Phoenix has risen to the echelon of a French institution. In a career thus far spanning albums from United to Bankrupt!, Daft Punk affiliations, the Sofia Coppola connection, and “Trying To Be Cool” with R. Kelly; Phoenix has become neatly and deeply stitched within the fabrics and textiles of the world's global pop quilt. Catching the band on an end of the summer tour, we were able to get a hold of guitarist Christian Mazzalai to share a love for Mac DeMarco, 70s Italian artists, and gained an intimate view of a group that pursues the good life of setting out to make music without compromise.
Long before the release of Bankrupt!, I had always been curious about how you guys all came about in those pre-United days. How were you all, united? How did you Phoenix become a band?
We were almost the same as now, we grew up near Paris, we made music when we were 12 years old, and we began the band. It’s actually rather long story, nothing really did change between us, we are exactly the same today like a family.
Is the title of Bankrupt! a commentary on Franco economic situations, US economic situations, or something more global?
No, it’s more personal things, a more personal thing that we embrace the fact that we have done everything we have without any compromises, like Bankrupt! we have gave everything we have, it's not a real connection but I think there is a connection to it with the outside world, of course.
In conjunction with Daft Punk, you two are the most massive French ambassadors. I was wondering, how did the two of you become the most recognizable groups of artists coming from France?
Actually, it’s kinda crazy, because [Daft Punk and Phoenix] have known each other since we began our bands actually. My brother [Laurent Mazzalai] was in a band with Daft Punk, they had a punk rock band [Darlin’], the two guys [Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter] and my brother. We knew each other from the beginning, we could never predict that we could do, and still do, what we do now, that we could be able to do the music the way that we want without any compromises…something where Daft Punk and us can do that is very, very rare, so we feel very lucky about that.
These days, what is your relationship like with Daft Punk?
We are still in contact, we are still friends. They played with us in New York City on one of the last dates of our tour and we always share our experiences, they are our friends so of course we are still in contact.
Has there ever been any competition between Phoenix and Daft Punk, now or before?
No, because we are not doing the same music, we have same jobs, but we are not doing the same music you know.
You guys broke through during the world French invasion of 2000, but you enjoyed a resurgence that happened later in the 2000s, why do you think that was?
What do you mean with, ‘resurgence’?
When you all first came out on Astralwerks back in 2000 there was a big wave, I was working in public radio at the time, everyone was playing United, but it seems like you guys really caught on in the States in 2008, 2009, circa Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and it was like you guys were as new as anything.
I don't know, these things we don't control them at all, you know, and that makes the beauty of it. The only things we can control is our music and the way we do our artwork and we have no way of predicting. When you’re a band, it’s a magical feeling because it’s something almost mystical that no one could predict so our philosophy is to just do our music for the fun of it without any compromises and then if we do this we hope people will trust us more and trust our music…maybe that is the reason more and more people are following us…I don’t know, I don’t know actually.
Sofia Coppola has included Phoenix’s “Too Young” in at least two of her films too, so your music has stayed very much in the collective consciousness.
Yeah, yeah, she is part of the family, she is the wife of [leadsinger Thomas Mars], she makes movies that are very unique and with no compromises again.
You all play so many festivals, that must be exhausting. How do you keep up to endure such a massive series of world tour circuits? How do you all do it?
We do a lot but not that many we have a rule that we tour two weeks, and then we do two weeks off. With so many compositions, we could tour forever, you know. But you can’t do that. Touring is part of the rock and roll routine which is not interesting basically, and it is very tiring. We try to do two weeks on and two weeks onff so we are still relating to real life. But we love touring, it is fantastic, and whenever we do it, we love it. But to play these festivals, and so crazy to play in front of so many people, we have power to do more light shows, we have a huge sound-system and we try to use this to do something different.
Favorite things about touring?
We love to go to very good restaurants, we love America, your country; it has the best and the worst, you know. It’s a very extreme feeling, the fact that when you tour you discover places you never would go otherwise so it’s very interesting.
What have you all been listening to back home in France?
We have been listening to Lucio Battisti, an Italian artist, we listen to a lot of Italian music from the 70s there are many great artists, and one of the best is Lucio Battisti.
The 70s Italian stuff, there was so much progressive rock that came out of Italy, its wild.
Yeah, you know it. There is so many music to discover in life, the more you grow up there will always be more artists to discover. We toured with Mac DeMarco, and him right there, we love him, we love his music.
We love Mac DeMarco too, Rock and Roll Nightclub is amazing, the album 2 is incredible…
Ah yeah, he’s fantastic.
What do you all listening too right now on the road?
Right now, we’re listening to Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
What are some of the rising artists in France that you all really like?
You should listen to Arnaud Fleurent-Didier, he’s a French artist who writes and sings in French, he’s a very good artist.
Like your name, and like a proverbial Phoenix constantly rising from the ashes, what is the secret of being a continually buzz worthy band and on everyone’s radar?
I don't know, I would say… I don't know but I think that our only goal when we write music is to find a new recipe. When we write we try to find new ones and our goal is just to discover new music. The important thing is just to discover, new areas, new acts, new everything, discovery is interesting. The things is if you don’t move, at least for us, we get bored, you know. So we try to do music that pleases the four of us when we write songs and that is very hard because there is always one of the four of us that doesn’t like it but maybe that is why it can take us four months, or two years to do an album. I don’t know, maybe that is why people are following us because they know we do our best to do what we can, and to do our best productions.