You would expect four coolly sophisticated Frenchmen to know all about wine. But sake? On a mild early-spring day in Manhattan, the Versailles-bred indie-pop phenoms Phoenix met up with EW at the posh EN Japanese Brasserie (a favorite of singer Thomas Mars, 36, and his wife, director Sofia Coppola, who live nearby with their two young children) to show just how serious they are about fermented rice beverages, among other things. Over a few of their favorite bottles, Mars, bassist Deck D’Arcy, 36, and guitarists Laurent Brancowitz, 39, and Christian Mazzalai, 36, talked about childhood fistfights, waiting for the group hug on Saturday Night Live (they’ll perform there for a second time on April 6), and writing songs about loneliness and cologne for their fifth album, Bankrupt!, out April 23.
A BOTTLE OF DAKU NIGORI FOR THE TABLE
Thanks for ordering?I wouldn’t know what to get here.
LAURENT BRANCOWITZ: Well, thank you for paying!
So why did you guys choose a sake place?
BRANCOWITZ: We discovered that sake is the only alcohol that is truly artistic. You achieve a drunkness that is not drunkness?more a poetic state.
Well, before we get too poetic, let’s talk about how it felt to win the Best Alternative Music Album Grammy for 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Are Grammys considered a big deal in France?
THOMAS MARS: You know, it’s the only prize we ever won, so for us it was a real moment we enjoyed. [Laughs]
CHRISTIAN MAZZALAI: With all the artists who’ve won this Grammy before in this category, we thought, ”We are dreaming.” It’s funny because after we won it, there was a French Grammy, and we were not even nominated because our record company forgot to [submit] us! That’s France, you know?chaos.
Is rock music a major part of French culture?
DECK D’ARCY: There’s no bands in France. Zero! We are the only one. France is more about singers, solo artists, or electronic music. The culture of French music is not really about bands.
BRANCOWITZ: The bands you like and know that are French are always outsiders in the French music industry—Daft Punk, Air. So it’s a bit normal that we are not totally in the system, because we come from the outside of the outskirts.
You mixed the new album on the same console that Thriller was made on. Do you feel like the spirit of Michael Jackson seeped into the record in any way?
BRANCOWITZ: I wish it did, but I’m not sure. We thought about [Thriller] a lot, and even with all those efforts, we really couldn’t understand its magic. And that’s what we like about it. If you try to copy it, you miss the point. Because it’s uncopyable—is this a word? If you imitate, you destroy the spirit of it because it was the spirit of doing something new.
You’re doing SNL again soon. Last time, you got to play three songs, which rarely happens. How’d that come about?
MARS: Actually, we didn’t want to!
BRANCOWITZ: We didn’t have enough equipment to play more songs.
MAZZALAI: They asked us one hour before the show. So we said, ”No, sorry, we can’t!” They said, ”Please!”
D’ARCY: And then we realized that saying no was not an option for these people.
MAZZALAI: So we said, ”Okay, well then, we need this very specific kind of keyboard.”And then 20 minutes later, a guy came and was like, ”I found it!” So then we had to do it.
BRANCOWITZ: Unfortunately, you can find anything in New York City.
Will you do three again this time?
MARS: Well, if it becomes a common thing, it’s not that exciting. But we’re looking forward to the final hug, the end music where they start playing the piano and you get the relief of knowing the pressure is off. You hear the saxophone, you can be happy.
BRANCOWITZ: But SNL is still a lot of fun. You can feel that we are all on the same level, everyone walking on a tightrope.