24 Jun 2013 06:17:46
Phoenix take flight like never before on Bankrupt!.
The French quartet's rich and rapturous melodies entwine with warm, wild, and wonderful soundscapes for a delightfully elegant pop rock opus. In essence, every element of the band's signature sound has been expanded and evolved, fine-tuned and focused exponentially. Bankrupt!'s wealth of sonic gems makes it one of the year's best releases and essential for fans. It's no surprise Phoenix have risen to the status of a Coachella headliner in the States. They're in the rock pantheon, period, though.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Phoenix main man Thomas Mars opens up about getting ambitious for Bankrupt!, inspiration, movies, and more.
Do you feel like you're treading new territory on Bankrupt!?
Yes, definitely. It's for sure our most ambitious record in terms of how many instruments, chord changes, subjects, and emotions we wanted to put in there. We approached it with that ambition in mind. We decided to make a big record.
What encouraged that?
With the amount of records we've done, you think about the fact that the novelty wears off a little. This is our fifth record. So far, each album has been pretty different. That's not in terms of the way we made them but in the approach and what we wanted to achieve. It was about finding a way to change the rules a bit. It wasn't only our rules either. We wanted to change what's inside, go for it, and really write songs we always wanted to write but we wouldn't dare write before because they were too overwhelming and ambitious. At the time, it felt like it was extremely time-consuming and we'd never get out of it. We wanted the songs to be part of the same vision and evolve together. They were started at the same time and finished together. The level of frustration and tension is big when you do that because we all rely on each other. No song is done until the last week of recording in that case. Your friends can't tell you it sounds good and you should keep doing it. They're just amazed you spend that much time in the studio and nothing comes out of it [Laughs].
What threads Bankrupt! together?
The album seemed to have a stronger identity than each song. That was a bit scary because you don't have that much control. When you see the big picture though, it's very exciting to make an album like this. It was a pretty stressful though.
What's the story behind "Oblique City"?
Somehow, we wanted the song to have a certain drive so all of the instruments would use the same pattern and you couldn't necessarily tell them apart. Whether it's the synths, drums, or guitars, they're all under that same wall of sound, playing the same. It took us a while to craft that so it sounds unique. It feels like one big voice or instrument so you can't tell what it is. That was the starting point. Then, it became more of a journey. We started put a few things here and there. Towards the end, the very simple guitar is influenced by this Swedish movie, A Swedish Love Story. It has an amazing soundtrack, and we pretty much stole it from there. That was the one thing on the album we didn't really create. It's pretty simple and very minimal. The song sounded so overwhelming that it needed a minimal part. We knew it would be at the end of the record too so we wanted to finish on a minimal note. It was important to us that after all of these epic-sounding songs you finish on something basic. What's you find in the end is not overwhelming. It's nature. It's not man-made. It's intimate. When it’s big, it can feel distant. It can take a while to create a relationship with it.
What's it about lyrically?
It's the journey. I think of it as a very candid sort of diary. There's so much information that you sometimes feel disconnected. It's a few attempts to feel connected and find out if you're the person who can connect or if it's just some sort of way to protect yourself. A lot of the songs are pretty abstract. You see the lyrics in a certain way. Even in the band, we have a different approach. That's nice. Growing up and not speaking English really well, I would understand the lyrics in my own way. I think I try to recreate that. There's enough for you to find your way in it, but they're also cryptic enough that they take different shapes. There's no right way. They come to each person differently.
Where did "Trying to Be Cool" come from?
That one started with a very simple theme that was really light. The few lyrics attached to that song were like a collage. All of these words were glued to that song. They made it more complex and interesting to us. We had a song on our first record that seemed up-tempo and fun, but the lyrics were pretty sad and there was something else to it. In that way, those songs are pretty similar in the way we wrote them.
What inspires you outside of music?
It's easier to steal from things because there's nobility in stealing. I think the enemy is really copying. Somehow, stealing or reinterpreting things is inspirational. Anything can be an inspiration. What's important is that there's not one predominant influence. On this record, we didn't want to be inspired by things that were beautiful or elegant. We wanted to find things that were mediocre or ugly sometimes. That opened a lot of imagery. It's easier to find ugly things than mediocre things these days. There are more bad things than good things. You can be inspired by anything. The intention is to create something beautiful in the end.
If you were to compare Bankrupt! to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
I would go the pretentious route [Laughs]. I would take a masterpiece, which one would it be? It has to be an Italian movie. There's a bit of complex imagery. At the same time, there are some simple tracks. Italian directors put the sound afterwards. They spend a lot of time on the visuals and photography. Then, at the end, they add the sound. Maybe that's similar to the way we operate. The English language is not our first so we don't have to calculate the meaning so much. Once a few words are glued to the melody, we find the meaning afterwards and making it our own and interesting to us. I guess you could say any Federico Fellini movie. La Dolce Vita is one of my favorites.
What are you listening to right now?
It's a bit of everything. Mac DeMarco played a few shows with us, and I really like his albums. You can feel his living room. There's this amateur quality about them. They sound like a demo, in a good way. I love that! There's not one particular style of music we're scared of listening to!
What's your favorite Phoenix song?
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