Phoenix Conquers The States
Phoenix signed with Glassnote Records in February with a couple of lofty goals: to play at a major festival and to perform on "Saturday Night Live."
Not long after booking slots at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in June and the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October, Glassnote founder/CEO Daniel Glass got a call from someone at "SNL" asking about the band's schedule. By some miracle, all of the members' visas were cleared and the group made it to the U.S. within two weeks' time ("You try getting into the United States with eight guys. It's not that easy," Glass says) to perform April 4 on the late-night NBC show. Missions accomplished, and its new album isn't even in stores yet.
After a stint on Astralwerks that included three studio albums and a live set, Phoenix is releasing"Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" through Glassnote and the band's own imprint, Loyaute. The "SNL" performance gave the band an opportunity to preview the "Wolfgang" tracks "1901" and "Lisztomania," which fans could purchase on iTunes as an EP with two other new songs within hours of the show's airing. "The 'Saturday Night Live' performance has really accelerated the whole marketing process," says Alan Becker, senior VP of product development at RED, which distributes Glassnote. "We had to react to that in an interesting way."
Fans can use iTunes' Complete My Album feature when the full album comes out, but the "Wolfgang" EP reached No. 7 on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart by selling 3,000 first-week copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It has sold 7,000 to date. "It would be a sin to do 'SNL' and fans not be able to buy the music," Glass says. "The beauty of the digital world is instant gratification, and it's been great."
Aside from the "SNL" and festival slots, 2009 marks a couple of other firsts for Phoenix: its first time on an indie label and first time using an outside producer. After three releases on a major, manager Simon White says the band needed a label with a smaller, more focused team and a high level of enthusiasm. Phoenix's hipster-approved pop might seem like an odd match for Glassnote, home to pop-rock act Secondhand Serenade and the tween-friendly Justin Nozuka, but everyone involved says it's all about the chemistry and the label's past successes. "The kids who were working at Glassnote were already Phoenix fans," White says. "A label's roster is not an indication of the people."
Frontman Thomas Mars says even though Phoenix spent years on a major, he and his bandmates have maintained an indie mentality. "We've always done our record cover and controlled everything from the music videos to the press pictures," he says. "We always thought that if we do everything ourselves, it has more character and charm than something done professionally."
After 2006's "It's Never Been Like That," Mars says that without a label, the band was ready to spend as much time as necessary to make a solid album. To do that, Phoenix recruited Phillippe Zdar of the French house duo Cassius to produce "Wolfgang." "He's so opinionated and it's really helpful for us," Mars says. When it came to releasing the album, he says the goal was to be able to hand the final product to someone who understood it and was dedicated to the group. "Glassnote agreed with us on everything," Mars says.
Along with the physical CD release, Glass says "Wolfgang" will be released on vinyl with download cards and bonus tracks, and the band will tour in June, September and December. He says the team also is hoping for a few TV performances, including the mtvU Woodie Awards and MTV2's "Subterranean," and there are talks under way with Yahoo, AOL and Clear Channel for other performance opportunities.
Though the album already leaked online, no one is concerned. If anything, it's been just another way to get people talking. "Maybe they'll come to the show, maybe they'll buy a T-shirt, maybe if they like the album enough they'll decide to buy the vinyl version," White says. "Our biggest concern is growing it as an entirety—not just record sales."