French superstars Phoenix are in the midst of a world tour behind their chart-topping new album Bankrupt. The Daily Texan talked with founding members Laurent “Branco” Brancowitz and Deck D’arcy, about the new album and being influenced by David Bowie.
The Daily Texan: You’ve had an incredible year with Bankrupt coming out, playing SNL and headlining Coachella. What’s been your favorite part of 2013?
Laurent Brancowitz: Actually, it’s now because we work very hard to have a show that is as close to what we had in mind as possible. Right now, we begin to enjoy it because it’s harder to do that. Now after six months of touring, we are beginning to see the light. It’s good. It’s exciting.
DT: Last time you played in Texas on the Wolfgang tour, you were playing mid-sized clubs and now you’re playing arenas around the country, like the Barclays Center. What’s that been like?
Deck D’arcy: We like the fact that we get to play a big arena like that and the day after, we get to play a small club. It’s always like that. We like the contrast between those two things.
LB: We don’t just play arenas. We couldn’t do that, but we don’t have to so it’s good. Arenas are fun but they are designed for sports, so you can feel the vibrations designed for sports players and sports fans. It’s a different frequency than what we are used to.
DT: You have been playing together for about 15-20 years. Now with Wolfgang and Bankrupt, you are one of the biggest bands in the world. Five years ago, did you ever predict you would be headlining Coachella and doing stuff like this?
LB: We predicted it 20 years ago when we started and were all really naive. We thought everything would be very easy. Five years ago we were already very happy with the level of success we had. We were kind of the first French rock band to travel around the world. Yeah, we had predicted it when we were kids. Stupid kids. Arrogant kids. It just took a longer time from when we had in mind. Maybe 15 years more than we assumed.
DT: What were some of the influences you had when writing Bankrupt?
LB: The main influence was David Bowie. He had such a rich career that you could be a country and western artist and be influenced by David Bowie. Or a minimalist contemporary composer and be inspired by David Bowie. It’s so rich.
DT: Is that someone you’d like your career to be like?
LB: Yeah. He was kind of destroyed by the huge mega-success of “Let’s Dance.” We know the danger of having one huge success that is too heavy for a human being or a semi-god like David Bowie. Yeah, we wouldn’t even dream of having so many good albums or so many good songs as his.
DT: What was it like playing with R. Kelly this year?
LB: That was a good memento from this year. It was really cool.
DT: What’s he like in person?
LB: We don’t know. We barely met him for like five minutes. We can tell you that he’s a hard worker because we walked. He went walking at night and we would give him ideas, and the morning after, he would have done it already. He’s a hard worker and he works at night. He meets his crew at 11 at night. We always expected answers from him around midnight.
DT: For this new album, did you write these songs with the mind set that you’d be playing them to a larger crowd than before, or was that not really a factor?
LB: No, we tried to avoid it. This spirit of doing songs especially for arenas, some bands do it, and it’s always a catastrophic decision. When we are recording music, we always tend to do something that is playable by people, not just computer-generated. Even when the arrangements are pretty complicated, it’s always playable by six pairs of hands and a few feet. When music is done this way, it sounds more natural to the human brain. It’s pretty easy to translate to stage after recording in that manner.
DT: I was reading that you got a chance to work with Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys before he passed away. What was that experience like?
DD: We didn’t really work with him. We worked around him. He lent us his studio for a few months.
LB: It was really nice. He really was super cool with us. He kept on telling us amazing stories in a very humble way. He was a delightful person, so it was great. He was walking. He was very alive. He was one of the coolest people we ever met. The contrast of his statues and his very humble and sweet personality, that was something I never saw before.
DT: What was your favorite record that’s come out this year?
(LB & DD speak in French for a minute, I make out “Mac DeMarco”)
LB: We are always one year late on music.
DD: So we are going to give you our favorite record of 2012. It was Mac DemMarco.
DT: You took him on tour right?
DT: How was that?