What can you learn from bad music? Take heed from Christian Mazzalai of Phoenix

It’s been a long time between drinks, but French indie rockers Phoenix crashed back onto the music scene this year with their sixth album Ti Amo. Yet after catching up with guitarist and keyboardist Christian Mazzalai, it seems they’ve been doing anything but slacking off during their time out of the spotlight.

Having been introduced to Phoenix with Listomania in my awkward younger years, I jumped on the opportunity to have a yarn and a vino in a Parisian cafe. Unfortunately, we couldn’t, and we had to chat over the phone.

Manoeuvring a shocking line and a very cool French accent, we still managed to have a lovely talk about their new album Ti Amo, Sydney City Limits, and bad music.

Christian Mazzalai phoenix ti amo

With a liquid writing style and a seriously proclivity for pop perfection, Phoenix have truly cemented themselves as part of the indie cannon.

HAPPY: Hey Christian, what have you been up to recently, and where are you?

CHRISTIAN: I’m in America right now, rehearsing and getting ready for the tour.

HAPPY: Who are you listening to now?

CHRISTIAN: Chopin, and Bach. Mostly classical music at the moment.

HAPPY: For some reason, I didn’t expect you to like classical music.

CHRISTIAN: No, I love all kinds of music. I love classical music, rock, electronic, good and bad music.

HAPPY: Since the last album Thomas (lead singer) has moved to New York, has this effected the band at all?

CHRISTIAN: No, we fly a lot. Thomas comes to Paris and I come to New York, we figure it out you know. The writing process is still the same too.

HAPPY: It’s interesting you guys manage to stay so stable, have you ever struggled with keeping it together even given the fact you’re so far apart?

CHRISTIAN: We are like a family. We grew up and have spent so many years together we can’t live any other way. Growing up in Versailles was very boring and there was nothing to do, I think we developed a very strong bond because of that. We were like the black sheep, so we are used to sticking together to protect ourselves from the rest of the world.

HAPPY: And what is the writing process like?

CHRISTIAN: It is pure chaos. There are no rules.

HAPPY: Okay, except I’ve read about how you guys have specific rules for your albums?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, we do have some rules, we do 10 songs per album but with Ti Amo we decided simpler the better. We decided one song for one idea, that was our rule. In the past we have had many ideas in the one song.

HAPPY: Ti Amo seems to be a concept album about Italy, why did you decide to write about that specifically?

CHRISTIAN: We were just experimenting and we didn’t want to write about anything specifically. Whenever we write it’s the four of us and we didn’t predict anything, it just happened. There is some darkness behind it, and that is a reaction to the tension and darkness in Paris right now. We had to react, write and create.

HAPPY: How much did the fact you’re half Italian play into the concept?

CHRISTIAN: We see Italy as a happy place, endless summer. We go on holiday there, so I guess it’s an escape.

HAPPY: You’ve been recording Ti Amo for three years, are there any side projects or do you do anything else?

CHRISTIAN: We do everything for each other so we don’t want to do a side project. We did some movie soundtracks but that was the four of us too. We don’t want to have other side projects, we’ve always stuck together, we used to live together.

HAPPY: Would you still live together now?

CHRISTIAN: No, we have kids so that would be too hectic.

HAPPY: I loved the synths in the album, what were you using and did you get any synth tips from your mates Air?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, we share many keyboards with Air. Every time we travel we try to pick up a new instrument but we sample a lot. We used the sampler from our first record and used many loops. We use our old sampler a lot.

HAPPY: Glad to see you’re coming back to Sydney for the City Limits Festival, surely you’ve been all around Australia but what was your favourite place?

CHRISTIAN: Yes, we have been to Australia before. We’ve been all around but Byron is our favourite. We recorded some of our album there. Not the last one but the one before that. So, we love Byron.

HAPPY: You mentioned that bad music can be good, what do you mean by that?

CHRISTIAN: Everything is interesting. You learn good things but also what to avoid. There is more out there than you could ever imagine.

HAPPY: What’s next for you and Phoenix?

CHRISTIAN: Everything is possible. We recorded so much music and we have many ideas to work on, but I can’t let you know anything about that right now.

HAPPY: Thanks for talking with me Christian, have a nice day mate!

CHRISTIAN: You too! Have a nice day.


Phoenix will return to Australia for Sydney City Limits, a stacked new festival taking place on Saturday February 24.

Check out the lineup here, and grab your tickets here.