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A version of this story appears in the latest episode of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday or available to buy here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
Phoenix guitarist Christian Mazzalai says they couldn’t have released their new album, Ti Amo, in the winter — and although freezing fans might have appreciated some relief in the form of the French band’s bright sounds, he’s right. This record is undeniably a summer album, the kind you play on your way to the beach, on sweaty nights spent drinking outdoors, on sunny mornings.
And that’s exactly what they set out to do make with this collection, their sixth total and first since 2013’s Bankrupt!. In a note titled “Words About Ti Amo,” Phoenix described it as “an album about simple, pure emotions: love, desire, lust, and innocence. It’s also an album about our European, Latin roots, our fantasized version of Italy: a lost paradise made of eternal Roman summers (hyper-light, hyper-clarity, pistachio gelato), juke boxes on the beach, Monica Vitti and Marcello Mastroianni, fearless desire and antique marble statues.”
Sparkling, sexy singles like “J-Boy” and “Goodbye Soleil” embody those images, and preview an album full of disco-appropriate love songs. “The more you make records, the more you dig deep,” frontman Thomas Mars tells EW. “You try to recreate things that are very pure.”
Below, Mars and Mazzalai explain why they decided to make such a positive record amid international turmoil, the correct way to interpret their lyrics, and which French word — and GIF — best describes Ti Amo, out Friday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your lyrics aren’t always easy to interpret. Is that on purpose?
THOMAS MARS: When we write songs in English, we don’t want to write American folk songs. We want to write awkward, French, American-twisted lyrics that nobody understands. To create our own language is a goal. There’s no one way to understand it, and there’s no wrong way to understand it — unless you think we’re saying “xenophobia” or something. [Laughs]
You’ve mentioned that you had some reservations about making an optimistic record during what you call “general darkness”: “We started writing this album in Sept. 2014 — soon enough there was this feeling the world as we knew it was collapsing before our eyes,” you wrote in “Words About Ti Amo.”
MARS: We were making this record and we thought it was hedonistic and light and joyful and we felt disconnected [from the world]. You think, “Is what we’re doing worth it? Does it make sense to keep going?” And even more so when you do something that’s the opposite [of darkness], full of life of joy. I think it makes sense in the end. We embraced it because we felt it embodied the true value of what art should be, which is a world of possibilities.
MAZZALAI: We were looking for a lost paradise.
How’s this album different from your previous ones?
MARS: I think we always say the same thing but in a new way each time.
MAZZALAI: When we do an album, we always kind of hate the last one, so we try to go as far as possible from it. When we were playing the Bankrupt! songs live, it wasn’t a full-body experience. They new songs are more physical. In a way, we were looking for something a bit obscure and complex on the last one, and this one is very innocent. Everything we recorded is the first take, the first idea.
MARS: We reject it. Whether you like it or not, it’s always a reaction to the previous record.
Describe the album in one word.
MARS: When you throw dice, and it’s luck. “Jeté” is a movement that’s pure and out of your hands.
MAZZALAI: One gesture, like this: Whoosh!
MARS: It will have to be a GIF. [Laughs]