On a breezy afternoon in London, Sally A. Edwards and Sarah J. Edwards met Phoenix for their shoot, then took them to to pub. Gathered round a table at a traditional local spot with a Guinness each, they discussed, 'It's Never Been Like That', travelling, stereo photography and got hilariously tongue-tied in between.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 2 Nø 6 print edition in 2006
Interview and Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
Parisian quartet Phoenix have been a firm favourite with BLAG since their debut album, ‘United’. However, with a practically constant touring schedule it’s taken us until their third album, ‘It’s Never Been Like That’ to finally get together. We meet the gents in North London and take them out for a Guinness.
Seated around a small table going clockwise to my immediate left is Branco – guitarist, Thomas – singer, Christian (Branco’s brother) – guitarist and opposite me, Deck – bassist. They’re in a fun and upbeat mood. It’s a typical English pub, patterned carpets, game machines, small sunken seats, wooden stools, locals who are so relaxed, they appear to be in slow motion and a roving cat. The drinks arrive and it’s ‘cheers’ all round. The scene is set.
Alright, first of all, I want you to describe each other’s style, attitude and taste.
Christian: Deck has always had the same style since he was six years old. He’s the most straight.
Deck: Chris, it’s hard to describe Chris. He’s a French gentleman, very elegant and very nice with women. He’s a proper gentleman. He finds the positive side of everything. It’s true.
Branco: Thomas, the style of Thomas... Thomas cuts his hair himself so he’s got this particular haircut called ‘The Mouvance’. I write it down because it’s important. You say it.
I do my best french accent, ‘The Mouvance’.
Branco: Oh! I like that!
Thomas: Branco is the opposite of me, he changes his style every what? Six months, nine months. Five months.
What’s the latest incarnation? The latest style?
Thomas: It’s Yves Saint Laurent. Seventies style – but not the actual guy, the clothes.
Can you tell us your funniest memories of each other.
Branco: Deck has a problem with his ankle, so he’s always falling down at some impromptu moment, you know? Some weird moment. Like we’re doing a photoshoot and suddenly he falls down! It’s true. Lately he fell down in the pool, it was two days ago in Mexico. I also have a picture of him in the sea. We were in San Francisco. Voila. I will show you.
Thomas: Branco. It’s not funny but Branco likes to push me into the mosh pit when we have concerts. Usually I’m on the border because I like to sing close to people and he pushes me in. So he’s violent, in a friendly way.
Deck: Noooo, just not violent more...
Deck: More gentle, but powerful.
I wanted to get some stories from you from the making of ‘It’s Never Been Like That’, because it was done in three months in Germany. It was different to the last two wasn’t it?
Christian: Yeah, we went to Berlin. The two last ones we were doing in our basement in Versailles. So yeah, that was different. We escaped our reality to go to another reality. The German reality – which is more exotic for us. [In an] under construction area like Berlin.
How do you think it made it different?
Thomas: Well, the way you do things makes the final result different. So it’s different because it was like an exile. We were really isolated, it was just the four of us in East Berlin without anyone else. So I think that the record has an under construction [feel] to it. There’s something moral, like something not polished, something more direct, and more violent maybe.
I wanted you to pick your personal favourite track each and describe it.
Thomas: Mine would be ‘Napoleon Says’, because I’m proud of the lyrics for the first time. Usually I’m not proud of my lyrics, but this one I like them a lot, so that’s my choice.
Branco: Errr....I’m thinking...
Alright you keep thinking and Thomas, you describe yours more.
Thomas: It was a fantasy to do... We always loved The Velvet Underground songs ‘Stephanie Says’, and ‘Candy Says’. It was a fantasy to do something like that with a twist. So "Naploeon Says’ was the song. Chris?
Christian: My favourite track for the moment is ‘North’, which is the instrumental track.
How do you feel about that Thomas? That Chris’ favourite is an instrumental one?
Thomas: I don’t mind because I don’t like my voice either, so I’m happy. I believe in Chris’ taste.
Chris: I believe in Thomas’ taste.
Deck: My favourite is ‘Sometimes In The Fall’. It’s the same as Branco’s for two reasons: It’s a song we had for a long time and we didn’t really know how to make it happen really good. Then on the last day of the recording we just found the little thing that made it a real song, like a good song. We were really happy about it. It was one day before Christmas; we took it as a Christmas gift. We like to perform it live even more. It’s even better, so to me it’s my favourite track to play live. So, yeah... This is my choice. It’s the same as Branco. Branco: It’s the only thong we recorded...
Deck: Thong! It’s the only thong?
Branco: A thong is a thing...
Yes, it’s underwear. (I draw in the air.)
Everyone claps their hands together and burst into laughter.
Branco: It’s the only thong... It’s the only song we have that sounds like a thong. Yeah...
What comparisons and changes are there on this album to the last two?
Thomas: Everything changed. For instance the speed of it. There was an urgency on this one. This one was done in three months. The others were done in like, two years. So there was a fast quality to it.
So you didn’t really have time to keep going back to it and keep tweaking it...
Thomas: Yeah, exactly. The idea was to not over think the record. We realised that we could do something very fast that was truer to us, that was representing ourselves. Rather than something that we over think, or something that we craft for too much time.
