Phoenix won the Grammy Award for best alternative rock album in 2009 for its album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.” The band has been a headliner at most of the major rock festivals around the world. Its latest album, “Bankrupt!” debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts upon its release in April. The group’s lead singer is married to filmmaker Sofia Coppola. And it could have rivaled snowboarder Shaun White for being the biggest thing at this year’s Winter X Games. (Unlike White, though, Phoenix is sticking to its plans to perform in Aspen and will actually play — twice, in fact. The band headlines today’s Winter X Music concert in Wagner Park and follows with a nighttime show at Belly Up.)
All of this probably makes Phoenix the biggest rock ’n’ roll act ever to come out of the country of France.
Which leaves the question: How much exactly does that count for?
Guitarist Christian Mazzalai — who is joined in the band by singer Thomas Mars, bassist Deck d’Arcy and drummer Laurent Brancowitz — fielded a few questions about Phoenix, France and the serious indifference his country has shown toward rock music over the past, well, forever.
Aspen Times: I was in Versailles not long ago and saw the main attraction — the palace — but didn’t notice any rock scene. Is there a rock scene in Versailles?
Christian Mazzalai: You’re right. In Versailles there is a beautiful castle, beautiful gardens, but only one bar and no venues for music. So all the bands play only for themselves in garages.
AT: Has French rock music (and I realize we might be drawing from a small well here) developed any distinctive characteristics that set it apart from American or British rock? If so, has Phoenix followed these French traits, ignored them, trampled on them?
CM: The only French person that influenced us as teenagers was Serge Gainsbourg, our only god in France.
AT: Members of Phoenix used to play with musicians who went on to form Daft Punk, and Phoenix is on the same label as Air. That accounts for possibly the three biggest French rock acts of the day. Is the French rock scene as cozy as that would indicate?
CM: We are friends with them, we share almost the same record collection, and we share the same “do it yourself” vision with no compromises.
AT: Generalizing here, but indulge me please: Do the French on the whole tend to care much about rock ’n’ roll?
CM: Again, you’re right: Rock ’n’ roll is not part of the French culture at all!
AT: A predecessor group to Phoenix has been described as a garage band — which seems to put some distance between where you were back then and what Phoenix is now. How do you trace the progression?
CM: We’ve been doing music together since we’ve been 14 years old, so it’s a long time. But we still feel like the same kids regarding creation.
AT: “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” from 2009, earned a Grammy for best alternative album. Did you try to do anything very different with “Bankrupt!” which was released in April, or stick with what had worked earlier?
CM: We spent two years, just the four of us, in a tiny flat in Paris, so we totally forgot the outside world and all its pressure.
AT: Has Phoenix ever played an outdoor show in a small park at the base of a world-class ski mountain, then followed that with another gig that night in an intimate club? On the subject, what has been the most notable/memorable/unusual gig Phoenix has played?
CM: We love to play a huge arena and the day after a tiny club. We love extreme variations! We played once an empty (20 persons) soccer stadium in Spain — and that was one of our best shows.
AT: Not counting Phoenix, what has been the high point of French rock history? And give me one tidbit about rock in France that would surprise Americans.
CM: Listen to “Melody Nelson,” by Serge Gainsbourg. Listen to the guitar, the bass and the drums, and you’ll have the best of what rock musicians can do.