Three year's after Phoenix's acclaimed fourth album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the French band are set to return with new record Bankrupt! on 22 April. Guitarist Christian Mazzalai (centre right) explains the role homesickness, a toy keyboard and the Beastie Boys played in shaping the album... and the small matter of how the band brought the soundboard used to record Michael Jackson's Thriller off eBay.
The day after the last concert on our last tour we went directly to the studio. We couldn't wait, we wanted so much to write again. We had some little ideas but as always, after a few weeks we discovered our ideas were too predictable so we threw them out and waited for more exciting ideas to come, so the album took time and lots of work. Our best ideas don't come from our brain, they come from luck and mistakes. Sometimes I play a wrong chord and this is when a song appears. A Phoenix album is a long process based on luck!
We started the album in New York City, in a really good studio the Beastie Boys lent us, it was a fantastic place but after a few months we started feeling homesick so we watched French movies from our childhood and listen to old French music. Homesickness became a real inspiration for us. Most of the album was recorded in France in the end. We'd toured for two years and it was the first time we missed home. Usually we didn't care, but this time we got really homesick.
It's funny but in terms of sound there are two elements that shaped Bankrupt!. The first one was a keyboard we brought in a pawn shop in Versailles. It's like a kids keyboard from the early 80s. We only brought it because it was so cheap and had a cool look, then we discovered there were three sounds on it that were fantastic for us. Everything else it does is really bad, but we used those three sounds on almost every track.
On the opposite side to that we brought the console that was used to record Thriller! We couldn't believe it but we brought it from eBay. We didn't believe it was true, it looked like it was a fake. The guy who sold it was half crazy, he did Christian rock in the south of the US. He was totally crazy which is why I think nobody believed that he had the real thing. We did some research, we spoke to the guy from the Westlake Studio in LA where Thriller was recorded, and after a few weeks of digging we found out it really was the one they used. It was funny, he was selling it for $1,000,000 at the beginning, but no one wanted it because they didn't believe him so we got it for less than $20,000 in the end. It was a crazy situation.
The soundboard is special, it was customised and his this 'magical button'. When we used it for the first time it was fantastic - it really is magic! Normally when you buy things you're disappointed but this really delivered. So it's the opposite of the cheap keyboard, but we love them equally.
One thing we've done this time is worked a lot more on the songwriting than on the production. We wanted to deliver many emotions and layers in each song so we worked a lot on that, but we didn't try to control it too much. The moment you control it, it becomes boring. Emotion is neutral when you control it so making an album becomes a very complex process for us, but that's why we love it. It belongs more to magic than real work!
Why Bankrupt!? Maybe it was a reaction to the success we had, I don't know. Firstly, we love how it's written - it looks like a German word with a punk exclamation - and secondly, to talk about success is not very interesting but the idea of failure is something that's very attractive for us, I don't know why. It's poetic... well it could be poetic...
I feel pressure to follow up the success of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix now, but when we were in the studio we locked all the doors and the pressure only came from the four of us - that's is quite a high pressure. Oh and I would say our girlfriends too. That's the rule, if the four of us love it and all our girlfriends then it's done. Mission accomplished. Christian Mazzalai was talking to Paul Stokes
For more head to Wearephoenix.com.