R. Kelly Compares Phoenix to the Beatles

R&B star and French rockers describe mutual admiration

R. Kelly performs in Chicago.
Roger Kisby/Getty Images
August 22, 2013 12:05 PM ET

Phoenix were on the receiving end of some incredibly kind words when R. Kelly, their Coachella performing partner, compared them to rock & roll royalty. "They’ve got that Beatles thing going on," Kelly said in an interview with Pitchfork. "You can’t explain it."

Both Kelly and Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars took part in the conversation, in which they spoke about their mutual admiration for each other, as well as how their surprise Coachella performance came together and their new collaboration on a remix of Phoenix's "Trying to Be Cool."

Coachella 2013: Phoenix Bring Out R. Kelly for Triumphant Headlining Set

Phoenix had initially reached out to Kelly about the live mashup, sending the R&B star a version of their 2009 hit "1901" combined with R. Kelly's own smash, "Ignition." Despite some initial uncertainty, Kelly soon came around, though he wasn't surprised it worked so well: "I'm a lover of all sorts of music, which makes me a chameleon when it comes to performing anything, whether it's opera or whatever. As long as it's good and it feels good, I'm going to cling to it."

Mars echoed the sentiment, saying he was certain the two artists would be able to combine their styles despite their sonic differences. Still, the two didn't have a chance to practice their mashup before Phoenix took the stage at Coachella. "I was nervous, but the fact that we met onstage – that pressure – makes it, and the thing that comes out of that is incredibly powerful," Mars said. "Just looking at the setlist during the show and seeing '1901/Ignition' gave me goosebumps. I couldn’t believe it."

As for their continued collaboration on the "Trying to Be Cool" remix, both Kelly and Mars say the song itself has trumped any reservations or confusion their respective groups of friends may have had about the peculiar pairing. While Kelly admitted even he was a bit scared before he played it for his friends in the studio, he said, "they actually loved it because it has that feel of 'Play That Funky Music' and Hall and Oates. That disco music of back in the day, but upgraded to now. They started grooving to it, saying, 'Man, what the hell is that?' 'It's Phoenix, man. It's Phoenix.' Then I was trying to act like I knew all of their music and I grew up listening to them and everything. You know, I was frontin'! But they were loving it."

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