When Phoenix had its breakout release, the band was already a veteran group.
The French indie pop rockers put out three albums before 2009's “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” became a hit, with songs such as the infinitely catchy “1901” and romantic “Lisztomania” (in the sense that it's about Romantic German composer Franz Liszt).
Following up with this year's lush, layered and, let's be honest, super-fun “Bankrupt!” must have been a daunting task for the band, which quickly went from playing clubs to headlining the country's biggest festivals after releasing “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.”
Phoenix, which headlined Chicago's Lollapalooza over the weekend, will bring its tour to the Omaha Music Hall on Tuesday night. We caught up with singer Thomas Mars to talk about the band's journey since rocketing from obscure to must-hear.
Question. Right when “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” came out, you were playing small clubs, but you were quickly playing way bigger places and headlining Lollapalooza. Were you surprised at how fast things moved?
Answer. Yes, definitely. We did three albums before that one, and we never experienced anything like that. We had a few songs that were popular here and there in different countries, but we never experienced that level. “Wolfgang,” it translated live, too. There was a sea of people watching us.
We're still surprised. It's just very bad for your mental health. If you take it for granted then you have no sense. (laughs)
We definitely felt like we were achieving some dream of fantasy from when we were kids. It was something that us in the band always wanted to do, and we were very surprised and happy that it happened.
Q. Did you feel any pressure when making “Bankrupt!” since you knew so many people would be paying attention?
A. Yes and no. There was less pressure because we felt that with the success of “Wolfgang” we would have a little extra attention. But we knew we would be able to play the new songs in front of people, and it would give us some more freedom to be more experimental and to change the rules.
I felt that “Wolfgang” had set up some new rules, and the first thing we wanted to do when these rules existed was to find new ones and break (the ones we had). We knew that we were going to disappoint some other people because we were gonna go somewhere else. They wouldn't get “Wolfgang, Part II.”
We wanted to destroy your little toy and build something else. That was, artistically, a high point for us. (laughs)
Q. You took four years between releases. What took so long?
A. We took a lot of time to work on “Bankrupt!” We toured (“Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”) for two years and then it took two years to make this record. That's pretty standard for us. It was two years, but we worked every day, so it didn't seem like it was that long.
Q. Two years is a long time to tour. Did you get burned out on touring at all?
A. No, we didn't get burned out. We knew we were going a few months at a time, and we weren't planning six-month (tours) in advance. It was all pretty short. When it felt like it was an embarrassing victory lap, we played a few more shows and we stopped.
There was this moment of the victory lap and it was embarrassing. Instantly, you feel it. You feel disconnected and you feel like it's not allowed. You're not that kind of person. You can't do that.
So, we stopped.
Q. “Bankrupt!” has a pretty different mindset than the last record. You mentioned breaking all your old rules. Did you start out making the record with that intention?
A. Yeah. It's very cliche, but it's true that the goal is to change music. You need to have this naive ambition that you're going to do it for yourself first and hopefully people will come onboard with you. There is this idea that you can't be stuck in the same thing.
It took a lot of research, sort of. We spent almost a year looking for sounds and how each song would be shaped. That took a lot of time.
Q. Did you approach the album with any particular themes in mind?
A. Yeah, there was this idea that you didn't want to build on top of anything (we had done previously). We didn't want any foundation for the new record. There was this idea that you lose things that are representative of an era. You go somewhere else.
It's interesting how when an album or a band is successful, suddenly people don't want you to change. Most of the people that are around you, they don't want you to change. This goes for a lot of things, (including) they don't want you to change your logo — the basic band logo.
We are going sort of opposite route, by doing an album cover that had nothing to do with what we did before. We got a new image and a new thing. We were fascinated with this idea.
I'm not a sports fan or a sports expert, but Michael Jordan, did he start (playing) baseball? That was the same idea.
Q. The songs on the album fit together, but they also exist very much on their own. There are a lot of different song styles on the album.
A. Yes. Definitely. Everything on the album is a bit the opposite of “Wolfgang.” Every song had its own universe, and they could exist separately. But this album, without being a concept album, it's one big thing. You can't really separate them from each other. There's a common thread — something that holds them together.
Q. You're playing in Omaha with Icky Blossoms, which is a dance pop band from here. Do you know them well?
A. Yeah, yeah. I know a few songs, yes. We're lucky that we get to choose the bands that play with us. In the beginning, you don't get to pick who's playing with you. Then when your shows are bigger, you get to pick your favorite bands. We're spoiled in that way. We get to see good bands every night.