Success has a funny way of finding artists.
Back in the late ’90s it seemed achievable almost overnight for Parisian acts like Daft Punk and Air, who carved separate niches into pop’s ample market.
Phoenix was also there in the suburb of Versailles, and though the band had a unique sound — catalogue it somewhere between the Strokes, Steely Dan and the Art of Noise — the band never received any framed platinum discs.
“At the beginning it was really hard,” admits frontman Thomas Mars. “I don’t think we were even giving people a chance to like us because (United, the band’s 2000 debut album) sounded more like commercial suicide to me. I remember being in France and everyone was confused, even by the record cover.”
They shouldn’t really blame themselves. The Frenchmen have crafted some of the most sophisticated, hummable pop music of the last decade and never changed their creative process while doing so. Mars sees each record “as a photo album that represents you at a certain time. I think we just want to make different records all the time. We don’t really see any record as an upgrade.”
He may see it that way, but there is an unmistakable vibrancy and progression with the fourth Phoenix album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The rhythms are savvier, the melodies prompter and the arrangements are as flawlessly constructed as Frank Gehry’s AGO. And it’s gotten noticed — now people are finally catching on.
“To me it’s more extreme, it’s also a little more futuristic,” says Mars of the new album. “All of the inspirations were so different that we couldn’t find a way to put them together, so it is a record that was maybe a little more painful to make. But in the end it was more satisfying because it was more like a Frankenstein. (Because of it) I think the songs of United have a chance again.”
As witnessed by an appearance on Saturday Night Live back in April, Phoenix have also progressed as a live band, something Mars feels is a result of making Wolfgang Amadeus.
“It can be a struggle after an album to play it live, because sometimes we’ve done things that are impossible to translate,” he confesses. “For the first time I think we’ve managed to incorporate us as a rock band and bring the studio live, which is something that took us a long time to do.”
Toronto: Phoenix plays the Phoenix Concert Theatre Monday, June 15, with opening act Amazing Baby.