The French group Phoenix draw elements from their eclectic ’80s upbringing to arrive at a satisfying blend of rock and synthesizers. Vocalist Thomas Mars, bassist Deck d’Arcy, and guitarist Christian Mazzalai were a garage band based out of Mars’ house in the suburbs of Paris. Mazzalai’s older brother Branco joined the band on guitar when his band Darlin’ disbanded in 1995.
The group got its touring start on the French bar circuit doing Hank Williams and Prince covers to drunken audiences. Two years later the band took on the name Phoenix and pressed 500 copies of a single on its own label, Ghettoblaster. The A-side was a punk rock song and the other a chugging Krautrocker, hinting at their eclectic tastes. Shortly after, they were signed to the Paris-based Source Records. Phoenix became well acquainted with labelmates Air when they acted as their backing band on several U.K. TV appearances. The result of the electronic exposure was a single called “Heatwave,” which was very similar in approach to ’70s disco.
United, the group’s debut album, appeared in 2000 on Astralwerks and was recorded over two months. The album featured guest appearances from friends and family, including Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk), Philippe Zdar (Cassius), and d’Arcy’s mother’s choral society on the track “Funky Squaredance.” From that point, they issued Alphabetical (2004), It’s Never Been Like That (2006), and their mainstream breakthrough, the critically adored Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009). Part of the extended break between the third and fourth albums was due to Mars becoming a father (with his partner, director Sofia Coppola). Soon after finishing the Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix tour, the band reconvened in Adam Yauch’s studio Oscilloscope Laboratories in late 2010 and embarked on some experimental recording sessions. They continued in Paris the following year and completed recording in 2012 with the help of co-producer Phillipe Zdar, then mixed the songs on the console used to mix Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which the band bought online for $17,000. The results, Bankrupt!, appeared in April 2013, near the time of the band’s headlining gig at the Coachella Festival.