Phoenix

Creation date : 1991
Country : France
Language : English
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Rock
Members : Thomas Mars Jr, Deck D'Arcy, Christian Mozzalai, Laurent Broncowitz

The hip foursome from the chic Paris suburb of Versailles needed to record two albums before convincing French music fans of their talent. But, right from the start of their career, Phoenix’s upbeat mix of pop, rock and electro proved to be a big hit abroad.

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  • Phoenix website
  • The hip foursome from the chic Paris suburb of Versailles needed to record two albums before convincing French music fans of their talent. But, right from the start of their career, Phoenix’s upbeat mix of pop, rock and electro proved to be a big hit abroad.

    The three founding members of Phoenix, who came from a comfortable middle-class background with parents in teaching, finance and the hotel business, hooked up together at school. From the age of 10, Thomas Mars Jr (born in 1977) and Deck D'Arcy (a budding musician with classical piano training born the same year) had been playing music together. And the duo were soon joined by Christian Mozzalai (also born in 1977).

    In 1991, the three adolescents attended the Lycée Hoche in Versailles (a school which, strangely enough, spawned a number of other movers and shakers in the French electro world including Air, Etienne de Crécy and Alex Gopher). Later that year they went on to form their own group. In 1995, the threesome recruited a new member, Christian’s brother, Laurent Broncowitz (born in 1974). And two years later, in 1997, the foursome officially became Phoenix with a definitive line-up featuring Thomas (on vocals), Deck (on bass) and Christian and Laurent (on guitar).

    In 1997, Phoenix set up their own label, Ghetto Blaster, and began self-financing their own productions. The group released 500 copies of their first 2-track EP "Party Time." Meanwhile, Phoenix – who were conveniently sharing the same apartment at the time – got down to work on an album. They did most of the preparatory work for the album at home before going into the studio for a series of recording sessions. The following year, the Versailles foursome created a buzz with their single taken from the compilation "Source Rocks" (put out by the Source label). Following this success, Source promptly signed the band.

    2000: United

    Artistic directors at Source attempted to persuade the group to sing in French, but their advice fell on deaf ears. Phoenix insisted on keeping their lyrics in English, maintaining that their music would not take lyrics in French. The group claimed to find little inspiration in the work of their compatriots (apart from Serge Gainsbourg and Laurent Voulzy), but cited countless Anglo-Saxon influences, ranging from The Bee Gees to Bruce Springsteen and Prefab Sprout.

    Phoenix went on to release their debut album, "United," in June 2000. Even before the album was officially released, several tracks were already spinning on DJ turntables, taking club dancefloors across the U.K., the U.S. and Europe by storm. However, the group’s album received a frosty welcome back home, French critics dismissing the band as “little rich kids” who made "Californian music" which was variously described as "easy listening" or "wallpaper pop" (according to French newspaper Libération in June 2000).

    Following the release of “United,” Phoenix were rapidly assimilated into the rock branch of the “French Touch” (as the French electro movement was dubbed by the foreign press). The group spent the next two years touring on the international circuit and their musical expertise, polished production techniques and incisive singles earned the group a new following of fans abroad. These included Sofia Coppola, who used a track by Phoenix on the soundtrack of her film "Lost in Translation" and the Farrelly brothers who featured a Phoenix number in the soundtrack to their film "XXL (Extra Large)." 

    Meanwhile, Phoenix were also busy on the live front in France. On 30 March 2001, the band brought the house down when they performed at Le Bataclan in Paris.

    2004: Alphabetical

    After honing their live skills on an extensive tour, Phoenix got back down to work, preparing tracks for their second album. However, seemingly paralysed by the success of “United,” the group appeared to lack inspiration and their follow-up album underwent a difficult period of gestation. Things went so badly, in fact, that the group ended up jettisoning their first attempts. But the album miraculously re-emerged from these ashes a few weeks later. "Alphabetical" was finally released on the Source label on 30 March 2004 and, this time round, met with a much more positive reception in France. The group’s heady cocktail of rock, pop, electro, hip-hop, folk and funk, mixed by cutting-edge American producer Tony Hoffer (famous for his work with the likes of Supergrass, Beck and Air), not only seduced the critics. It scored a hit with the record-buying public, too. With an album cover designed by Hedi Slimane (the cult menswear designer at Dior), this second album consolidated the group’s reputation as the musical purveyors of French chic.

    By the spring of 2004, the foursome were already back on the road again, performing with a back-up band of six supplementary musicians. In April, they concentrated on touring in the U.K. and Germany, before heading off to play a series of gigs in Japan and the U.S. On 4 and 5 May 2004, Phoenix stopped off at La Boule Noire in Paris and on 28 June they brought the house down at another major Paris venue, La Cigale. The group continued their hectic schedule throughout the summer of 2004, appearing at the “Route du Rock” festival in Brittany, then headed off to London to play at Somerset House (on 4 and 5 August) and at the Shepherds Bush Empire (on 15 September). Phoenix flew on to Belgium and then Berlin (on 26 July), before embarking on another tour of Germany in September.

