You would think that by now your favorite crusty chronicler would have already covered the band named Phoenix. In fact, those who know me intimately would be surprised that I had not already written about any and ALL Phoenix-related bands. Nevertheless, this is honestly the very first time this screwy scribe has ever discussed Phoenix. Phoenix is a French alternative rock band formed by singer Thomas Mars, bassist Deck d’Arcy, guitarist Christian Mazzalai and (soon after) guitarist Laurent Brancowitz. (The current line-up also includes: drummer Thomas Hedlund, keyboardist Robin Coudert and percussionist/keyboardist Jonathan Chavez.)
They began as a garage rock band in Paris. Brancowitz, Mazzalai’s older sibling, did not become a permanent member, however, until 1995 after his previous band, Darlin’, disbanded. They began touring the French bar circuit playing covers of Prince and Hank Williams songs.
It would be another couple of years, however, before they decided on the name Phoenix and headed for the recording studio. They put out 500 copies of a single on their label, Ghettoblaster. The single was enough to get them noticed and they were soon signed to Source Records.
They played back-up for their label-mates, French music duo Air, on several U.K. TV appearances. They were also the backing band on Air’s “Kelly Watch the Stars (remix)” single. In 1999 they put out two singles: “Party Time” and the non-album single “Heatwave”.
The new millennium witnessed the release of their two singles: and 2000’s “Too Young” and 2001’s “If I Ever Feel Better” (which made the charts in 6 different countries including France, Italy and the UK). This was but a prelude to the release of their 11-track premiere platter, United. It included the American and iTunes bonus cut, “Too Young” (Zoot Woman Remix).
The recording made the charts in France and Norway. The song “Too Young”—which had made the charts in France and the UK—was their first music video and was included in the soundtrack for the feature film Lost in Translation as well as the movie Shallow Hal. They would also release a music video for the longest track on the record “Funky Squaredance” which was directed by Roman Coppola (who would direct several of their music videos in the years to come).
It would be another few years before they would complete and put out their second disc, Alphabetical in 2004. This would be the first time the band would bring in additional artists to aid in the recording process. Guest musicians included: Ivan Beck on acoustic Guitar on “Love for Granted”, Pino Palladino bassist on on “Congratulations”, “Victim of the Crime” and the title track “Alphabetical”, Jm Mery – Additional Keyboards on “Congratulations”, “If It’s Not With You”, & “Alphabetical” and Alex Locascio percussionist on “Everything Is Everything”, “I’m An Actor”, “Love For Granted”, and “Victim of the Crime”.
This 10-tune recording would steer the group towards a bit more mainstream success and was released in over six different markets (on CD and vinyl) including Australia, Europe, France, the UK and Japan. A music video was produced for “(You Can’t Blame It On) Anybody”. The album sold over 30,000 copies in the United States alone. In fact, their singles “Everything Is Everything” and “Run Run Run” both had accompanying music videos and made it onto several alternative rock airplay charts including those in the Nederlands and the UK. French designer Hedi Slimanecommissioned a new mix of the tune “Victim of the Crime” for use in his runway shows for Dior Homme.
The success of this record was enough to inspire the band to tour three continents. They played 150 gigs in support of the album. One month after the end of the tour, the group stepped out of the studio to release their first live disc Live! Thirty Days Ago.
The ten tracks featured the talents of the founding Phoenixes as well as additional artists expanding the tour band roster to: Deck D’Arcy (bass and backing vocals), Laurent Brancowitz (guitar, keyboards and backingvocals), Thomas Mars (lead vocals), Christian Mazzalai (guitar and backing vocals), Chassol (keyboards) and Lawrence Clais (drums and backing vocals). The music was recorded during the group’s 2004 tour of Scandinavia and released later that same year. For some reason, in the US and the UK this recording was only available via digital download until January 2005 when it was released on compact disc.
The following year, 2005, found the band in Berlin. It was there they would produce their third studio project, It’s Never Been Like That. The 2006 album was promoted with the release of the single and music video “Long Distance Call”. This was followed by the release of the single and video “Consolation Prizes”. The CD contained 10 tunes with a bonus iTunes track “Diet of the Heart”.
