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The Phoenix Revolution

How France's best export became your girlfriend's favorite band

May 5, 2010 3:10 PM ET

In the past year Phoenix have conquered the world, even cracking America with their fourth album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Yet they have managed to do it without toning down their distinctly European personality. "Not just European — continental European," guitarist Laurent Brancowitz says. "Our approach is very continental. The lyrics are all about Paris and dead people."

But there's one thing about the French guitar flâneurs that never changes — they attract a very female crowd. As one friend puts it, they are the very definition of "hot girl music." "Yes, I've noticed," Brancowitz admits. "For sure, we are not doing music especially for men. When we were in the studio, we were talking about this consciously: 'We must do an album that women will like.' " The female fan base has its benefits. As singer Thomas Mars says, "That's why we don't have trouble finding people to work for us on the road. We asked our sound engineer, 'Why don't you tour with some larger band?' He said, 'Are you joking? Your show has beautiful women every night.' "

One stereotypically European thing about Phoenix is their cerebral and analytical approach to things that most American bands would pretend to be totally unselfconscious about. Brancowitz and Mars are two of the most articulate and intelligent rock stars imaginable, so naturally they have lofty ideas about the aesthetics of playing for women. "Women are a more interesting audience," Brancowitz says. "They are more open to a pure form of pleasure. Men are more interested in demonstration, the technical virtuosity. Women have their arms open to celebration." Phoenix especially notice it in the live show. "When we played Williamsburg last year, I could see all these guys who were standing and folding their arms. That's how I am at a show, too — when I'm having a good time, I stand and fold my arms. It's the women who start dancing. But it's good to have both kinds of audience — and it's especially good if they end up having sex together after the show. That's our goal."

The four men of Phoenix grew up together in Versailles, a city steeped in French history. As Brancowitz explains, "The king built Versailles as an imaginary city for the nobles. He built this castle, and put the nobility there, so he would have complete control over his environment. So it's a city that doesn't really exist. What is existing there now is the ghosts of this past, this glorious past. The perfect symmetry of the architecture became part of our imaginations." The antique atmosphere of Versailles shaped the way they experienced music. "It was like growing up in a museum," says Mars. "Everything great was in the past. So we had this obsession with music that sounded new. A drum machine was much more important than a real drum."

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