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SUPREME Exclusive: We Talk to Phoenix! The new French Revolution

French super band Phoenix is comprised of vocalist Thomas Mars, bassist and keyboardist Deck d’Arcy, guitarist and keyboardist Laurent Brancowitz, guitarist Christian Mazzalai, and drummer Thomas Hedlund.

MANILA, Philippines - French natives Phoenix shot into mainstream success and won a Grammy with their 2009 release, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.” They released their latest album, “Bankrupt!”, early this year and have been touring the world ever since. Early next year Phoenix, comprised of singer Thomas Mars, bassist and keyboardist Deck d’Arcy, guitarist and keyboardist Laurent Brancowitz, guitarist Christian Mazzalai, and drummer Thomas Hedlund, will set foot in Manila, playing their first show in the country. We got hold of Deck d’Arcy and asked him about music, their latest album, and what was it like growing up in picturesque Versailles.

SUPREME: “Bankrupt!” has been well-received all over the world, and has been a Phoenix record recognizable to fans, but it is also quite a departure from your previous records. Was it a harder album to make, coming after a Grammy win for “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”?

PHOENIX: All the albums were hard to make, so not particularly. [The Grammy is] nice to have, but it doesn’t really mean anything in an artistic sense. We don’t even have the actual [trophy]. It’s always hard, so winning the Grammy didn’t make it harder to make the next album.

Do you approach making an album more conceptually or is it more of creating a cohesive sound?

We always have a conceptual start, then we work on it and we don’t really stick to the original concept. We prefer not to because it ends up differently than planned, which is better. We are very predictable and it’s always a surprise when we go with what ends up happening.

You mentioned in a previous interview that being a band with a few hits was freeing because nobody expected you to play just the hits. Has anything changed now that you have gained a bigger audience?

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We change setlists everyday. We have fights every day. We play songs from pretty much all the albums. It’s quite enjoyable, but there are more songs from “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” unconsciously. Yes, we play songs from every album.

From what I understand, “Bankrupt!” was produced in both France and New York. What was it like to shuffle between cities while in the process of making an album?

It’s not really hard… We are used to it. Thomas lives there, so we had to, but it wasn’t particularly hard. It’s not the city where we are. It doesn’t affect our music, and it doesn’t matter. There is no influence on the music.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Ah, it changes all the time. I don’t have a favorite. It’s hard to pick.

The beginnings of Phoenix were formed in the early ’90s in what you’ve described as a “museum city,” [Versailles]. What would you say drove you, personally, into making music?

It was helpful; it’s such a boring city. There is not much to do there, so making music was a great way to escape the emptiness. It’s great to visit. I can understand why people travel thousands of miles to see it, but living there is a very different thing. It is very aristocratic, conservative, and not open-minded, which was good because it became easier for us to find ourselves.

We were preteens. We had our first gig when we were 12. We were the only ones wanting to be… We want to fight — for it. It was all about fighting the enemy. We cannot fantasize about reality; we fantasized about other artists and their lives. Versailles is such a bubble, it helped us.

Did you imagine, from playing in that garage, that you would be here nearly 20 years later, with five celebrated EPs and a Grammy?

Yes. At 15, we were absolutely sure. We would become a big deal. You have no clue when you are a kid. Of course, if we knew what it takes to get here… We were really shitty.

Is that why you decided early on to write songs in English, despite being French?

No, it was normal for us to write in English. We didn’t know any cool thing, then. French music [“yé-yé”] was 100% bad. We only had Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, our heroes, so of course we would sing in English.

It’s also easier to write in English, because of the language barrier, I think. It sounds blurry, like it doesn’t mean anything, but it does to us. It becomes more abstract and poetic to our mind.

Maybe one day we’ll write a song in French, but it’s really hard. We have such respect for French musicians.

What do you think you’d be doing now, if it weren’t for Phoenix?

We kind of designed our life [around Phoenix]. We made everything impossible to do anything aside from music. We can’t do anything else. We never had a proper job. We went to university for a while and did random stuff, but they were so random that we knew it wouldn’t go anywhere.

It’s part of the process. I don’t know, actually. I don’t even really want to know.

Everyone’s excited that you’re playing in Manila next year. I know that you’ve played in a handful of Asian countries like Japan and Indonesia in the past 20 years. Is there any reason why you are doing an extensive Asian tour only now?

We’ve never been to all these countries! We like touring in general, but what we love the most is going to new places. Each place is different, but this is the most exciting part of the tour.

Do you have a message for your Filipino fans?

Of course. We are thinking of you.

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