French indie-rock outfit Phoenix has been kicking it since around 1997. The band’s fifth album Bankrupt! was released on April 23, the second record on independent label Glassnote Records (previously, Phoenix made its home at EMI). It was preceded by the single “Entertainment.” The band’s 2009 Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix charted well and won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 2010. The band’s singles have been featured in movies and TV.
When Music Connection spoke with band guitarist Branco (Laurent Brancowitz), Phoenix was amping up to play its first of two headlining spots over two consecutive weekends at The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (“Coachella”) in the Southern California desert. Phoenix appeared on Saturday Night Live in early April and is now knee-deep in a tour that lasts at least through early October and will take the band across the world.
In our exclusive Music Connection Q&A, Phoenix’s Laurent “Branco” Brancowitz talks business, creativity and paths to success, including the band’s alliance with independent label Glassnote Records, whose roster also includes Mumford & Sons and Childish Gambino.
Music Connection: Bankrupt! is partially self-produced, partially produced by Philippe Zdar. You’ve worked with him for most of your albums. Were other producers considered?
Branco: No. We shouldn’t work with any other producer. It wouldn’t work because of the way we are. [Working with Zdar] doesn’t leave a lot of room for problems. In the case of Philippe, our success is some kind of miracle and it’s working. There’s evidence that [the pairing] was meant to be. For Bankrupt!, there was almost no decision; the choice was obvious.
MC: Has your approach to songwriting changed since United, your first album? If so, how?
Branco: When we were younger, in a different way, we were not interested in the clockwork mechanism of the songwriting process. Growing up we discovered what’s
important is the indescribable charm of things that are not explainable. So I suppose that now we’re more sensitive and more attracted to the charm of ideas and things rather than the perfection of the clockwork mechanism.
MC: Where did the ideas or inspiration for Bankrupt! come from?
Branco: We didn’t listen to a lot of music during the process, because we tried not to close the door to outside inspiration. But we listened to a lot of French and Italian opera. And we listened to a lot of David Bowie; he was perhaps the only influence on this album. We were also very attracted to pure sound that had some profound resonance, so there are a lot of sounds that refer to French music on this record.
MC: What are the main differences between Bankrupt! and Phoenix’s previous records, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix or even United? In what way has the band’s sound changed or evolved?
Branco: It has evolved at least because it’s been four years since our last record. Also, we want to evolve, so there’s an intention towards something new that’s very powerful in our band. We wanted more than ever to discover new and interesting sounds. I think that’s what keeps us going––the fact that we have this goal. We’re always working, always trying to improve. So every album for sure is very different from the previous ones. More than ever we wanted to discover a new and interesting sound. Also, in terms of songwriting, we wanted to rediscover the secrets of the grand masters. That’s why I thought about David Bowie. He knows the master secrets of songwriting. We wanted to follow that tradition.