Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Interview: Thomas Mars from Phoenix

Last week we interviewed Thomas Mars from Phoenix about the group's rather ace new album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, released on 25th May.

We caught up with Thomas on the day of a video shoot for their next single 'Lisztomania', filmed at the plush Wagner Opera House in Germany. Below are a couple of excerpts from our chat. The full interview will appear in May's edition of Clash magazine.

On previous records, Phoenix have mastered an easy listening, indie-rock sound in tune with their time spent as live backing band to Air. Pleasant, cool and shy, only on their third album It’s Never Been Like That did they break free and create a distinctive sound of their own. Following on from the guitar heavy concert album Live! Thirty Days Ago, Wolfgang… is fired by opening duo Listzomania and 1901, their most direct songs to date. Thomas points to a growing confidence in the bands collective song writing as the reason for such energising new songs.

“Those two have really strong structures, are solid and dense and took a long time to finish. We love the rush and energy of them, it sounds like we’re in a hurry, I’m almost spitting the lyrics out."

Phoenix it seems, have manned up.

Download '1901'

Bloggers have frantically shared new songs, exposing the band to a new audience through MP3 aggregator The Hype Machine and downloads which enable to fans to remix 1901. Thomas says internet buzz has been a long time coming for his band, and we get the sense they were shackled by nervous record labels in the past.

“The era we live in is digital. What’s great is that decisions are taken by a bigger number and there are less and less people in between artists and fans.”

Was there a battle to get more of your music online?

“We could’ve given tracks away before, but it didn’t happen. We want people to be excited, to feel what we are doing now, not six months too late.”

There’s an almost gleeful, childlike excitement running through the new material; full of sparkling melodies and upbeat rhythms from four men approaching their mid-30s. In between the pop, there’s experimentation. Halving the album is ‘Love Like A Sunset Part 1’ and its sister track, Part 2. Leaning towards the industrial Krautrock of NEU! and Cluster and the minimalism of Steve Reich, Parts 1 and 2 mark a greater depth in Phoenix’s sonic template.

Again, Thomas hints of a new found freedom and collective confidence.

“We’ve wanted to play music like that for a long time; write songs on two levels and shift between them. We’re all attracted to art that uses repetitive patterns.”

Can we expect more experiments in the future?

“Those tracks are the most satisfying on the album for us, and we’re looking forward to playing them live the most.”

When we tell him we’re in love with Wolfgang’s considerable charms, Thomas is relieved.

“Only when you completely finish an album can I accept compliments or criticism. It’s like watching your child leave home for the first time.”

The child-like qualities of Wolfgang… extend to its cover art. A trio of cascading Dr. Strangelove inspired bombs rain down on an uneven, pink coloured backdrop. The sleeve’s intention is unclear, but Thomas reveals more as we probe the album title.

“It’s a child-like idea, like drawing a moustache on a Mona Lisa. We enjoy messing with something iconic that’s now almost empty of meaning – like Che Guevara t-shirts and posters are across the world.”

Are you trying to mess with your home town’s history then?

“Versailles, where we all grew up, has a great history. But future didn’t exist when we were young and we didn’t want to live in the past, we’d rather make it our own. Often the ugly side is the most likeable. For us, doing things in an amateurish way makes something unique and important. We’d rather make things ourselves.”

Download '1901' Nightwaves remix


  1. something to be excited for this year!

  2. It's a great album, I think Phoenix are going to do very well in 2009!