Phoenix is sending their love to the world on their latest album, “Ti Amo.” Released June 9, it’s the first record in four years from the French synth pop quartet, and its romantic overtones are a release from the heavy heart the band carried after a series of events around the world and at home in France.
When: 7:30 p.m., June 5
Where: Aragon, 1106 W. Lawrence
“We started writing this album in [September] 2014—soon enough there was this feeling the world as we knew it was collapsing before our eyes,” the band said in a statement, referencing the growing geopolitical tension in Europe and a general sense of darkness that came to a head with the terrorist attacks on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November 2015 that left nearly 90 people dead. On that night, guitarist Christian Mazzalai was working on “Ti Amo” in the band’s studio near the venue.
His brother Laurent Brancowitz, who also plays guitar in the band, remembers the mounting feelings that were stirred up by these events. Although the ominous overtone could have turned “Ti Amo” in a completely different direction, Phoenix (also including frontman Thomas Mars and bassist Deck D’Arcy) opted to see light within the darkness. “I think we were trying to find something pure and full of hope that we could build upon,” Brancowitz says during a recent phone call. “We felt the tension between what we were experiencing in the outside world and what we were creating. Selfishly, we’d spend all day in studio writing music because we felt like we had a safe haven. We tried to make the feeling last forever in a way.”
The album’s heavy electro tracks, such as single “J-Boy” and “Tuttifrutti,” are a lift off from the band’s famously earlier singles “1901” and “Lisztomania” with even more sophisticated dancefloor polish that comes from a strong urge for Italo disco and an atmospheric glibness that’s not unlike their friends in French duo Air. Phoenix has said the sound was influenced by their own fantasized version of Italy: “A lost paradise made of eternal Roman summers, jukeboxes on the beach, Monica Vitti and Marcello Mastroiani, fearless desire and antique marble statues.”
Brancowitz explains further, “We are talking about a lost paradise feel, some kind of place that doesn’t really exist and maybe never existed.”
The idea partly came from when Brancowitz would roam the streets of Italy during the off time in making “Ti Amo,” though the occasion was rare. “We are pretty bad with holidays, we end up working forever,” he says, laughing, referencing the long four-year gap between the last album “Bankrupt!” in 2013 to now.
“I think a lot of people have this impression that we take deep breaks because of the time it takes for us to write an album, but I want to correct this and tell people that we never stop, it’s important they know,” furthers Brancowitz. “I couldn’t even tell you what happened apart from work these past four years, which is sad I realize. I think we must work on this aspect of our life. The fun part.”
Of course it’s not all bad. During this span, Phoenix worked on unique projects with Sofia Coppola — the award-winning director is the wife of Thomas Mars. “It’s a very smooth process working with her because she knows exactly what she wants,” says Brancowitz. In addition to scoring Coppola’s latest film, “The Beguiled” (which just nabbed her the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival), the members of Phoenix also appeared in her Netflix one-off “A Very Murray Christmas” alongside Bill Murray in 2015.
“I think we are the worst actors you can imagine. It’s crazy how bad we are,” laughs Brancowitz, preferring to watch film instead. He points out how much cinema has impacted the sound of Phoenix over the years.
“The life of a musician is a life with not a lot of music from other people. We work all day long and we cannot listen to other things while doing so, which is very frustrating to me,” he says. “So the only thing we can work with are movies. In the studio, we often have films on without the sound on, just images. We are always picturing something.”
For this tour, that daring vision came with the idea for an intense visual stage full of glowing neon lights and mirrors and backdrops of waterfalls and star-filled skies that the band is hoping can be translated from festivals to club dates like the upcoming gig at the Aragon on June 5. At the shows, fans will also be able to purchase T-shirts and other memorabilia from a merchandise vending machine.
“We want everyone to remember the night as an experience that’s unique,” says Brancowitz. “When you go to a venue, more and more, it’s becoming a very standardized experience so we want to add a bit of magic back in to concerts and make them memorable.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.