With Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, French rockers Phoenix solidified themselves as a pop music force. Earning critical and commercial success, the pressure was on for the Versailles-based four-piece to follow up on their now stadium-sized following. What followed were two years of non-stop recording, most of which can be described by the band as a tumultuous "dark period," when rumours were running rampant that the band was trying to ditch their pop aesthetics for something more experimental, but the result, Bankrupt! is just as infectiously pop as they've ever been. Lead singer Thomas Mars and guitarist Laurent Brancowitz sat down to discuss the album, whether they meant to go in a less pop direction and those 71 bonus tracks on the album's deluxe edition.
You were quoted saying that you wanted this record to be "less pop," but Bankrupt! is a pop record — can you explain why you said that?
Laurent Brancowitz: We wanted it to be very different, but not less pop. Those quotes came from the very beginning of the recording process, so we were in the mode of creating very complicated patterns and discovering new combinations and that's what we told someone, but then they assumed we were doing a very experimental album.
What were you trying to achieve with this album then?
LB: We just wanted to improve and maybe escape our own repetition. We are easily bored and if something brings you boredom, it's not worth it; it has to bring you some kind of pleasure.
How hard was it to find those special moments in those two years of recording?
Thomas Mars: My daughter, she touched my computer and then she asked me to read what she wrote, but it didn't make sense. It was [incoherent noises]…hurry… [incoherent noises] and she wrote "hurry" out of it all, and that's the same way we function. We do this and sometimes there's a song in there, we just need to be focused for when it comes and be like, "hurry, that's the one!" — that's the moment we have to be aware of.
LB: It's pretty much darkness, with very few minutes of intense fireworks. The first week, you're full of hope, but after a while you're ego is so tired. The fireworks, when they come they are worth it, and they keep us going back.
Why did you decide to release 71 bonus tracks on your deluxe edition? What can you tell us about these tracks?
TM: They're all like hurry with one "r."
LB: This time, we wanted to empty the vault so that we were free. It's kind of an experiment; I don't think it's really happened before. It's not really songs; it's the fabric of time, the two years we spent together so it's a bizarre chronicle. It's like raw chocolate, before its transformation, some people like it, but maybe people will hate it.
How did you decide on the album title, Bankrupt!?
TM: We love fonts and graphics and we had been gravitating towards the title for a long time, but in the right font, it played out right.
Did you have any alternative album titles?
TM: I don't know if I want to say this because this might be the next album title, but one was Je T'aime.
LB: We told our friends that we wanted to call it Je T'aime and he didn't know what it meant, so it turned us off. It was a bummer.
TM: Bankrupt! had this failure element that we liked more.
You announced the album title on your website using a flash program – why did you do that, and did you get any complaints?
TM: It's a program that a friend sent us and we just thought everything you typed into this program looked good. When we typed it in, it was so powerful and it was screaming the name. When we found the title, we wanted to shout it and this was as close to a shout as we could get.
LB: We added an epileptic warning; we didn't want anyone to die. And no one has yet. We're going to have our live shows based on this same principle.
Using strobe lights?
LB: I think so. We're really not trying to help people physically.
Speaking of shows, you're about to go back on tour — are you ready to tackle the big crowds?
TM: We're not ready, but the risk is exciting. We wouldn't want to do something too safe. Last time we played Saturday Night Live was before the album was out and that was the moment when you can fail on national TV and that's it, but people liked it. So we like that kind of risk. If SNL turned out otherwise, we might have a different theory.