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Phoenix On Sounding Like Robots And Staying Restless

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Phoenix On Sounding Like Robots And Staying Restless

Phoenix On Sounding Like Robots And Staying Restless

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. And it's time now for music.


LYDEN: Four years ago, the French rock band Phoenix rose to the top of the modern rock chart with this song "1901."


PHOENIX: (Singing) Folded, folded, folded, folded.

LYDEN: They'd later pick up a Grammy for Best Alternative Album. Needless to say, Phoenix had a very good 2009, but the band earned a dubious reputation even before that album. They're really slow to record new music. Meticulous to the point of obsession, Phoenix labored over their follow-up album. And four, long years later, it's finally ready for eager ears.


LYDEN: You're listening to "Entertainment." That's the leadoff single from the new Phoenix album "Bankrupt!"


PHOENIX: (Singing) Headline from this day on why you keep pretending that you wanna let go?

LYDEN: Billboard Magazine wrote that the new music is overflowing with little nuances, even by Phoenix's audiophile standards. So band members Thomas Mars and Laurent Brancowitz can be forgiven for their tardiness.

LAURENT BRANCOWITZ PHOENIX: When we come inside the studio, we always have this big ambition. And after two weeks, reality happens, and we realize it's going to be long and painful.

LYDEN: Well, you do a lot of rewriting, don't you?

PHOENIX: Yeah. We are editors, modern musicians.

THOMAS MARS: It's still a mystery to us, really. We are not really scared of the white - the blank - you said the blank page or the white page?

LYDEN: Mm-hum. He said the blank - yeah.

MARS: Right. But we're not scared of that. We're scared of not choosing the right one. What we do is we record everything we come up with, and we usually listen back two days later. And what was exciting at first is not exciting after a few days. And what was giving us some sort of allergic reaction to it, things that we were refusing, rejecting, they are the ones that ended up on the album and they're the ones that took time to accept and just work on.

PHOENIX: Yeah. We are very humble in the studio. And we can really spend six months, and then a year, and suddenly realize it's a bad idea. I think part of the process is to tire our, you know, our egos.

LYDEN: You know, it's interesting because you spend a lot of time in the studio, but then you turn around and you tour like crazy. So clearly, you really like engaging your audiences.

PHOENIX: Yeah. We spend so much time in a cave that when they open the door, we can't stop running. And we enjoy it a lot. And also, I think this record, it's very important that people hear it, you know, played by real people because it's - there are so many layers many people could believe it's just the work of a computer program. But when they see us perform it and they see we play every single note, they realize that the goal is to be humans trying to sound like robots. And - but they need to see it, you know, to perceive this tension. If they just hear it, they could believe it's just very boring robots.


LYDEN: Let's talk about the song that you've got here called "Drakkar Noir" referring to the men's fragrance. I think I've seen it on little carts in airport fragrance.

MARS: Duty-free, yes. A big duty-free.

LYDEN: Big duty-free.

MARS: I don't know why, but it ended up being the symbol of mediocrity, you know? And that song is about mediocrity and the things in the middle. And we grew up with - people would wear that in college, and it's the antithesis of perfume. You know, perfume should be unique. The idea that a group of people are smelling the same, and that that smell is to hide some sort of testosterone, it's more camouflage, that seemed fascinating to us.


PHOENIX: (Singing) Light a cigarette for two, you're too close to get to. How come everyone knows you before they meet you?

LYDEN: The lyrics: You're too close to get to. How come everyone knows you before they meet you? You know, that is absolutely the signature of a bad perfume. Although I confess, I think by now, I've been wearing the same one so often people say: Jacki, I could tell you were here. Maybe I need to make a change.

MARS: No. That's a compliment. I don't know. I wouldn't change that. I think it's a strong - it's a (unintelligible). But if you would smell like 2,000 people, that would be an issue to me.



PHOENIX: (Singing) Drakkar noir, fake rituals, oblivious tales on a domestic airline swear to your god that you're mine. In the jangle, jungle, jingle, junkie, juggle, juggle me. A better standard than mediocre. I watch you tumble oh, oh, oh, oh.

LYDEN: I'm speaking with Thomas Mars and Laurent Brancowitz from the band Phoenix. And their new album long-waited is called "Bankrupt!" I want to ask you about this other track "Bourgeois." And the lyrics - I want to read some: Darling, you never know it started years ago when you're less than kind of done. And then it goes to say: They gave you almost everything. You believed almost anything. And you'll learn from all of us when your time's up.

I stole some out of order here. I hope you will (French spoken) forgive me. But maybe you would share some of the story behind this track with me.

PHOENIX: I mean, this word bourgeois is kind of a forbidden word, you know, in pop music, I guess, in rock and roll, you know? And the way we sing it as a chorus, you know, it's something that is very magnetic for us are the things that you are not supposed to do. We are always attracted to that.

MARS: And just to sing the word bourgeois for us is really traumatizing. We didn't play the song in France yet, and I'm not sure how people will respond to that.


PHOENIX: (Singing) Bourgeois, why would you care for more? They give you almost everything. You believed almost anything. Bourgeois...

MARS: I think it's a song that we could only write for this album because it took us time to go far from where we grew up, which was Versailles. And, you know, growing up in Versailles is like growing up in a museum. You know, everything great was in the past, and there is no room for anything else. Any kind of music is noise. And at the same time, it's where, you know, the revolution came with this idea. So when we always sing: You'll learn from all of us when your time's up, that's sort of the sans-culottes coming in 2013.


PHOENIX: (Singing) We'll never talk it out this time. You'll learn from all of us when your time's up. You lost your mind on a cruise ship bartending crucial lies. We're destined, wise and we socialize. Bourgeois...

PHOENIX: That's what makes people interesting, you know? We work so hard in the studio. It's so painful for us. The only way to make it worthwhile is the fact that maybe behind the mountain there are some kind of new tropical fruit we don't know the taste of, you know? And that's what keeps us going.

LYDEN: I want to write that down and see if maybe you'll use these lyrics in the next Phoenix album. That's Thomas Mars and Laurent Brancowitz from the band Phoenix. Their new album is called "Bankrupt!" (French spoken) Thank you. Congratulations. And (French spoken).

PHOENIX: (French spoken)

MARS: Thank you.


LYDEN: And for Saturday that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on programs and scroll down. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.


PHOENIX: (Singing) White lie binoculars. Tell me that you want me. Tell me that you want me. They'll teach yourself to resist, too much intention Presbyterian.

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