Phoenix's Thomas Mars on Writing New Music and Their Intimate Residency Shows: 'It's the Best of Both Worlds'


French indie-pop band Phoenix are getting ready for three residencies in Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, promising a bunch very “Speciale” nights. Think exclusive merch, gelato, special guests — and it’s all going down in intimate venues, so if you’ve only ever seen Phoenix in a headlining festival setting, now’s your chance to say “Ti Amo!” right to their faces.

Billboard spoke to frontman Thomas Mars about weaving these small shows between massive ones, recording new music on the road, and more.

Why do these residencies?

We've always been attracted to the rollercoaster that you go through when you play a live show: Sometimes you're in a festival in front a lot people and then in a small club the next day. We love those contrasts.

When we play a few shows in the same room, there's something really strange about coming back to the same place, and the only thing that's different is the crowd. The show is really different because you have a strange, mirror-like mode; you know you were here before, but you glow in different places. It forces you to do other things. It’s a little bit like a Groundhog Day feeling. Laughs] He goes through all these things, and then he's going to try to push the insurance guy. It’s the same concept for a live show.

I caught you guys at Governor's Ball Music Festival last year and it was an incredible show. But at the same time, I couldn't help thinking, “I'd love to see them in a club setting or a place like Brooklyn Steel.”

Yeah, we've had the same — not frustration, because festivals are fun to play — but we need this balance both, and we discovered that. My fear was that it would be almost like going to the theater on Broadway, playing the same thing every night. But there are more new things than I would think would happen. And because the setting is the same, it forces you to make these weird changes. Even with] the setlist, because we know we're playing the same place for five days, we know we have to change things up so we rehearse all new things. It's exciting to try something like that.

I want to talk about the “Speciale” theme for the shows. Your album Ti Amo was partly inspired by a Roman summer — is that why you’re keeping the Italian theme going with these residencies?

It's mostly the music that fascinates us. There's a really good Italian music scene right now. It sounds like I'm making a joke, because growing up, the current Italian scene was even worse than the French one, which was non-existent. It was totally destroyed by the Berlusconi era. There was nothing. But now, there are all these great new bands, and we’re lucky enough that we've met a few them and we’re bringing them to Paris] and New York City and trying to bring them to L.A. as well.

There are a lot things we’re bringing with us on tour. For instance, we have a vending machine; we have all these things that make sense to keep in a place while you don't travel. We were always attracted to being able to build things the way you can do for an art exhibit or theater performance.

Right, you get to unpack a little bit.

Yeah. I remember when I was maybe 13, at one the first Beck shows in Paris. He played in the Bataclan. I remember him going around the stage and saying, “This is like my apartment, like this is where I live.” And he was describing the stage. And it's true. You spend so much time that it becomes this place that you're really familiar with. And you know you don't want it to be hostile, because it's why you are alive.

This is kind the best both worlds. It's kind a curated festival, but at the same time, even though I don't love the phrase “pop-up shop,” it's kind like that.

Will there be an appearance from Daft Punk? I know it's a no, but I have to ask.

It’s a no! Because it wouldn't do any good to both us. I wouldn't want to submit them to that.

Are you thinking about the next album yet?

We played in Brazil in January on the weekend, and we had this entire week not doing anything, so we started to record. We went to a place in the jungle in Brazil that was very strange and just a fun place to bring musical equipment. We recorded things, and that's something we don't do — usually we love to keep the touring and the studio separate. Somehow, it was a nice thing, so I think we'll try to do that when we’re in L.A., New York, and Paris. We'll have a studio set up somewhere.

Finally, Phoenix has led the way for so many indie-electronic acts today. How do you feel when you think about these artists you've inspired?

It's very abstract to me. I try not to see it because…I don't know. But when we play festivals, I do see the bands on the side the stage, trying to analyze a few things, and that's really nice.

Phoenix tour dates:

5/26/18         Paris, FR @ La Gaîté Lyrique
5/27/18         Paris, FR @ La Gaîté Lyrique
5/29/18         Paris, FR @ La Gaîté Lyrique
5/30/18         Paris, FR @ La Gaîté Lyrique
5/31/18         Paris, FR @ La Gaîté Lyrique
6/2/18           Nîmes, FR @ This Is Not A Love Song
6/13/18         Lyon, FR @ Les Nuits de Fourvière
6/15/18         Bergen, NO @ Bergenfest
6/16/18         Oslo, NO @ Piknik I Parken
7/3/18           Boston, MA @ House Blues
7/5/18           Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
7/6/18           Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
7/7/18           Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
7/9/18           Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
7/10/18         Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
7/12/18         Quebec, CAN @ Festival d'été de Québec
7/21/18         Biarritz, FR @ Biarritz En Eté Festival
7/26/18         Madrid, SP @ Noches del Botanico
7/27-29/18    Benidorm, SP @ Low Festival
8/19/18         Saint Malo, FR @ La Route Du Rock Festival
8/24/18         Le Touquet, FR @ Touquet Music Beach Festival
8/25/18         Charleville-Mézières, FR @ Cabaret Vert Festival
9/6/18           Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theatre
9/7/18           Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theatre
9/10/18         Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theatre
9/11/8           Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theatre
9/12/18         Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theatre
9/14-16/18    Denver, CO @ Grandoozy
9/14-16/18    5/25/18 London, UK @ Victoria Park