Some love affairs are over before they even start. Others last a whole lifetime. With their new album called Ti Amo, PHOENIX are very well on their way to make their relationship with music and their fans a lasting one. Not anybody can get away with a break of four years. However, the French quartet is back in the limelight and rightfully climbs all the way up again on that pop throne they have waved goodbye to for a while to work on new songs.
In their own words, Ti Amo is about simple, pure emotions like love, desire, lust and innocence. At the same time, they dive into a warm, summery feeling that is reminiscent of their very own fantasized version of Italy. A fantasy that we happily want to picture and give into as well. Chasing the joyous and romantic moments with the band for a little while. Instead of a trip to Southern Europe, we met Deck d’Arcy and Christian Mazzalai in a hotel in Berlin to talk about the crucial steps of recording the new songs as well as their love for Hemingway and the beauty of luck.
With Ti Amo being their sixth studio album, PHOENIX exactly knew what they were going for in terms of capturing what is really important once they jammed together as Christian explains to us: ‘For me it was about capturing the first emotions when we did the songwriting. As musicians that is the kind of feeling we’re looking for all the time. That was the main goal on this album.’
‘You can easily lose an idea’s charm by recording for hours. It’s not so efficient. It’s all about balance. It’s a never-ending quest.’
Hinting that the recording experience was very different for their sessions with their previous album Bankrupt!, Deck D’Arcy further adds: ‘We don’t like to control our songwriting. It’s meant to be jolly. We took the raw material as it was and didn’t really rearrange it in a different way. We just tried to structure it. On the previous album, we tried to shape the songs a bit more and didn’t stay that close to the original ideas. This time, we pushed the song into exactly the kind of direction it led us to from the beginning.’
The new songs are very much proof of how good the chemistry actually was within the band. Despite the political tensions rising worldwide and the band being very much aware of that, none of this heaviness played a role in what ended up on Ti Amo. The songs appear to be surprisingly carefree and focus on humanity in a very pure and simple way. A counterbalance PHOENIX didn’t have in mind when starting the creative process in the first place, but a sweet and welcoming direction nonetheless.
Sitting in the library of a fancy hotel in Berlin, Christian Mazzalai quotes Hemingway and suggests that discipline played an important role too while making the new album: ‘In his book ‘The Moveable Feast’ he talks about creation and he says it’s a mix of pure luck and discipline. We totally agree with that. The way we recorded the first album was phase one: pure luck. Something you just can’t control to come at all. Then, phase two kicks in: pure discipline. Keeping what we had done and giving it a form.’
The French four-piece may have a whole lot of discipline in the studio, but there is a place where guitarist Christian Mazzalai throws his strong will overboard. All in the love for food as he describes his passion:
‘When I eat, I don’t have that kind of discipline. When I’m standing in front of a buffet, I try everything. I can’t help it.’
There is only water on the table in front of us with no food being anywhere in sight. Without the distraction of food, the two bandmates and friends continue our conversation by talking about a topic that every creative mind is perhaps struggling with in one way or another: stability. After a career that has allowed them to record six albums to date, bassist Deck d’Arcy considers stability to be a luxury: ‘When we make an album or go on tour, we don’t always have that stability. It’s totally necessary, but the same goes for instability. When we have these periods of instability. A bit of instability is crucial for our work. The fact that we never work twice in the same place is very important for us.’
The most stable thing in their band history is most likely the fact that they have been in this journey together the whole time which Christian Mazzalai confirms: ‘I think because we’ve known each other for so long, we’re like a family. We’ve known each other since we were 6 years old so there is a lot of stability there. So we do need a certain instability when we work together.’ Sharing a sofa during the interview, the two friends demonstrate their affection by giving each other a big hug. No ti amo, though. It’s obvious enough they are close friends.
An extended stay for Phoenix
It that kind of friendship that also made it possible for them to work together on the new material for three years. An experience that Deck d’Arcy remembers well because it took place in an unusual place: ‘We recorded in a former opera place in Paris that shut down in the 70s, but re-opened in the 80s as an amusement park which didn’t work out at all. It stayed open for about a week and was shut down again for another 20 years. It re-opened recently like 5 years ago as a digital art temple of Paris with a concert venue, conference hall, exhibition centre and a studio…the whole package.’
A place that felt so right for what PHOENIX were about to create that they extended their stay as Christian Mazzalai tells us:
‘Originally, we wanted to stay one week, but we ended up staying three years. That wasn’t our plan.
We’re really lucky that we’re able to stay in such a place for three entire years without any pressure.’
Why? Perhaps because it was so different from their previous recording experiences: ‘For the first time, we were working in a very lively environment with other people being around- People were coming by the studio and listened to our new stuff which is something we’ve never done before. Usually, we never do that kind of thing and let other people listen to our songs that way before everything is finished. It was a much more open process with this album. It was a big change at first’, reveals Deck d’Arcy.
Not only did the band record in a place with a lot of history, they also recorded the album with a guitar that had quite a story to tell after it found its way back to them, eventually. Christian Mazzalai comments on the events saying ‘I bought a 12-string guitar on the last day of our ‘Bankrupt!’ tour in Los Angeles. We had to go to the airport quickly so when I had paid the taxi driver and he had left, I noticed that the guitar was still in the trunk. We went back to the hotel and the guy who was responsible for the cars told us he would do his best to get it back for us. There was no news or whatsoever for one month, but then he sent us an email saying that he had found the guitar. I think I got this guitar back by pure luck or destiny.’
Playing that particular guitar ‘totally changed the outcome of the songs’, Mazzalai adds: ‘I only played this guitar on the album. It’s stories like that give the songs some more emotions.’
On Ti Amo, PHOENIX focus on the positive side of life and its beautiful moments. All while reminding us that that sometimes all it takes is two simple words that we can’t say often enough to one another so the heavy weight on our shoulders is a bit less painful.