Blending new wave, synth pop, soft rock, and funk with crisp, electronic-leaning production, Phoenix’s music is as stylish as it is melodic. The Parisian band’s reverence for classic songwriting gave them a niche within the French electronic scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s, with 2000′s debut album United featuring the infectious single “Too Young” as well as contributions from members of Daft Punk and Cassius’ Philippe Zdar. The tweaks they made on 2004′s smooth Alphabetical and 2006′s guitar-driven It's Never Been Like That paved the way for 2009′s Grammy winning Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which, thanks to hits like “Lisztomania” and “1901,” brought Phoenix to another level of fame. The band continued to challenge themselves in the wake of their success, adopting a more experimental style on 2013′s Victoires de la Musique-winning Bankrupt! and delivering sensual tone poems on 2017′s Ti Amo. On 2022′s Alpha Zulu, Phoenix entered their third decade with a return to their concise pop brilliance.
Phoenix grew out of the garage band vocalist Thomas Mars, bassist Deck d’Arcy, and guitarist Christian Mazzalai played in while growing up in the suburbs of Paris. The school friends began playing together in 1989 and added Mazzalai’s older brother, guitarist Laurent Brancowitz, when his band Darlin’ disbanded in 1995. The group played the French bar circuit, doing Hank Williams and Prince covers. In 1997, they changed their name to Phoenix and released their debut single “Party Time/City Lights” on their own Ghettoblaster label; with a punk-inspired A-side and chugging motorik B-side, the release hinted at their eclectic tastes. Shortly afterward, they signed to the Paris-based Source Records. Phoenix performed as the backing band for their labelmates Air on several U.K. TV appearances, and their first singles for Source, such as 1999′s “Heatwave,” reflected the influence of disco and electronic music on their style. In 2000, “Too Young” became the group’s first charting single, reaching number 97 in France and 148 in the U.K. That June, Phoenix released their debut album, United. Featuring guest appearances from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter (one of Brancowitz’s former Darlin’ bandmates), Cassius’ Philippe Zdar, and d’Arcy’s mother’s choral society, the album was acclaimed for its mix of vintage songcraft and polished production. United reached number 90 on the French charts and spawned the French and Italian top ten hit “If I Ever Feel Better.” Additionally, “Too Young” appeared in the soundtracks to the films Lost in Translation and Shallow Hal.
In 2003, Phoenix started work on their second album. Arriving in March 2004, Alphabetical streamlined the band’s ’70s and ’80s pop and R&B influences and built on United’s success: It reached number 41 on the French charts and appeared on the charts in Sweden, Germany, Japan, and Norway among other countries. The singles “Run Run Run” and “Everything” received significant airplay, while a remix of the album track “Victim of the Crime” commissioned by Hedi Slimane appeared in one of the fashion designer’s runway shows for Dior Homme. Phoenix embarked on one of their largest tours to date in support of Alphabetical, with the 2004 album Live! Thirty Days Ago chronicling their Scandinavian performances. By the middle of 2005, the band was recording their third album at Berlin’s Planet Roc studio. The following May, Phoenix released It's Never Been Like That, a more guitar-oriented set of songs than either United or Alphabetical. Like its predecessors, however, the album fared well critically and commercially: it peaked at 34 on the charts in France and became Phoenix’s first album to appear on the U.S. and U.K. charts.
After touring Europe and the U.S. in support of It's Never Been Like That, Phoenix took a break, during which time Mars and his partner, director Sofia Coppola, raised their family. The band regrouped in 2008, along with Cult of Luna drummer Thomas Hedlund, to make their next album with Zdar at his Motorbass studio in Paris. In March 2009, Phoenix compiled Kitsuné Tabloid, a collection of songs by the artists who inspired them most, including Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, and Roxy Music. That May saw the release of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which became the band’s commercial breakthrough. Thanks to sleekly poppy songs like the singles “1901” and “Lisztomania,” the album was a top 20 hit in France and charted in 13 other countries, and was certified gold in Australia, Canada, and the U.S.; in the U.K., it was certified silver. A remix collection with contributions from Passion Pit, Friendly Fires, Young Fathers, and Chairlift appeared in October 2009, and early in 2010, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. The band’s tour for the album lasted well into 2010 and featured stops at the Coachella, Reading, and Leeds Festivals, as well as a special performance with Daft Punk at their Madison Square Garden concert. Antoine Wagner and Francisco Soriano’s film From a Mess to the Masses documented the scope of the Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix performances.
Late in 2010, Phoenix recorded at Adam Yauch’s studio Oscilloscope Laboratories in New York City, pursuing an experimental direction in response to Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’s polish. They continued in Paris the following year and completed recording in 2012 with the help of co-producer Zdar, then mixed the songs on the console used to mix Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The results, Bankrupt!, appeared in April 2013. Balancing the band’s creative whims with breezy pop, the album cracked the top five of the charts of four countries, including the U.S. and France, where it was awarded Rock Album of the Year at the 2014 Victoires de la Musique. After spending much of 2013 on tour, Phoenix began work on their sixth album in 2014, taking a break to appear in A Very Murray Christmas, a Netflix holiday special directed by Coppola. Largely recorded in an old opera house refurbished into a museum, concert hall, and tech incubator, 2017′s Ti Amo channeled the joyousness of Italian discos and summertime into a defiant response to the political and social struggles of the late 2010s.The album became a top 20 hit in France and a top 40 hit in several other countries. Also in 2017, Phoenix teamed with the Japanese brewery Tatenokawa Inc. on Phoenix Sake Collection, an array of sakes inspired by the band’s late friend, restaurateur Toshiro Kuroda.
In 2019, Phoenix published Liberté, Égalité, Phoenix!, an oral history that included photos from their personal archive and marked their 30th anniversary as a band, the 20th anniversary of United, and the tenth anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The following August, the group released the single “Identical,” which appeared in Coppola’s film On the Rocks and reached number one on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Airplay chart. A longer version of the song featured on Phoenix’s next album, November 2022′s Alpha Zulu. Recorded at a studio within the Louvre Palace in Paris during the COVID-19 global pandemic, it was inspired in part by the loss of their friend Zdar, who died in 2019. The album also featured the singles “Alpha Zulu” (another number one on the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay chart) and “Tonight,” a collaboration with Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. ~ Heather Phares