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Thomas Mars, lead singer of Phoenix, on the group's new album 'Alpha Zulu'


Phoenix is rising up again.


PHOENIX: (Singing) Resurrect us all. I want to be forever young. Wishing more wishes...

SIMON: The indie band from France has been together for three decades. They've won a Grammy and have now released their seventh album, "Alpha Zulu." It showcases their spellbinding and ageless synthpop. Thomas Mars is the lead singer of Phoenix and joins us now from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

THOMAS MARS: My pleasure.

SIMON: I have been told that you recorded this album in the Palace du Louvre (ph), close to Napoleon's throne.

MARS: Yes, that was the last thing we would see before entering the studio. This throne is very special because it had its imperial eagles removed to be replaced by chestnuts so that the republic was always stronger than the monarchy or the imperial power of Napoleon. So it's semi-comical, I would say.

SIMON: Your album, "Alpha Zulu," alpha zulu is an airplane instruction. It's very urgent.

MARS: It is urgent. It is. I was on a small plane - on those small airplanes, sometimes when you are in the co-pilot seat with the same headphones I'm wearing right now, and the flight had turbulence. And I would hear alpha zulu, alpha zulu, drop altitude. And I guess this stayed with me.


PHOENIX: (Singing) Take a moment to decide to compromise. You let me know some other time, some other day.

MARS: I think the way we make music, it's a little bit like therapy for us. It's the four of us in a room. We don't really write anything before we meet. It's mostly stream of consciousness. It's the traumas and the good moment - the good memories we have, sort of the DNA of our music. But we did grow up together. And we did - we know each other since we are very young, you know. So we don't really have to talk when we make an album.


PHOENIX: (Singing) Woo-ha, singing hallelujah. Run for your life. Cover your eyes. Alpha zulu. Why choose your body over time?

SIMON: Three guys growing up together in Versailles, outside of Paris, how did you meet each other? How did you begin to make music together?

MARS: Versailles is a world where music is still in the 18th century, I would say. It's trapped in the past, so it's a little bit like growing up in a museum. Growing up in Versailles, there was no room for anything new because it disturbs the past. It's not welcome.


PHOENIX: (Singing) I'm looking for an artifact. What part of me can still attract you?

SIMON: Well, it's a tourist attraction, isn't it?

MARS: It is. I refused to go inside the palace for a while because I've mostly enjoyed the gardens when I was a teenager. And to me, you could sneak - climb the small wall and you'd go at night in the gardens. You could be bathed in the beautiful gardens and symmetry and luxury, calm and (speaking French)voluptéas the poet says, of the gardens.

SIMON: So how did the three of you meet and begin to make music together?

MARS: We met at school. There are two brothers in the band. We were three friends. And we were the only ones appreciating music. There was no place to play music live because there were not really any crowds. So we started falling in love with recording music. We bought an eight-track recorder. We were in my parents' basement. We went to school together. At recess, we would talk about music. We would share our record collections. We would show everything. And that's how - yeah, that's how we met, recording and producing music. That was our first love.


PHOENIX: (Singing) Winter solstice. Turn the lights on. Find me a narrative. Something positive. This requiem played a few times before. I heard it once, so I'm not sure. On the phone, I told you. Why open your eyes to go to bed?

SIMON: "Winter Solstice." There's a great loss in your personal life while you were making this album or something, wasn't there?

MARS: I mean, not to get into too much detail, but my bandmates lost parents. And we had - we lost Philippe Zdar, who was a collaborator on our producer on many records and who was a figure of the French music scene since its beginning. Anything that came out of France that was good, he had something to do with. We started to record the first song to this album three days after his funeral, so he stayed with us all the time while making this record. And now that we are touring this album, singing the songs, like, we think of him even more.


PHOENIX: (Singing) I'll wash my hands until it rains through you.

SIMON: Let me ask you now about a song, "My Elixir." What put this song in your mind?

MARS: This song was a combination of two things. One was it had something very pure and simple that reminded me almost of a Ritchie Valens songs that had a lot of vibrato and something that was very pure. And then somehow we used all these filters and techniques that made it sound modern somehow.


PHOENIX: (Singing) Can we go home? Home. Can we go home?

MARS: The song is mostly about exile because we, whether we're on tour or away from our families or away from home, this song is - has that feeling that you can only enjoy those moments as long as you know that there's a home for you that is still there.


MARS: Versailles is a city like this that is trapped in the past and it's in the same - it does not evolve. You know, in 500 years, it will be - I think it will look the same. That's reassuring when you're an adult. That's a source of fear when you're a teenager.

SIMON: I mean, you're alive. You keep growing. You keep changing.

MARS: That's what's interesting to us. I think it's the same with music. Every album has to be something new. As soon as we find a recipe, we're not interested to do the same thing. You know, in the beginning, people were upset that we would change shape so much. I think that's a good thing.


PHOENIX: (Singing) Somewhere, somewhere, somewhere to go...

SIMON: Thomas Mars is lead singer of the band Phoenix. Their latest, "Alpha Zulu." Thank you so much for being with us.

MARS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.