The Reverb Interview: PhoenixBy John Wenzel | April 16th, 2010 | No Comments »
Two years ago, Phoenix was known mostly by critics and dance-music fans for its slick blend of soaring melodies and propulsive beats, or the fact that singer Thomas Mars was the beau of director Sofia Coppola, with whom he has a child.
These days, the French pop-rock band is everywhere, soundtracking Cadillac commercials with the ubiquitous single “1901” and popping up as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live.” Phoenix also snagged a Best Alternative Album Grammy last year for its latest, most widely praised album, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.”
The band, which delivered a triumphant main-stage set at the Monolith Music Festival last year, will return to Denver in August for the third annual Mile High Music Festival at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. First, however, the boys will play a sold-out show at the Ogden Theatre on Tuesday as part of their lengthy, largely sold-out international tour.
We spoke to singer Thomas Mars about his group’s newfound fame, the challenge of constant touring and why Phoenix still feels like the obscure Parisian quartet it was in 1995.
Q: Phoenix has been on the road for what seems like years on end. Does it ever feel like a never-ending tour to you?
A: Not really. What’s nice is that we can keep this contrast of things by playing clubs in small towns. But I guess once the cycle has come around again you want to change and it’s time to do a new combination of things. Basically, if we felt that we were on autopilot we would want to just start over.
Have you ever felt that way?
No, but sometimes you have weird flashes or memories when playing a show and you see a (previous) one. Or you have moments, just little flashes, where you lose track of space and time. But they don’t happen often.
Was there a turning point last year where you felt the band was suddenly bigger and more well-known?
To me, we’re not mainstream yet. We don’t even think about this. We still think that we are this small band that’s playing big venues. We think that we are normal and in a way that this is a mistake.
Ha! That’s one way to stay modest.
You almost feel like another band canceled and you have their venue and their fans are there. But it’s a nice feeling. That’s the way that we’ve always been. It’s a way to protect yourself.
Some people might also see that as false modesty.
I guess when we started making music it was so selfish, and it still is. It’s something we just do for us. But what’s nice is that we’ve had success with a record that’s very cryptic and very selfish. We don’t feel torn between what a major record company wants us to do and what we want. It doesn’t feel like David Bowie or something, who did all these great records and then got big from “Let’s Dance,” which was successful for something he’s not. I wish he would have been successful with “Hunky Dory” — the real David Bowie.
You’re playing lots of festivals to larger crowds lately. What’s been your favorite show so far?
There was one in Chicago where we played a venue called the Aragon. It was a big room, maybe 5,000 to 6,000 people, and it happened exactly like we wanted it to happen. It was the first show where we felt, “OK, we’re going in that direction of how the record should really sound live.” The crowd was excited and it was very intense. It’s been a nice ride.
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Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post. He is also the executive director of the Underground Music Showcase, Colorado’s premier indie music festival. Follow his whimsies at Twitter, his live music habit at Gigbot and his iTunes addictions at Last.fm.
John Wenzel is the co-editor of Reverb, editor of the Get Real Denver blog and an A&E reporter for The Denver Post. His book “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” was recently published by Speck Press. He also maintains a Twitter feed of random song titles.