Phoenix’s stunning fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, out in the U.S. on May 26th, is the result of much toil. Music this beautiful doesn’t just spring from musicians’ heads. For the four Frenchmen in Phoenix, it began with finding the right place to record, which proved to be their first big obstacle. There were failed attempts to find inspiration on a boat floating along the Sienne with a view of the Eiffel Tower, at New York’s Bowery Hotel and another three weeks in a rented New York apartment.
“It was to be free,” explains Phoenix’s Thomas Mars, sitting in streaming sunshine at the new Thompson Hotel on the Lower East Side. “It’s probably wrong to say this during recession times, but it was almost like we needed to get rid of the money. If we don’t have anymore, we have to be focused and be in a studio, and the deadline is really stronger because you have more pressure and it helps you to make a record.”
The guys ended up in their friend Phillippe Zdar’s house in Montmarte, and fell naturally into having Zdar, of Cassius, co-produce the album. It took them a year and a half in the studio, experimenting with sounds and finding a shared vision. “The beginning is very chaotic,” says Mars of the band’s songwriting process. “Then when the four of us know where we’re going it goes really fast.” He says getting Phoenix on the same page musically tends to just mean ironing out the details, joking, “We fight not about the painting, but more the frame.”
The guys’ creativity was spurred on by many different mediums, including films like "American Gigolo", books like "The Great Gatsby" and songs like “Death and Glory” by the Clash. They also were inspired by the regular trip they make from their hometown suburb of Versailles to Paris, resulting in the longest song on the album.
“There are a lot of tunnels and we were driving through the tunnels and listening to music,” says Mars. “And it was crazy because there was such a strong rhythm with the lights and the road and the music, that it was something we wanted to recreate. So every song has a story like this.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix shimmers seamlessly from one song to the next, and has that atmospheric quality of almost transporting you to an ideal world while listening—making it hard to take the title as completely tongue-in-cheek, and not as having a little bravado thrown in for good measure.
“To me it’s a very pop art title, almost like a moustache on the Mona Lisa, like a child doing it,” says Mars, adding that the pressure of living up to such a grand name was an added incentive. “When we decided we would go with this title we knew people would ask us, and it’s almost like a leap of faith. The four of us had to be very strong with each other because we had to face those questions, so that’s something we liked about it.”
But how the album came together so beautifully is still a bit of a conundrum to Mars. “The writing process is still very mysterious to me, and whenever we write a song we try not to understand it too much because it’s almost like a magic trick or something,” he says.
Phoenix will bring their live show to the U.S. not once, not twice, but three times this year–in June, September, and December. Here are the dates for the first leg:
Bonnaroo Music Festival
Phoenix Concert Theatre
Paradise Rock Club
Music Hall Of Williamsburg
New York, NY
Rock And Roll Hotel