The Bowery Presents
Phoenix

Phoenix

The Vaccines

Wed, October 2, 2013

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Barclays Center

Brooklyn, NY

$50, $40

This event is all ages

Phoenix
Phoenix
While it's true that you have to wait for inspiration to strike, there’s comfort in knowing it will inevitably arise, even if you have to look all over the globe for it before you find it—or so goes the logic behind the epic recording process of Phoenix's new studio album. To write their new album, titled Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and released this May on Glassnote Records and Loyaute (the band’s own imprint), the Gallic quartet decamped to various locales away from their home studio in Versailles, searching for the stimulus necessary to transform the new material into a coherent LP. "We spent a long time waiting for the chemical reaction," says guitarist Laurent Brancowitz, "that moment when a song isn't just the sum of all of our parts, but it's something more. And the idea was to go someplace we'd never been." Actually, they went to a few: Brancowitz and his bandmates Thomas Mars (vocals), Christian Mazzalai (guitar), and Deck D'Arcy (bass) worked in the Parisian studio of 19th-century Romantic painter Théodore Géricault ("The light was beautiful," Brancowitz says), chartered a houseboat on the Seine ("Not the best idea—some of us got seasick"), and stayed at the Bowery Hotel in New York City for a month, among others. As the guitarist explains with self-effacing humor, "It was like our Orson Welles moment."

As you'd expect, the traveling took its toll, leaving only a trip back from whence they came as a means of allowing the songs to gel, this time in the Montmartre home of Philippe Zdar, the producer known for his work as half of French house duo Cassius. Zdar, a longtime friend, lent Phoenix his studio and wound up producing the record alongside the band—the first time Phoenix has recruited outside help. "He's very European, very dramatic," says Mars. "We worked in his studio for a year and a half, so he was around the songs. He had a lot of good comments that helped shape them. There was no in between with him; either the songs were great or we'd ruined them. Every day was either time to open a bottle of Champagne or to go home depressed."

The results collected on Wolfgang demonstrate a kind of deliberate, considered approach, and in turn, they’ve created what is the best album in their already-amazing catalogue. Featuring the band's signature melding of synthetics and organics, of sharp, danceable rhythms and intense guitars, of effortless melody with a considerable dose of aural panache, the album's ten songs are more layered than previous efforts. "On our last album, we were trying to make a minimalist record—something austere, almost ascetic," Brancowitz explains. "This time we wanted to create something more elaborate." That's evident on electro-tinged slow jams like "Fences," the sweeping and mostly instrumental "Love Like a Sunset," and the spirited pop of lead-off track "Lisztomania," on which Mars sings the transcendent chorus, "Like a riot, like a riot, oh!/ I'm not easily offended/ It's not hard to let it go/ From a mess to the masses." On first listen, his lyrics might seem obscure, but Mars definitely intends to reference the Hungarian composer: "Franz Liszt was the rock star of his day," he explains. "Other musicians hated him for getting all the girls; his concerts were out of control. This song's about playing live, the romantic beauty of a crazy crowd...and about the loneliness of still being one in a group of many."

That self-reflexive quality informs Wolfgang, as does Phoenix's sensibility—a nostalgic, vaguely melancholic vision of the way things ought to have been. "It's a little bit of a fantasy," Mars says. "We wanted to create an optimistic vision of the future for ourselves." His references are clear: The title of "1901," for instance, refers to year after the Exposition Universelle in Paris, which Mars describes as the city's "most futuristic moment" (and which, incidentally, popularized Art Nouveau). The same can be said of the album's title—a blending of the classic and the upstart. "It's both unacceptable and unforgettable," says Brancowitz. "In a way, it redefines what you can and can't do. My mother is German, and she hates the title. I'm taking that as a sign that we're doing something right."

The four men of Phoenix are a close-knit group of childhood friends from Versailles, which Mars calls "one of the most beautiful cities in France, but a place without a soundtrack. People don't listen to music there." Nevertheless, the foursome have deep roots in the modern French music scene: Brancowitz, for instance, who is Mazzalai's older brother, played in a band called Darlin' with Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, later to become Daft Punk. Phoenix, meanwhile, was formally founded after they performed backing Air for a few shows in the UK. Mars also sang the vocal on Air's "Playground Love" which appeared on the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides (the film introduced him to his girlfriend, Sofia Coppola). The band then released their debut, United, whose song "Too Young" became an underground hit when Coppola used it in Lost in Translation; they followed up with Alphabetical in 2004, a critically acclaimed record whose labored creation took almost two years and produced precise, measured material like "Everything Is Everything" (so endearing them to then-Dior Homme menswear designer Hedi Slimane that he commissioned the band to provide music for one of his runway shows); and followed that up with 2006's It's Never Been Like That, a much rawer collection of rock ‘n’ roll gems.

Though they're obviously fond of the studio, they say that playing shows is what's sustained them most over the years. As Brancowitz says, "What I love most about playing live is the feeling that you can fail," he says. "It's always a gamble as to how well it's going to come across. But what makes it good is that you have to fight for it. Our friendship is what keeps us together. We're a gang, and when we're all working together, it can be beautiful."
The Vaccines
The Vaccines
Soon after the release of the debut album, "What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?," Justin Young and his band-mates wrote a track named Teenage Icon. "I'm no teenage icon/I'm no Frankie Avalon," it says. "I'm not magnetic or mythical/I'm suburban and typical."

The song is now the centrepiece of The Vaccines' second album, set for release just 18 months after that March 2011 debut. But if Justin and co still feel "suburban and typical", they certainly don't seem it. To look at them in their latest incarnation; longhaired, denim-clad, more confident than before, is to see a proper gang of four: Young plus bassist Arni Arnason, guitarist Freddie Cowan and drummer Pete Robertson. Teenage icons -- whether they like it or not.

