Breaking Away

Sam Weiner

He was playing all this great music,” says Bob Harris, the character played by Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation.” “I have to find out what it was.”

We’ll never know whether Harris’ curiosity was addressed, but one thing’s for sure: Phoenix, the band referenced, has attracted a sizeable group of followers since the release of the film and their second album, “Alphabetical.” The French dance-pop quartet, who play generally smooth, guitar-based music, will co-headline on Sunday with Dogs Die In Hot Cars at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark St.

“(Being in the movie) can be really tricky, because once you’re exposed, you have to be good, because you don’t get many chances like that,” says lead vocalist Thomas Mars of the notoriety received from the appearance. “It’s really good that it happened on the second album because we wouldn’t have been ready if we would have come and toured the U.S. with the first album.”

Touring the United States after releasing “United,” the band’s debut album, would probably have been a financial disaster, since the album has yet to be released stateside. But its limited release did not stop the band from being discovered by Sofia Coppola and her brother Roman, who directed the video for “Everything is Everything.” After their first U.S. tour last December, Phoenix embarked on a string of European dates. These shows yielded the live album “Thirty Days Ago,” which, true to the title, was released on iTunes a month after the tour.

“We always wanted to do something like in the old days, (when) Motown or Stax records would come out … like you would record it in one week and it would come out the next day, ” says Mars of the recent release. “It was something for us to enjoy like some kind of Polaroid. It’s like a guilty pleasure, you know?”

Phoenix’s sound carries a sexy vibe, furthering the association between their music and pleasure. But Mars says he’d never thought about the possibility of couples getting it on to their music until he read a post from the forum section of the band’s Web site.

“I remember reading some weird stuff about people saying that they love to make love on the ‘Funky Squaredance’ because it’s a nine-minute song,” Mars says in a heavy French accent. “It’s like some kind of Ravel’s ‘Bolero.’ That’s the power of a song — you never expect what things happen afterwards.”

Phoenix might not know what to expect from their second U.S. tour either, but they say they now feel more confident to show themselves off.

“The first time it was like coming into unknown territory where people didn’t know us,” Mars says. “So I think this time we’ve got more chances to show the people a real Phoenix show.”

One noticeable feature of Phoenix’s music, unlike that of their countrymen Air, is that all songs are sung in English. According to Mars, the band never consciously made the decision.

“The music we’re doing has to be sung in English,” Mars says. “When people did opera in the 18th century, they would sing it in Italian. It’s just like some kind of Esperanto of pop music. It would be really a nightmare for me to write in French.”

The rise to prominence of French artists like Phoenix and Air has turned the country from a musically sealed-off nation into a hotspot. Mars isn’t quite sure why this happened, but cites Daft Punk as a catalyst.

“A lot of new acts wanted to escape from the professional side of French music, which was really a national thing and a very ugly thing,” Mars says. “Bands like Daft Punk … created home studios. So I think you get things more personal and less French. You get your own sound, (and) that’s when people get interested in that music.” 4

Weinberg junior Sam Weiner is the PLAY music editor. He can be reached at [email protected]