Spontaneous Compulsion

Interview by Charmaine Poh
Photography courtesy of Phoenix and Dominic Phua

Phoenix started as a “garage band,” playing out of the house of Thomas Mars in the suburbs of France, with brothers Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz alongside Deck d’Arcy and Thomas Mars. The band rose to critical acclaim in 2009 when Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix received gold certifications, topping charts globally and taking home a Grammy. Their music has been used in various soundtracks, namely Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation and Hedi Slimane’s runway shows for Dior Homme. With the release of Bankrupt! early last year, the band took on a more experimental approach—their recording philosophy however, remains unchanged—to work on it furiously until it reaches perfection.

Contrary to the album-making rules, when the lights come on and the band is on stage, they come alive with their upbeat, youthful and whimsical disarray of tunes that possess the power to get anyone on their feet. They believe that spontaneity is important with every show, so no two gigs are identical. Guitarist Laurent Brancowitz shares with us the band’s aspirations and their excitement about what is to come next.

Spontaneous Compulsion phoenix

Hi Laurent, it is great to have you here in Singapore. You guys have a real knack for spontaneity, we hear you don’t plan your set list until an hour before the show. We really like that.

When we are writing music we try to reach this creative mode where it is only about spontaneity. We are at our best when we feel like young monkeys pressing random keys on the keyboard.

Yet some of the songs on your latest record took three years to complete! Does touring or travelling affect your songwriting?

We are perfectionists when we are conceiving the songs, but not when we are recording them.

Spontaneous Compulsion phoenixWe like it when it’s rough and naive. However, when we tour we fill ourselves with the pure joy of being alive. When we work on an album we try to recreate and synthesize this emotion.

It must help that you have known each other for the longest time. What was your first memory of one another?

Chris being my brother, I remember him from when he was one day old. I have known Deck since kindergarten, he was very famous in our neighborhood for owning a ping pong table. I remember seeing Thomas in the corridors of our school in Versailles, he was 12 and wearing a Bauhaus T-shirt—an avant-garde move for a 12-year-old!

Read more in The U Press N˚5 (Singapore edition).