Deck: This is an album that talks about us more than the two previous ones. Which were more abstract. This one is about our lives, and what happened during the last two years, so this is really new for us. We used to talk about many things, but never about ourselves, and those ones are basically only love songs. So this album is less about details and more about substance and reality.
You said you spend half your time in Paris and the other half on the road. Do you have tales from touring? Or stand out crowds, and where are the good places to visit?
Chris: I don’t understand. I’m sorry. I’m very bad at English. No!
Thomas: You want touring anecdotes?
Chris: We have this sentence, we learnt this sentence: ‘What happens on tour, stays on tour!"
Oh, ok. Fine. One of those. That’s it then. Are there any good crowds or any great places?
Chris: Mexico. That was our favourite audience. Fantastic audience. Chaotic. Dirty with a smile.
Will you answer what your best memories are from touring?
Chris: Sorry, I don’t understand.
Thomas: Mexico, is a good story.
Thomas: No, where your best memories are.
Branco: You can say it in English. I can say it in English again with a French accent. Let’s try it like this!
Chris: Talk with a French accent please!
Thomas: Your accent is not French enough!
Chris: The best memory is Mexico. It’s fantastic. Also in the heart of the United States and in Germany, in Berlin, because we love the city. Almost everywhere can be fantastic. We could be in the worst place in the world, and have the best moment because we will share it together. That’s the main thing.
Do you have any tips for anybody travelling?
Deck: Sunglasses. Be on time at the desk, at the check-in desk - when you check in. Yesterday I was about to miss the flight from Mexico.
Branco: We know good stores in every city. It depends on what you are looking for. I can tell you exactly where to find it.
Thomas: What places to go?
It can be anything, it can be ‘places to go’ or ‘shops to go to.’ (In my best French accent.)
Chris: Now I understand!
Deck: Sounds Russian!
Thomas: Don’t eat Sushi when you’re south of The Alps. Anywhere in the world that’s South of The Alps.
Deck: Don’t eat Cous Cous when you’re north of Lille. Haha!
Branco: This is good. Chris, tip number two...
Chris: Don’t eat Mozzarella in Norway.
Chris: We tried it.
Chris: It doesn’t work.
Branco: You want another food tip? Go local.
Changing the subject. Do you play any practical jokes on each other when you’re on tour?
Branco: Yes, we have a lot of practical jokes. Actually...
Deck: What does ‘practical’ mean?
It would be like tripping someone up, it would be in a physical form...
Branco: [Thomas]’s really good – sometimes he’s really funny, and sometimes he’s really not funny, really serious. Almost boring, but when he’s funny. He’s really funny.
Thomas: Thank you.
Branco: He tricked us when we were in Mexico pretending to be some housekeeper.
Thomas: I call everyone in the morning to wake them up, with a Mexican accent.
Branco: Speaking fake Spanish!
Do you have any side projects? I know you’re in ‘Marie Antoinette’.
Branco: Yes, that’s a side project.
You would class that as a side project, wouldn’t you?
Branco: Being actors, yes. [laughs]
Thomas: [Branco and Chris] recorded a song for ‘Marie Antoinette’, and we are just in the movie entertaining the queen, but they are actually playing a song they especially wrote.
Branco: Deck said we have the plan to make a soundtrack – we would like to. It’s a wish.
Do you have any predictions on any other music, or fashion, or film or art?
Branco: Chris’ shoes, I think it’s going to be big. Can you show your shoe? I think it’s cool, I think kids in Paris are going to wear this. Tuxedo Shoes. I believe Chris is a preconnaisseur – that’s we call it in French.
How about music?
Chris: 25 Hours A Day. A French guy who did a remix for us, of our first single. He’s very cool, a kid with a guitar and lots of talent.
Are their any films you can recommend?
Thomas: Did you see ‘The Last Picture Show’? It’s one of my favourites, I will show it to Branco. It’s by Peter Bogdanovich. It’s very cool. There’s a lot of good French movies we love. One is called ‘Coup de tête’, that’s a movie with Patrick Dewaere which is our favourite French actor. I think you agree. ‘Shampoo’, I love ‘Shampoo’, the movie with Warren Beatty. ‘Carnal Knowledge’ with Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson. It’s a good movie. I’m telling movies you don’t know about, that are not famous because it’s more interesting so you can see it.
Did you want to talk about your stereo photography?
Branco: I can talk about that. What is it you want to know?
What it is and how you do it, why you do it and why you like it?
Branco: I bought the device in Lawrence, Kansas.
How do you view it once you’ve made it?
Branco: It’s two pictures side by side, and with special glasses. Not really special, but special lenses where you can see a stereo picture, like 3D.
What? The red lense and the blue lense?
Branco: No, it’s another technique. It’s the same thing, but with two pictures side by side. It’s older. It’s from the end of the 19th Century. If you check in our record cover in the booklet, there are two of the same photograph in the middle, but in fact it’s not exactly the same. It’s a stereo one. So if you have the right technique...
Thomas: It’s the same, but not exactly the same, it’s kind of like twins...
Branco: And you are the first to know it, because we never revealed that.
Chris: Deck loves Dolphins. It’s his passion.