Phoenix On ‘Trying To Be Cool,’ Chimps & the Strong Possibility Of Reuniting With R. Kelly

By Shannon Carlin

A band headlining practically every major American music festival in one summer tends to have thoughts on the circuit. Phoenix‘s cause for favoring Lollapalooza is admittedly “a very selfish reason,” notes guitarist Christian Mazzalai.

“A beautiful skyline, it’s unbeatable.”

Mazzalai’s brother and fellow guitarist, Laurent Brancowitz, took it one step further.

“The countryside gives me anxiety attacks,” he explained, noting that most festivals put up fences to barricade you in. “It’s a bizarre concept when you think about it.”

Hours before Phoenix headlined the final night of Lollapalooza this past weekend (Aug. 2-4), Brancowitz (feeling very Zen) and Mazzalai spoke with about how Michael Jackson influenced the video for “Trying To Be Cool,” the possibility of working with Sofia Coppola (and others!), and why the phrase “mint julep testosterone” got its own t-shirt.

We also left the interview with a sneaking suspicion that the band is going to be recording something with R. Kelly really soon. Maybe. You guys surprised everyone at Coachella by bringing out R. Kelly to perform a few songs. How did that come together?

Laurent Brancowitz: We just asked. We are big fans and we asked him in a very simple way and explained what we had in mind and he just said yes.

Christian Mazzalai: We wanted to do something special because it was our first big show for this album. The idea came to us one week before the show, very late. Before going onstage we always put on R. Kelly’s music, which is very far from our music, but we love his art. So we created a mash-up between our music and his music. We sent it to him and he said yes. The funny part is he arrived late so we didn’t see him before. We met him onstage. We didn’t rehearse so there was a beautiful tension.

Are there any plans to record with him in the future?

Mazzalai: Yeah, maybe. Maybe. [Lifts sunglasses and winks] Maybe. Maybe soon you will know. Maybe.

(Editor’s note: On August 13, Phoenix revealed the album art of their remix to “Trying To Be Cool,” which features vocals from none other than R. Kelly himself. So yes, they are working with R. Kelly.)

In terms of collaborators, there are rumors that you guys are shooting a video with Sofia Coppola for “Chloroform.”

Brancowitz: Ah, yeah we have a few little things in mind. Those kind of things happen just you know because it’s family [Coppola is married to lead singer, Thomas Mars] so we know it’s going to feel true in the end cause there’s a real connection. Yeah, there’s a lot of things we’re working on.

Your video for “Trying To Be Cool” looked like it was very difficult to make. Can you talk about what that day was like?

Brancowitz: It was a very long day in Barcelona. There was this feeling that everybody was collectively making something that was impossible to make. It’s a bit in a way like Saturday Night Live where you feel that every member of the team is equally responsible for potential success. You know this impossible task and it’s a great feeling when the day is finished and you have the illusion that it worked.

The clip was shot all in one take, which seems like it would be a lot of pressure.

Mazzalai: That’s what we love when there’s pressure and there’s a possibility to fail. It creates a tension, an artistic tension, which is unbeatable.

The video is also very funny. How did you guys come up with some of the ways you poke fun at people who are trying too hard to be cool?

Brancowitz: It was pretty simple to come up with them. I remember the directors, called CANADA from Spain, they had a lot of ideas actually. When we talked we had exactly the same vision of the same references, it was a bit frightening because I could see that we were speaking exactly the same language. And one of the first things they showed us was the picture of Michael Jackson with his pet monkey and that we could relate to. [laughs] But we couldn’t do it. It’s illegal in Europe to shoot with chimps so we had to find another kind of monkey, which was a bit more difficult to work with.

On your website, you’re selling shirts featuring the line, “mint Julep testosterone” from “Trying To Be Cool.” Are you surprised how much fans seem to like that line?

Brancowitz: We love it when we suddenly become part of the texture, the fabric of contemporary life, you know? It’s always something we really enjoy. It’s really rare that it happens. We’ve been lucky enough that there hasn’t been a lot of misunderstandings. Usually people get what we’re trying to do. We know sometimes people take a message and just transform it into something totally different. But our message is kind of hard to turn it around that much, it’s just floating like a bizarre weird combination of images.

Below: Essentials episode on Phoenix’s Bankrupt!


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