"Now is the most exciting time, before the album comes out," says Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars, speaking from a hotel suite high above Manhattan a few days before his band kicked off its North American tour in support of the new Bankrupt!, out April 23. "You can't worry about [the reception of] the record. You'd be masochistic if you did. It's not good if you're vulnerable. It's not possible to please everybody."
The French quartet seemingly pulled off that impossible feat with 2009's breakthrough Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. As one might suspect, success brought some temptation along with it. "We called [the new album] Ludwig van Phoenix, and thought it could be a partner to the last one," says a smiling Mars, recalling the early brainstorm sessions for the follow-up. "That idea lasted less than an hour." Instead, he says, the band vowed that the forthcoming music "had to be something new."
To that end Mars and his multi-instrumentalist bandmates — Deck d'Arcy, Laurent Brancowitz, and Christian Mazzalai — relied on in-the-studio experimentation to create the scaffolding for Bankrupt!, the group's fifth album, which was produced by unofficial fifth Phoenix member Phillippe Zdar. As the long-haired d'Arcy explains it, "When we say we were being experimental, we were just trying stuff in the studio and not really worrying about it. Then we'd come listen back to it and take the best parts. The album came in a random way."
There was at least one limit, though. "The only thing we keep is the frame of the ten-song album," shares d'Arcy. Mars elaborates: "Limits give more freedom sometimes. We still think of [the band's albums] as having A-sides and B-sides. It's crucial."
The band has so far been encouraged by the positive response to lead single "Entertainment," but with the tour, which includes headlining spots at both Lollapalooza and Coachella, there is cause for concern.
"The last time we played Lollapalooza," remembers Mars, "we played our worst show ever the next night in Iowa for a crowd that didn't care."
"Nothing is taken for granted," chimes in d'Arcy. "We still have a lot of work to do."