“I’ve just woken up, so I might be a bit slow,” apologises Laurent ‘Branco’ Brancowitz. But acting as a representative for his French indie group Phoenix, it soon becomes apparent that the rustiness can only be blamed on the stop-and-go Skype connection as we delve into the band’s upcoming fifth album Bankrupt! as well as the flesh and blood of France’s most surprising success story of the last decade.
“New York is dry and cold, but it’s nice”, says Branco in his thick French accent. For someone like me, raised on British pastures, it’s an accent impossible to ignore – simultaneously the butt of every post-WWII comic’s joke and object of affection for women and men alike. But at this moment, his accent isn’t something appreciated on a superficial level, but gives insight into what’s changed and what’s stayed the same since they released their last, hugely successful album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. “Nothing changed really, it’s a bit sad,” Branco reflects. “When it’s just the four of us it’s the same old thing, you know, and that’s what we like about it.”
The fabric of the band hasn’t change since finding international success with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – a record that spawned indie dance floor anthems like ‘1901’ and ‘Lisztomania’ – much to the joy of their seasoned fans. But nor did the band stagnate, instead using the worldwide success that bagged them a Grammy to ‘experiment’ – a word often met with both excitement and dismay. “This time, we knew that we’d have more possibilities to do crazy things, you know? We know that we can find things and that people will give us at least one chance; the pressure wasn’t a negative thing. This kind of pressure was a positive thing for us.”
Added pressure wasn’t the only thing that changed, but something that was more directly related to the band also became more apparent and important too. Spending their youths listening to British and American music and seeing French music and art as something inferior, they suddenly began to appreciate the art of their mother country for the first time while miles away from their home, in the very city that this interview took place. “I mean, I don’t know what exactly happened but we were in New York and suddenly this melancholy came over me and I watched all of Rohmer['s work] – I couldn’t stop. It was like falling in love with something we knew so well. I think it was related to the fact that we were living in China Town, something so different – and it was a bizarre loneliness.”