It’s been over three years since French indie-pop maestros Phoenix last graced a stage in Washington, DC, and eight years since they ruled the indie dance charts with “1901” and “Lisztomania.” And so a booking at DC’s new 6,000-capacity club The Anthem on the venue’s first full week open may have seemed ambitious. But the their latest album, Ti Amo, released in June, is a significant return to form after the somewhat more experimental Bankrupt!, and tracks like lead single “J-Boy” show a band that still knows how to write a pop hook. To the fans who crowded the venue to dance away their Monday evening, that was more than enough.
By now, Phoenix are practically a household name. With the release of their fourth studio album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix in 2009, the French indie rockers' popularity exploded. The band's success continued to skyrocket as they toured in support of the critically-acclaimed release, earning coveted festival slots, late-night talk show appearances, commercial media placements, and a huge, dedicated fanbase. Fast-foward to 2013 and Phoenix are just as astronomical, headlining festivals worldwide and topping international music charts with their newest album Bankrupt!.
We chatted with Phoenix guitarist Christian Mazzalai earlier this month while the band was en route from Denver to San Francisco for Outside Lands. Mazzalai opened up about Phoenix's progression to superstardom, the evolution of their live show, sharing the stage with R. Kelly, and more. _____________________________________________________________________________________
Christian Mazzalai at Sweetlife 2013. Photo by Joy Asico.
ChunkyGlasses: You guys have played multiple big-scale festivals in the past few years, with Outside Lands on the schedule for this weekend. Do you have a favorite festival?
Christian Mazzalai: Yeah, we have many favorites. We love Summer Sonic in Japan, we love Chicago[‘s] Lollapalooza. Coachella, Outside Lands. There are many French ones we love. Yeah, there are many festivals we love.
CG: What makes a festival special to you? What makes it memorable?
CM: We love a festival when it’s the center of the city – that’s a fact that we love. We love that because you’re in the heart of the culture of the city. You can feel it, you know? That’s a good feeling.
CG: I read that when making an album, you guys prefer to use the first take of a song. Does that anyhow translate to when you play live? Does it take pressure off playing live, knowing that your best work tends to come from the first take?
CM: To play live is the opposite of recording an album. When you record an album, it’s in your brain and you’re composing it yourself, and it’s hard to surprise yourself. It’s fantastic and it’s very hard at the same time. When we play live, it’s more of a reward, you know? You’re more physically tired, but it’s all about pleasure and you share. It’s totally different [but] we love both situations.
CG: Can you walk us through the progression of Phoenix starting off as a garage band to being a mega pop and rock band selling out huge amphitheaters?
CM: It was very slowly. That’s what makes it very great. It’s very important for us that we did [progress slowly]. The danger when you are a success is that you don’t control anymore what you want to do. Especially for us, it always would be like that – always has been like that - to do our own music the way we want. Not to try to please anybody, just the four of us. So our music could be pure and without any compromises, you know? So we played very first when we were in Versailles, when we were teenagers, and we played just for us because there were no venues there. So we just played in our garage where we were starting our album. But progressively we played small and little theaters, and then big theater, and then bigger, bigger, and bigger. But very slowly we could see the progression and we could enjoy every little step during the last ten years – well, more than ten years now.
A memorable music festival often involves as much luck as alchemy. Is the lineup great? Do the performances match expectations? Does the weather cooperate (and do the masses stay engaged if it doesn't)? Are there good food and beverage vendors? Do they have enough variety (and supply) to satisfy the masses? Is the venue appropriate? Does the experience inside the venue trump any issues with traffic, parking, or the parking lot scene? Whether by luck, alchemy, voodoo, or just good vibes, and in spite of an often rainy day at the end of an awfully rainy week, the folks at sweetgreen can look back on the fourth installment (third at Merriweather Post Pavilion) of the Sweetlife festival with a smile. The almost 20,000 in attendance most certainly will!
Solange captivating the early crowd at the 2013 Sweetlife Festival
Solange drew an early-afternoon set at Sweetlife, and it wouldn't be controversial in the least to suggest that she stole the show. Leading a funky, dynamic, band she certainly proved to many in attendance that she is so much more than just "Beyonce's little sister." She delivered excellent renditions of many tracks from her outstanding, Blood Orange-produced dance/pop/funk EP True. Solange has style and substance, incorporating excellent dance moves and a confident, winning stage presence, but her voice is what made her set truly special. It soared, swooped, trilled, and whispered throughout her mesmerizing, too brief set, which included stellar performances of "Losing You," "Lovers in the Parking Lot," and "Bad Girls," but what may have been the most memorable moment of her set was the closer. With a band that has clearly explored every nuance of "Bumpy's Lament" in tow, Solange brought cheers from a boisterous bunch at the main stage with her rousing, note-perfect interpretation of Dirty Projectors' hit "Stillness is the Move." The best proof that Solange is one to watch? At 2:15 in the afternoon of what would prove to be a long day, so many couldn't take their eyes off of her.