French band Phoenix rising on U.S. indie scene

NEW YORK (Billboard) - The French rock band Phoenix signed with New York-based 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 June’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee 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, every band member’s visa was 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.

After a stint on Astralwerks that included three studio albums and a live set, Phoenix is gearing up to release its fifth LP, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” May 26 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.

In addition to 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.

Frontman Thomas Mars says that 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.”

Mars says that after 2006’s “It’s Never Been Like That,” the band, without a label, was ready to spend as much time as necessary to make a solid album. 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.

Along with the physical CD release, “Wolfgang” will be released on vinyl with download cards and bonus tracks. The band will tour in June, September and December.

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)