It’s a minor miracle that nothing has managed to split up the four-piece rock band from Versailles known as Phoenix. Since the turn of the new millennium, their lineup has remained exactly the same, the weight of having a long career and the pressure that comes with international touring only fueling the band’s creativity even further, instead of stunting it. Their music, as a result, comes across as healthily well-traveled, incorporating different languages and styles into their generally new wave and synthpop-inspired albums—transporting us along with them in every song.
And since Phoenix pays such strong attention to setting and travel, for them to take root in the Philippines for the second time feels momentous, as if this country and every other pit stop on their tour is an important part of their overall travelogue. For a band that’s seen the world many times over, they’re simply happy to be in any place at any time, wherever they may be.
We sat down with guitarist Laurent Brancowitz and bassist Deck d’Arcy to talk touring, taming songs, and performing live.
Rogue: What kind of impact does traveling around the world make on you? Does it shape your music in any way?
Laurent Brancowitz: It does a lot, actually. Because when we are on tour, we don’t write songs. But we try to absorb emotions and we always bring back some instruments. And a lot of our music, people don’t realize, is based on scales from other countries. We used a lot on the last record—scales that are not Western but more like Balinese or Ethiopian. People don’t really hear them but we use them as tools to write songs in a different way.
R: What is coming back to France like, now that you’ve been touring the world for so long?
LB: We like coming back. When we tour for a long time, there’s nostalgia. It happens only at the end of a tour. But we like it because suddenly we fall in love with our country again. When you live there, you forget, you know? So right now, we are happy to leave ‘cause we spent three years working in Paris. Now we are happy to discover the world. But in maybe nine months, we will feel the nostalgia.
R: When you’re playing around with different sounds and influences, how do you decide what works and what doesn’t work for your music?
LB: We cannot predict what’s gonna work, so we try a lot of things. That’s the hardest part of our jobs: to know. Like a photographer, he knows when what he sees in the frame is good. So that’s our job, to know when something feels good and to know when it’s a little bit off. And a lot of the time, it’s just a little bit off and you have to adjust a little something, and for us, it takes sometimes years to find the little movement that makes it good or perfect.
R: Do your live performances also change alongside your music? Does your approach to performing change with every album that comes out?
Deck d’Arcy: The show is a synthesis of all the albums. So we add the new songs, they affect the show. But also, with every tour, we have a new vision of the stage design and of what’s going to happen. So it depends more on the rest of the set list as well, not only the new songs.
R: Does your vibe change when you play songs from Ti Amo, compared to when you play songs from Bankrupt! or Wolfgang Amadeus? Or does it all still feel the same to you guys, even if the albums are different in sound?
DD: That’s Pheonix’s style. It’s always been like this. Every album is pretty different but the challenge is to blend everything. We can’t play all of our songs live, so it’s always a set list struggle. Even the order, the sequence of the songs is very important. It’s a journey to find the right story to tell by putting the songs in the right order.
R: Some artists improvise a lot when playing live, some are very meticulous. For you guys, what’s your goal when performing live?
DD: It’s both. Some songs deserve a very, very tight way of playing them and some are more loose. So it really depends.
R: When do you know a show you’ve played is a good show?
DD: It’s the crowd reaction. The level of noise.
LB: If we manage to collectively reach a point of slight craziness. It’s pretty hard to achieve, but when it happens, it’s a collective relief—almost religious. It’s good.
R: You mentioned you can’t really play all your songs in one show, so are there any songs you haven’t played in a while that you’d like to bring back live?
DD: Yeah, we just planned today to rehearse some other ones. Like “Run Run Run.”
LB: Yeah, there are some songs that took us like 17 years to master and to finally be able to play them the right way.
DD: Like for example, “If I Ever Feel Better.” (laughs)
LB: Now we play it right. It was a fight that we finally won.
DD: After 17 years.
LB: Very long. We never forget about those old songs that we never really managed to tame.
R: How do you guys feel going into every new show? Are there still nerves?
LB: We spend a lot of time on stage, so we feel pretty comfortable. But we know that if the show is not really good, we’re gonna experience a little sadness after. So you have this tension of knowing that it has to be right. But we feel good on stage.
Phoenix performs live tonight at the Kia Theatre, Quezon City.