An intangible, analog magic typifies the signature sound of Ti Amo, the sixth studio album from the iconic French, four-piece band Phoenix. Switching up languages, genres, mood and aesthetic, the indie-pop stalwarts communicate hope and happiness on their latest slow rocking, orchestral/electronic release. Presenting a colourful and Disney-esque landscape which feels innocent and optimistic, the four school friends commissioned equipment designed entirely for the production of this album's concept.
The result is a 10-track compendium which feels entirely unlike any other music being made right now. Phoenix transcend time and trend with their vintage - yet futuristic - material. Possessing free, honest and fluid qualities which are indicative of the band's close bond and affection for each other; Thomas, Deck, Laurent and Christian kindle the utmost creative respect for their shared vision.
Recording Ti Amo in Paris, at a point when political tensions were palpable and the focus on citizen safety was high, the resulting sound is ironically cathartic. The LP was a non-statement statement; the band chose to not respond to the conflict happening in their home country, opting instead to stand firm and unaffected, remaining entirely true to self. Theirs was a positive position, spreading good vibes and love at a time of such fear and unrest across the globe.
Hearing this album feels like experiencing someone else’s cherished memory, like a faded photograph; captivating, enigmatic, joyful. Ti Amo is simultaneously evocative of loss, hope and happiness, projecting a visual, cinematic quality. Inspiring imagination, the listener is brought into a soft-focus bubble of comfort via blurred noise and lyrics.
We caught up with lead singer Thomas Mars to discuss the album, its tense creation and his creative relationship with his wife, film director Sofia Coppola.
You create a soothing atmosphere within Ti Amo; the ambience feels hypnotic. Did you find the album cathartic to produce?
The place where we recorded this album was in an area of Paris which had previously been under attack by terrorists. Before that all happened it was a pretty busy place. We took over an old opera house near the Centre Pompidou, in the heart of Paris, that had been refashioned into a tech incubator, museum and concert hall, so we were used to being surrounded by people. The town became isolated and empty after the attacks, so this was something that was different for us compared to when we were recording the previous record. We became totally secluded and the whole place became empty, and there were these security guards present and no-one coming to any of the shows.
Everything was empty; the concert hall, the movie theater. We started to work on a score for my wife Sofia [Coppola]'s movie, because we could use the theater to watch the rushes. No one was attending the films that were scheduled to play. It was a weird moment because we wanted to bring light back to the city. So we have made this record which is so positive, and it was a total contradiction to the environment and mood of the area. It was soothing.
Was that a conscious act of rebellion, did you want to appear defiant against the unrest that was tangible in your home country?
There was no statement to the album, there was no intention like that. We weren’t in denial or rebellious but we were trying to write and make music the same we always did, but in a more hedonistic kind of way than before.
How did your French fans react to you creating an optimistic album during this contentious period?
Well, everybody understands the threat of terror, now it’s a world phenomenon. I live in the United States, I travel back and forth between there and France, there was a moment when everything was political because of what was happening in the world. In the US it was Trump, in France there were the attacks. It felt like everything had to make a statement. We wanted to become musicians to avoid responsibility, to avoid having a regular job, to avoid having to make statements and so we kept just doing the same thing that we did and somehow even that became a statement.
To me, music has always been a kind of art in general. It should always be the widest spectrum that exists. Music is a world where you don’t have to be alone, you can just create, you don’t have to explain anything. I’m glad that we didn’t feel creatively restricted during the time of the attack. We hope that people understand this album wasn’t created in denial. It is just pure entertainment. Every album that any musician makes has to be rooted in the moment. Somehow, in a weird way, it reflected what was going on, even if it is very light and joyful. There is a darker layer on the record, but in the forefront its very light and hedonistic.
You and the band have been friends since high school. Does that connection allow for you all to remain in touch with your child self?
Yeah, being in a band with your friends allows you some things, but also forbids you others. If you are a solo artist you can morph into different characters, you can be David Bowie or yourself, you can change. When you are in a band it's harder, but at the same time it makes it more about the music and less about the concept. Everything feels stronger, a leap of faith happens naturally, you are all working together. That’s something we are glad to have and fascinated with because we are all in this together.
Throughout the earlier stages of your career, how did you keep your values aligned and your headspace in a positive place?
To be honest, it was because of money. When the tours make money, you can have so much more freedom, on so many things. But if you're only just breaking out, starting a band, you have to play 20 shows in a row and travel constantly. You could party every night, that’s something you could do for a while, but I see some young bands burning out after about three years. They look like they have aged 20 years, it’s crazy. The touring schedule is a hyper lifestyle and it’s very intense. When we are working in the studio we have this boring schedule, a routine, then when we are on tour it’s the opposite. You make so many memories on tour, a week of touring is the equivalent to a year in the studio, in terms of stories.
Music is our job. Although we hate responsibility, we insist on the believing that it is a job, so we treat it like one. It feels like such miracle to us that this is what we do for a 9 to 5 job, that’s gratifying for us.
With Ti Amo, the language of the album feels fluid. At points l didn’t even realize the lyrics weren’t English. You create such a dense feeling within the sound that the listener gets entirely caught up in the emotion of the music. That really is something l have not commonly experienced in music outside of this album.
Thank you, we treat vocals just like another instrument, especially on this album. The intention for each album is to create a brand new sound, a first new record all over again. We start from scratch every time. We try to change everything up, from album to album. We almost get bored of who we were on each record and it’s the same way with the vocals, I almost try and create an alter ego of myself each time. Today, with the advanced technology in the studio, you can really change up your sound and pretend to be someone else for a certain sound, a fantasy. All the sounds had to match this fantasy.
You’ve provided a soundtrack to so many of your wife Sofia Coppola's films and you are both involved in each other’s work creatively. Would the situation ever flip? Would Sofia ever want to work in music and would you ever want to direct a film?
No, Sofia has made a music video for us, but I don’t think she will make music and l definitely don’t want to direct. I like to write, when I read her scripts I relate to what I read. It’s something I could be good at, but I’m not interested, even in acting. Sometimes we are asked to act in movies as musicians, but the whole process is the opposite of what we like doing.
If each album represents a defining age of the band, what does this sixth album represent?
Memories for sure. Childhood memories. A lot of the Italian references come from the bands two brothers going on holiday with their dad, who is Italian. We discovered their memories and fantasises through their eyes. It’s a weird, distorted process.
For more of our interviews, read our chat with Jhené Aiko on her new album 'Trip' right here.