Ahead of their Longitude appearance, Phoenix guitarist Christian Mazzalai talks about their fifth album, Bankrupt!, and claims that their recent success hasn’t changed the French band
‘Bankrupt!’ is your fifth album in 14 years. You haven’t been as prolific as other bands, perhaps – is there a reason for that?
I think the reason is because we try to make music without compromises, so if it has to take 10 years, it will take 10 years. The quality is important to us. We would prefer to write songs very fast, but I don’t know why we’re very slow. Maybe it’s because with every album, we try to reinvent ourselves; we try to find a new, rich, appealing formula.
We are like searchers, so it takes time. We do lots of testing and lots of work to find one idea. We’ll throw 1,000 ideas out to find one good idea.
You wrote a lot of material for ‘Bankrupt!’ – was it difficult to distil that into something coherent?
Yeah, it required lots of mixology! It [the writing of] this album was totally subconscious – there was no brain control used at all when we were creating. When it was just the four of us, we were playing music for hours and hours and we recorded everything. And then we had to take all the little sketches of ideas, and develop them. So that’s why it took so long. It was like a big puzzle that you’re trying to put together. We had to be like scientists, figuring out how this little part will become magic and turn into a three-minute song.
Do you enjoy spending time in the studio?
Yeah, yeah. It’s hard, but we love it. We suffer together, because it’s worth it at the end, when you find something that excites the four of you. That’s why we’re in a band.
In-between albums, you also worked on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’.
Working on a soundtrack, for us, was so much easier because you’re working for the director, for the good of someone else. We weren’t working for Phoenix, but for the movie, so that’s a fantastic feeling. It was quite the opposite [from how we usually work]; we did the soundtrack very, very fast. It’s something that we loved doing. We did quite a bit of experimentation on the soundtrack and you can hear that on Bankrupt! – especially the title song.
‘Wolfgang’ really signalled a new era of success for Phoenix, winning Grammys and breaking the US market. How much did that change the band?
Not at all, really. When we came back after two years of touring, it was just the four of us and we closed the door for two years. We were still the same four guys making music and writing albums, so I think we forgot the outside world, totally. We forgot all about the old album, Wolfgang, and we were totally obsessed by the new one. We watched almost no movies and listened to almost no music – we totally forgot the outside world. We wanted to stay as pure as possible, just to think about ourselves.