    On 8 November 2004, the group’s first live album "Thirty Days Ago" (for the main part recorded at a concert in the Norwegian capital, Oslo) was released in fourteen different countries worldwide. But before that date, fans were able to buy tracks over the Internet. As American fans eagerly awaited the release of the album in the U.S. (announced for February 2005), Phoenix flew across the Atlantic for a series of concerts in the U.S. (29 November - 13 December 2004).

    2006: "It's Never Been Like that"

    Despite increasing success abroad with the band drawing bigger and bigger crowds at their live shows, Phoenix were still struggling to make an impact back home in France. However, the Versailles foursome were counting on their next studio album to cause a big stir with their compatriots. "It's Never Been Like that", recorded in a complex that used to house the East German radio station in Berlin, was released in France on 12 May 2006. The band recorded and produced the entire album themselves and it proved to be a highly autobiographical affair. The band’s third album certainly lived up to its title, too, all ten tracks on it taking off in a new musical direction while still retaining that instantly recognisable "Phoenix" signature sound.

    The group’s record label, EMI, tried out a new marketing strategy with "It's Never Been Like That". The album was re-released on 30 May as a "DigHitBook" : a 40-page book-cum-band-biography made up of photos, short texts and personal details of France’s Fab Four. The last page of the book contained a secret code – a reference to a website where the ten tracks from the album could be legally downloaded as part of the book’s 25 euro cover price. Meanwhile, hip American director Sofia Coppola got in touch with the band and asked them to record a song for the soundtrack to her film "Marie-Antoinette."

    Phoenix were already busy rehearsing for a major international tour, which kicked off with dates in the U.K. (London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow) in June. After hooking up with their earliest supporters in the U.K., the French foursome continued their globe-trotting, alternating dates in Europe (Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland and Germany) and the United States. Then the band headed off to Japan before returning home to France for an appearance at the “Rock en Seine” festival at the end of August.

    2009: "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix"

    After this marathon tour, Phoenix got straight down to work in the studio preparing material for their fourth album. The French pop-rock foursome, who continued to enjoy widespread popularity beyond national frontiers, were invited to perform on the famous American TV show "Saturday Night Live" in April 2009.

    Their appearance was perfect timing for the promotion of their new album, "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix", released worldwide on 25 May 2009. Phoenix returned to their musical roots on their fourth album, going back to the electro-pop groove they first made their name with. "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" revolved around a mix of jaunty lyrics and finely-honed pop melodies produced by Philippe Zdar, the famous French Touch figure and member of Cassius, who masterminded the group's debut album, "United."

    Phoenix performed a memorable concert at La Cigale, in Paris, on 25 May and kicked off their "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" that same month. After playing dates across Europe, Australia, Indonesia and North America, the group wrapped up their tour with a grand finale at Le Zénith, in Paris, on 19 October 2009.

    He did around thirty dates in the United States, and in September performed two concerts in New York’s Central Park during the Summerstage festival. The group was also in the Zenith in Paris on 19 October 2009.

    In February 2010, at the 52nd Grammy Awards ceremony (the contemporary music equivalent of the Oscars), Phoenix won the Best Alternative Album category for “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”. The album sold over 750,000 copies outside of France, 75% of them in the United States – an international success recompensed by the Grammy.

    The group continued its international tour, taking in a number of summer festivals in France and Europe. New dates were set for August and September in the United States.

    The high point of the tour was a performance on 20 October in front of 20,000 fans. The one-off concert in Madison Square Garden, New York, was crowned by a guest appearance from Daft Punk.

    After taking a short break to compose a few tracks for the original sound track of the film “Somewhere” by Sofia Coppola (Thomas Mars’ wife), Phoenix got back to recording. They started work in New York, in the studio owned by Adam Yauch (of the Beastie Boys), and then continued for one and a half years in Paris, mostly at the studio of their accomplice Philippe Zdar (Cassius) who co-produced the album.

    2013: "Bankrupt"

    “Bankrupt” was released in April 2013. After their previous album’s immense success, the group had set themselves new challenges and taken a few risks in reworking their musical palette. Swapping some of the guitars for synthesizers, the new album’s sound was reminiscent of the eighties, although still packed with punchy tunes, like the single “Entertainment”.

    In May, the band played at the Cigale in Paris, then set off on a new tour that included the Coachella Festival in California, where they were the star act. Phoenix also performed that year at the Eurockéennes in Belfort, the Vieilles Charrues in Carhaix, and Rock en Seine in Saint-Cloud, before hitting the international road.

    October 2013
     

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