The Phoenix Revolution

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The band members (Mars, Brancowitz, his younger brother Chris Mazzalai on guitar and Deck D'Arcy on bass) met at the only record store in town, where they recognized each other as regulars. They became friends with the local boys in Daft Punk ("Thomas from Daft Punk sold us our first eight-track recorder"), though not Air ("They were three years older than us, so we didn't know they existed until we moved to Paris"). As far as they knew, they were the only music scene in town. Says Mars, "We saw music as a very selfish thing. It wasn't to get girls, because there weren't any girls to get in that town, and it wasn't to please people, because there weren't any clubs or audiences to play for. So it was just for us."

Each of their first three albums was about 10 times as good as the previous one, but nobody could have predicted the musical and commercial breakthrough of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. No French band has ever come close to this kind of worldwide impact. As befits their Daft Punk connection, they've always been a guitar band that operates more like a dance act — hits like "1901" and "Lisztomania" thrive on minimal guitar grooves that emphasize rhythm above all else. "We love the aesthetics of minimalism," Brancowitz explains. "Partly that is the influence of the architecture of Versailles. And partly it is because we cannot really play."

Phoenix have just recorded soundtrack music for Somewhere, the upcoming film from Mars' girlfriend, director Sofia Coppola, who lives with Mars and their child in Paris. According to Brancowitz, "It's very minimal — really it's not even music, more like sounds. But the movie is brilliant and the soundtrack was fun to do." They are spending the rest of this summer on the road, touring the U.S. and Europe in what's basically a victory lap for Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, hitting festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Glastonbury.

But one last mystery: If they're so European, why does they sing in English? Mars has a typically thoughtful and elaborate answer. "One record company told us nothing would happen if we didn't sing in French, but we didn't care," Mars says. "French lyrics are wordy, because of the grammatical structures. Our lyrics are very cryptic, and we love nonsense. That's a luxury we don't have in French, because every word belongs to the phrase, so everything has to make sense. You can only do those lyrics in English. Hank Williams singing 'My heart is full of tears' — that's not possible in French. You would have to say 'My heart is full of blood, and the blood is wet, and therefore the blood is like tears' — and that's not a song. That's why there's no French Hank Williams."

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