Phoenix also put out a “Mexican Tour Edition” which featured fourteen cuts—four of which were recorded live in Sweden. One of the live tracks, “Rally”, even had a music video. This version of the disc is generally referred to as the “New Edition” and was first put out only in France and in Mexico while on tour. (In 2009 it would also be sold in the US.)
The album was marketed in the US, the UK, Japan, the European Union, Canada, Sweden and Australia. It made it onto the charts in nine different countries, hitting number 81 in Australia. It was rated number 13 in Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of the year and number 38 in their Top Albums of the 2000s. The CD has sold over 36,000 copies in the United States and the band toured the US, Mexico and Europe to promote the platter.
Three years would pass before the boys from Phoenix would finish and release their new CD Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix internationally by V2 Records. The album was mixed by Philippe Zdar, who also mixed Phoenix’s debut disc, Unitedand played drums on a few tracks here. The band credited Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies as a source of help and inspiration when producing the ten tune disc which was released both in stores and online. (Initial reaction to the album was enough to encourage the later release of a Special Edition Box Set Bonus Remix CD which contained 15 “remix” tracks by guest artists such as Friendly Fires, passion Pit and Devendra Banhart.)
The album’s debut single, “1901”, is a tribute to early Paris and was first released as a free download prior to its release as a physical single. It was first aired on the Australian radio station Triple J. It would later be rated number 13 in the station’s “Hottest 100” for the year.
The tune has since been used in the film New York, I Love You and was also featured in ads for the 2010 Cadillac SRX. The song also made it onto 3 US charts including number one on the alternative charts. The instrumental version of “1901” was also used on a BBC football program.
Both this cut and the lead-in “Lisztomania” are featured as downloadable songs for the Rock Band series of video games. “Lisztomania” made it onto four different charts. It peaked at number four on the US alternative charts.
Interestingly, the actual title of the tune originates in Germany. The romantic literary figure Heinrich Heine coined the term in order to describe the huge response to Franz Liszt’s piano performances. The music video for the song was directed by Antoine Wagner.
Because their music was so well-received there, Phoenix performed “Lisztomania” live in the studio on the Australian youth radio network Triple J as part of the “Like a Version” show. “Lisztomania” was used in the films Where The Wild Things Are, Alice in Wonderland and Valentine’s Day. It was featured in the television shows Cougar Town, Entourage, Royal Pains and The Vampire Diaries. Finally, the song was also included in the Gran Turismo (PSP) game for the Playstation Portable.
The song “Love Like a Sunset” was oddly inspired by a car accident in which mars was involved. The cut was included in the film Somewhereand the TV shows CSI:Crime Scene Investigation and One Tree Hill. In fact, the band themselves made several television appearances to promote the platter.
They played “Lisztomania”, “1901”, and “Too Young” on Saturday Night Live. They did “Lisztomania” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, “Girlfriend” on The Late Late Show with Craig Fergusonand “1901” on both The Late Show with David Lettermanand The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. The next year, however, would be even bigger for the band.
In fact, as 2010 began, Phoenix took the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album and “1901” peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot Alternative Songschart. They put out their third single from the CD, “Lasso”. It hit 31 on the US charts and is presently being featured on-disc in the video game Rock Band 3.
The album itself had debuted in Australia at number 13 and number 37 on the Billboard 200 albums chart where it remained in the Top 100 for several weeks due, in part, to the alternative airplay of the song “1901”. Indeed, 2010 revealed Phoenix as winners on many publications’ lists of honors. Rolling Stone magazine listed it as number three in their 25 best albums of the previous year. Time and Spin magazine listed the CD as number five and three respectively. The album reached number two on the US Independent albums chart and number fourteen in their homeland of France.
They even released a second live album. It was titled iTunes Live from Soho and hit number 148 on the Billboard charts. The group gigged at the Coachella Music Festivalin Indio, California, the 2010 Bonnaroo Music Festival, theLollapaloozaMusic Festival, the Mile High Music Festival and the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festivalin San Francisco, California. They even earned second billing on the NME/Radio 1Stage at the 2010 Reading and Leeds Festivals.
At a time when many rock and rollers are growing jaded, Phoenix seems to have barely hit their stride. Critics agree that the band appears to be more bright-eyed and energetic than ever. Contrary to the spirit bird of legend, this Phoenix isn’t going down in flames but is just beginning to fly high.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.