Q&A: Phoenix guitarist Christian Mazzalai on the year of Anglo-French pop

Phoenix, Thomas Mars, Laurent Brancowitz, Christian Mazzalai, Deck D'arcy, Axel FF, Dee Jay Sören

Christian Mazzalai (R) and Thomas Mars of Phoenix perform at Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park on Aug. 10, 2013. Roman Gohman/STAFF.

Today’s Outside Lands Music Festival preview is about French rockers Phoenix. We spoke to guitarist Christian Mazzalai’s thoughts on the definition of “cool” and what he misses from the time the band was not as well known. Catch Phoenix next Saturday, closing out the Twin Peaks stage.

Is your “Trying to be Cool” video making a statement that you and your bandmates are not as cool as fans make it out to seem?

Christian Mazzalai: (laughs) With this video, we wanted to… because we played live – everything is played live – we wanted to enjoy it instead of faking when you play in a video. We wanted to enjoy ourselves and to do a crazy performance; that’s what we wanted.

It was all in one take, right?

Christian Mazzalai: It’s one take, yeah.

Your band has been around for a long time, but it’s with your previous two albums that you have become a band that can headline a large festival. Are there any parts of your career or your life from four, five years ago that you miss?

Christian Mazzalai: Very good question. Sometimes, when you headline a festival, (what) is a bit sad is that when you finish, the party’s over. Everyone is going home. The thing I love when you’re not headlining is when you’re finished, there’s still the party going on.

I’ve read how you wanted the new album to be less pop and more experimental than “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.” And it seems you succeeded. Why did you want to do that?

Christian Mazzalai: We didn’t think in that way. Whenever we record a new album, we never think to do that kind of album. It’s a subconscious thing. It’s a natural thing. Just after when we listened… We try not to overthink when we do a new album because if you analyze it too much the beauty and the magic of the songs you are writing is going away; fading. So when we write songs, we don’t try to because our brains are too predictable. All of our best ideas, they come from pure random miracle, I don’t know, that’s silly, but (it’s) not from our brains.

Have any surprises up your sleeve for Outside Lands like with Coachella when you brought out R. Kelly for a 1901/Ignition mashup?

Christian Mazzalai: I can’t tell you because it won’t be a surprise.

Aha, OK, but there might be something.

Christian Mazzalai: Yeah, there might be, yes.

Is 2013 the year of the Anglophile French act? Between you and Daft Punk, there’s not much room on the radio for anyone else.

Christian Mazzalai: Are we? (he laughs sheepishly) I know they are, but I don’t know if we are. I’m so happy from our friends because we come from the… we know each other since we’ve been teenagers, so the fact that we are together, both of our bands, still doing albums, it’s quite amazing that we are succeeding; that people are listening to our music. We feel very lucky now.

Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter .

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