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Creative ambitions keep France's Phoenix rising

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Saturday, September 28, 2013

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The members of Phoenix found the breakthrough of success of their 2009 album "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" more liberating than foreboding as they started working on its follow-up, "Bankrupt!," last year.

"We knew that people would listen to this album," acknowledges Laurent Brancowitz, the French group's guitarist and keyboardist. "So we wanted that to be not a weight on our shoulders but maybe the opposite. We wanted to enjoy the fact that we could be even weirder and we could go a bit farther and that people would listen to it and give us the benefit of the doubt.

"So we treated it like a positive. There was a joy in not just giving people what they expect but maybe something they didn't think was even possible."

And, adds frontman Thomas Mars, no external expectations were greater than what those the band put on itself.

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves," says Mars, who's wife, film director Sofia Coppola, helmed the video for Phoenix's next single, which has not yet been revealed. "We took (the attention) as more of a gift. I think we knew we would get a few more listens -- and this record definitely needs that. It's more hostile. It's more heavy. There's more layers. It's not as easy to listen to, but we're not a band that likes to do the same thing twice in a row."

Mars, Brancowitz and their mates needn't have worried; "Bankrupt!" debuted at career-high chart positions at home in France and in the U.S. (No. 4 on the Billboard 200), spawning the singles "Entertainment" and "Trying to Be Cool." The group has played a full array of festivals on both sides of the pond since "Bankrupt!'s" April release, and Brancowitz says its current dates are benefiting from Phoenix's experience playing the new material.

"We're happy that it works well live, that the energy is flowing," he says. "We knew that this new album was filled with songs that are a bit more dense and a bit more complicated, maybe, demanding for the audience. So we are happy that people seem to enjoy them, even if they demand a bit more thought from the outsider -- which I think is important.

"I know that all the music I prefer in my life is always music I've had to tame. It wasn't an instant sugar rush but something that's a more delicate and subtle kind of pleasure. We weren't sure this (music) would work, but we're happy that it does."

Phoenix and the Vaccines perform at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center, 799 N. Hewitt Road, Ypsilanti. Tickets are $44.50. Call 734-487-2282 or visit www.livenation.com.

Web Site: www.livenation.com

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