"The biggest headfuck of all is the fact that people have an opinion of me as a human being -- not as a singer or songwriter, but as a human being," says Young, musing on the point. "It's so weird to think of people talking negatively about me or even hero-worshipping. A year ago I could have met said people in the pub and become friends with them but they'll already have an opinion of me now before we meet..."

But a lot can happen in a year. Formed in West London in 2010, The Vaccines were selling out venues nationwide by December. They released their debut the following spring and have since released two standalone singles, three EPs, a live album and the forthcoming follow-up album "The Vaccines Come Of Age."

"What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?" propelled the band into the spotlight -- going platinum by the end of the year -- and saw them end 2011 with two headline shows at London's Brixton Academy. By the spring of 2012 the band had amassed awards (including an NME award for 'Best New Artist'), nominations (including at the Brits), 3 NME covers, 6 straight Radio 1 A-list singles and a sold-out a run of U.K. seaside arena shows.

It's a rocket-fuelled rise that's left critics and cynics eating their words, even if those words have stuck with the band. "When we first started talking to the press, I think we were quite timid," says Young. "We were being forced to defend ourselves because it was happening so quickly for us. I think people were suspicious. We're so confident in what we do though. And we turned the hypothetical situation into something real. We won."

The attitude shift came at 2011's summer festivals. "We'd done festivals all around the world and not really at home. 46 I think," says Young. "I remember saying to our tour manager backstage at our first UK festival, is there anyone out there? He just said, Listen! And I could hear about 20,000 people chanting our name. It felt bigger than anything anyone could say."

While everything was falling into place, however, Justin's future as a singer was in jeopardy. He developed hemorrhaging on his vocal chords, requiring surgery three times last year. "It was cruel, but life is like that," says Young, who was left unable to speak for three weeks and sing for five after each operation, resorting to using flash cards saying 'yes', 'no' and 'I can't speak'. "Emotionally and socially, that was quite an interesting experiment. I spent my first date with my girlfriend communicating with a notepad. It still scares the shit out of me though -- if I take it too far on a night out or I get a bit too overexcited in a show, I know it may be my last. The silver lining is my voice has more character as a result. I think that's where the softness on the new record comes from."

If anything, the experience has put even more wind in the band's sails. Young and his band mates collected over 150 songs during 2011, written in hotel rooms from Tokyo to New York and Sydney. If The Vaccines's work rate seems unusually high, note that they don't judge themselves against their contemporaries; they judge themselves against the prolific pop groups of the past. It's one reason why they found themselves recording "...Come Of Age" live. Some tracks were cut in just one take. "You think back to when people were paying for two or three hours in the studio. It was, OK -- go!" says Young. ''Bands make records and then work out how to play them. We wanted to do it the other way round. It feels purer.''

Producer Ethan Johns was the man charged with capturing lightning in a bottle. "He felt like an old-fashioned producer -- an instiller of confidence," says Young. "He only cares that it sounds exciting. The songs were only ever finished when he said the hairs on his arms were standing up."

They recorded in Belgium and Bath, stopping to play in Brazil, at Coachella and in New York. In Belgium they worked solidly, breaking only for one night out (they went to a gay bowling night, FYI). At the studio, there were banks of guitars and amps available but Young chose to use his own axe -- a cheap Danelectro he bought on Denmark Street for £180. Like his songs, it's honest, sturdy and deceptively simple.

The album shows the band's songwriting and performance entering a new phase. If the debut was them finding a sound somewhere between The Ramones, Jesus & Mary Chain and The Strokes, the latest, says Young, is them striving to "sound like The Vaccines. We needed to work out which characteristics are going to make people compare bands to The Vaccines in five or ten years time. It's quite a searching record in that sense." It means there's a spotlight thrown on Cowan's 50s influenced guitars, Robertson's pounding drums and Arnason's pulsing basslines.

Highlights include the groove-driven "Bad Mood," the timeless "Lonely World" and the new wave-influenced "Aftershave Ocean," one of the more recent tracks that hint at where The Vaccines may head in the future.

The title -- "The Vaccines Come Of Age" -- is tongue-in-cheek, but only a little. "It's a lyric from the album's first single, which is how we named 'What Did You Expect...,' and it continues the theme of having the band's name in the title," explains Young. "Then there's the whole coming of age thing. The lyric is "it's hard to come of age," and that thought ties together the record. I'm bang in the middle of my 20s and I'm finding it to be quite a difficult place to be. You're expected to know what you want to do and who you want to be at this point, but I don't know who I am yet. Everyone I know is in a different place -- some have it all figured out, some have bad problems, some are parents, some are living with their parents, some are earning money, some are broke. I guess I still feel like I'm a kid. Recently I've found myself realising that a lot of my favourite music is no longer talking to me, but people younger than me. And that is a strange realisation."

On the album sleeve, The Vaccines really are kids: it sees the four band members replaced by four androgynous, teenage girls. "People said The Vaccines don't look like rock stars, so we thought, OK, have these girls instead. I wanted them to look androgynous. You can't tell who they are. They're at a time in their lives when they probably don't know either. And of course they're a gang," says Young. One of the four stand-ins, who have appeared in The Vaccines' videos too, will appear on the cover of each of the singles from "...Come Of Age," and the B-side will be written and sung by the individual band member represented on the sleeve.

Though they may claim not be teenage icons, The Vaccines have reset their expectations for this album. "I want to mean something to somebody," says Young. "I want to keep getting better and better, and if bigger and bigger is a by-product of that, then that's fucking awesome. Quite simply, I want us to be your favourite band."
Venue Information:
Barclays Center
620 Atlantic Ave
Brooklyn, NY, 11217