What does a hit single mean to Phoenix? “It’s a curse,” says frontman Thomas Mars, while sitting next to guitarist Laurent “Branco” Brancowitz at Manhattan eatery Doma Na Rohu in the West Village on a cool spring morning. “We don’t chase hits,” continues Mars, “because a successful album can be a gift, but a hit is usually not.”
In the streaming era, where playlist-friendly singles are king and rock groups angle for a top 40 crossover to find casual listeners, Phoenix couldn't care less whether its new album, Ti Amo (out June 9), contains another charttopping hit like “1901.” The Paris-bred quartet of Mars, Brancowitz, guitarist Christian Mazzalai and bassist-keyboardist Deck D’Arcy -- uniformly warm and soft-spoken, and friends since forming as a garage band in 1996 -- spent its first decade as a darling of the ’00s indie blogosphere. With 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which featured the synth-rock anthems “1901” and “Lisztomania,” Phoenix rose to festival headliner status. “1901” landed in a Cadillac commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLIV in 2010 and the track topped Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart. “When it’s a very good song and hits No. 1? That almost never happens,” says Brancowitz, ruffling the dark hair above his black-rimmed glasses. “When it does, those moments are the most important. It’s almost like a page turning.” By the end of 2010, Phoenix was playing Madison Square Garden in New York and bringing out their pals Daft Punk as surprise guests.