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Interview: Thomas Mars of Phoenix


(Photo credit: Arnaud Potier)

Phoenix, that little French band you may have heard about, recently set out on their headlining Fall tour after a big summer of festivals, so we caught up with singer Thomas Mars to ask him what he's looking forward to, his favorite albums, and Kanye's damn croissants.
Interview by Katie Gregory

Hi Thomas! How has the touring been going?

The tour was very stressful in the beginning because we started right away with big shows which we never did before, but it’s been the reward of two years we spent in the studio. It’s just nice to see the world with your friends and play music for people, it’s as basic as that. It’s the best way to travel the world. It’s very gratifying, very nice. I recommend it. [Laughs]

Do you guys like performing more for the big festival crowds, or do you like performing for the smaller, more intimate crowds?
I think on paper we like our own shows better, because there’s just a couple of things that are easier to bring some atmosphere, like some epic nights. Sometimes at a festival you play at daytime, and the attention of the crowd is elsewhere. But festivals also have this power, almost like a poetic, Roman Empire feel, like there’s so many people it’s just a sea of… you know, you never see the end of it. And it has some universal feel to it that is incredible but dangerous at the same time. It’s fascinating.

You said you love traveling for the festivals. Is there a favorite place that you’ve performed?
I think Lollapalooza was one of my favorite festivals this year. The crowd and the skyline. This festival never disappoints. It feels like a festival I could go to as a guest, like in the audience. There are some festivals we play where I could never picture myself attending. [Laughs] But Lollapalooza is one of the few where I really would like to be there.

But sometimes, the best shows, they’re usually not the ones in the big cities, they’re the ones in the middle, or on your way to somewhere, just because those places tend to see less shows, and they’re probably less jaded about shows or something. It’s more unique there. Some places in the U.S., like Salt Lake City, places like that, you wouldn’t bet on them, but then they become the most fun shows.

Since it’s music month here on the blog, can you tell us some albums you’ve been listening to lately?
I’ve been driving more than usual lately and the one CD I put on all the time is What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, because it’s exactly the length of my trip. More than a collection of songs, it’s one giant song. I think it’s my favorite album, because it’s very complex and the message is so pure. It sounds incredibly modern. It could have been made today and it wouldn’t be surprising. It wouldn’t feel old. What else? We’ve been touring with Mac DeMarco recently, and I really like his music. I love his album.

Do you guys collect records at all?
I have a few, yeah. Between the four of us in the band, we do have a semi-giant collection, but that’s between all four of us. Separately it’s not that impressive. [Laughs]

Do you guys have any rare albums that you can think of?
Yeah, we have… well, there’s one that we bought many, many times. It’s Kill City by Iggy Pop and James Williamson. It’s not that rare, but the vinyl comes in different colors – there’s a pink, there’s a green, I think there’s a transparent one. We have a strange relationship with this record. We had to buy it six or seven times because once it melted in the back of my car, and then things kept happening. I think we lost the precious one. I think the ones we have now are not the super limited edition anymore. [Laughs]

Do you have a favorite musician or band that you’re always in the mood to listen to?
Yes. What could it be? There’s a lot. Anything that I was listening to when I was a teenager, if I hear it anymore it’s very powerful. Anything from Prince or Joy Division or My Bloody Valentine or The Pixies, all these bands I grew up with. If I hear the same guitar or the drum machine that was used on "Little Red Corvette", I can burst into tears. [Laughs] That’s how powerful.

That’s amazing. Do you have a favorite Phoenix song?
No, no. I mean, I have favorites to play live, and it keeps changing, so it’s nice because we change the setlist pretty often. It depends on the mood we’re in. It’s really the only thing we fight for in the band, the setlist.

What’s your favorite song to play at the moment?
It’s one called “The Real Thing.” But it’s also the toughest to play, it’s the one we can mess up the most. And I can mess up the most. That’s why with my friends, it is not their favorite. [Laughs]

And once this tour wraps up, does the band have any new album plans?
No, we don’t. Well, right now we are doing our own tour, which is something we’ve been looking forward to because we mostly played festivals. You can play festivals from April to September, and now we are looking forward to playing our own shows, which starts [this week]. That’s something we’re all really looking forward to.

Okay, and I only have one more question for you. What’s the most common English phrase people ask you to translate into French? Are people always asking for curse words?
No, not that I can think of. But when we speak English, we don’t swear in English, but when we speak French we do swear pretty often, so I think sometimes we have to translate these, but nothing specific.

Have people ever asked you to translate the Kanye line, “Hurry up with my damn croissants”?
No, what is that? It’s a Kanye song? Oh, yeah! We did something with the NME, and they asked us that, but I had no clue it was a Kanye song. They asked us something about “damn croissants,” but I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. [Laughs] I was asked how to translate “cronut” recently.

Can you translate cronut?!
No, I think there’s “cro” in it for croissant, so it’s already in there. I don’t think you can translate it more. [Laughs]

Thanks, Thomas!