Phoenix Continues to Rise

Laurent Brancowitz on indie success, their freaky style and fear of artistic failure


Brancowitz, second from left.

Brancowitz, second from left.

French indie-rockers Phoenix enjoyed moderate success for 10 years before fame struck. In 2009, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, propelling the group into mainstream consciousness and festival-headliner slots. This year Phoenix released their fifth studio album, Bankrupt!, the band’s highest charting album to date, and continued headlining festivals from Coachella to Lollapalooza. Vegas Seven hooked up with Phoenix guitarist and keyboardist Laurent “Branco” Brancowitz. Fun fact: Branco’s previous band, Darlin’, was a trio whose two other members would become Daft Punk. See Phoenix on October 8 at the Boulevard Pool.

Your commercial success came after moving from a major label to an indie label. Why?

Our music has always been a bit weird compared to what’s on the radio and what people believe music should sound like to be successful. We needed to find the right label, one that was as crazy as us and as fearless. Big companies tend to follow a formula. But when we make music, we try to use different formulas and make something new.

You told NPR, “We’re more editors than musicians.” What does that mean?

We try to be brief with our music. We keep it kind of freaky, like magicians who want to be amazed by our own magic tricks. You have to put yourself in the position of not really knowing what’s happening, even if you know the secret. We listen back, but a few days after so we have sort of forgotten our intention.

How does Phoenix achieve this brief, freaky style?

When we are writing music and we come across something that seems familiar, we realize it is a trend that has already been done. You have to bypass the moment and wait until you perceive a new emotion, a new amazement in your heart. That’s what we enjoy in our sound, those moments of, “Wow, I’m not sure what’s happening.”

How did Wolfgang’s success liberate the band?

We knew that people would give us the benefit of the doubt so we could push the envelope a bit. We went a bit too far, which is always a great pleasure.

How does the fear of artistic failure materialize in your creative process?

We know that the fear and discomfort [are] very important. It’s like someone walking on a tightrope with a net under him. When you compare it to a guy doing the same thing without the net, it’s a radical difference. The fact that you can fall and die is crucial, it changes everything.

Growing up in the historic city of Versailles, France, is there anything you find shocking about today’s dance-music culture?

Even when we partied, we were very disconnected to the actual dance-party thing. Even when we were making music that had some elements of dance music, it was more an abstraction than the real activity of going into a club. This feeling of being disconnected remains. I enjoy it from the outside. The truth is we are not dancers, and when [we] make music that is danceable, it’s from the perspective of people who are sitting on a chair.


9 p.m. Oct. 8 at Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan, $35,

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