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The Phoenix Foundation

The Phoenix Foundation

Interviewed by
Gary Farrow
Monday 15th July, 2013 7:56AM

The Phoenix Foundation need little introduction. The indie six-piece from Wellington have been wowing listeners since 1997, both locally and overseas. They’re still going strong, having released their fifth full-length record, Fandango, earlier this year. UnderTheRadar caught up with co-founder Samuel Flynn Scott as the band set out on their national album release tour....

Sam, the Phoenix Foundation have taken quite a different approach to Fandango than with any of your previous albums. For a start, it's spread over two CDs, even though it could fit on one. Why is that?

Well, there were a number of reasons. First of all, there was a point where it wouldn't have fit on one CD, and then we sort of trimmed a few things up and it got below the 78 minute limit. The other was that I think I like the way 40 minutes' listening experience feels, and I feel like the person listening to the album should get to the end of one of the discs and be able to decide whether or not they want to continue listening to that album. They should be able to come back to it, and listen to the second disc separately to the first disc and things like that. So you kind of break the experience up, otherwise it would just be boring to a lot of people, to just put it on and have that same thing carry on for close to 80 minutes.

So you’re wanting to go back to an album structure sort of like on vinyl, in a way?

That's what I love about vinyl, is that with vinyl you generally have between 18 and 22 minutes of music, and then the listener has to stand up, go to their stereo, turn the record over, and keep listening to that same record - or put something else on!

You think that adds to the listening experience?

I think that little bit of interaction with the listener is more engaging than just music happening in the background all the time.

You played some new tracks in New Zealand at the start of this year and they instantly seemed a bit darker and more thematic than your previous work. Tell us about that.

I think there is a bit of darkness to a bunch of these new songs. There's kind of like this imagery of death and change and I don't know where it all comes from - I mean, I write most of the lyrics, but I don't necessarily know why I write the lyrics like that. But I think Buffalo was probably an upbeat, cheery album, and I think Fandango has definitely got this funky groove to a lot of it. There's real darkness in the lyrics and I wish I could tell you where it came from, but I have no idea, because I'm a pretty mellow guy [laughs], so it doesn't totally make sense to me, even - but there ya go.

I can't help but draw parallels between Fandango and some '70s progressive rock - in some of the longer tracks, particularly. Have you taken some influences from that genre and era?

Definitely. We're not necessarily influenced by those really hardcore progressive rock bands, like Yes or Genesis or that sort of intellectual British proggy thing, but we are very much influenced by the German side of it - krautrock and things like that.

So you have been influenced quite a bit by stuff from the ‘70s?

There's these ‘70s type influences, but the other thing that we're real passionate about, me and Luke [Buda], is ‘70s FM radio stuff like The Carpenters. We're sort of really trying to have a little bit of the polish of The Carpenters with the psychedelic dirge of krautrock. So we're taking these two influences, from the same time, that were total opposites and probably hated each other, but in the context of us, 40 years later, it all seems pretty inspiring to me.

What is the new material like to perform on stage - do you need to take a different approach at all?

The big difference live is we have a new drummer, which is Chris O'Connor, and he's pretty amazing, and he pushes us quite far in a way, so having him in the band - that's the biggest difference. The new material probably lends itself to his performance style really well, so it is a bit of a new era, but we haven't rejected the old Phoenix Foundation songs or style.

Is the response from audiences to the songs from Fandango any different?

On the European tour we've just done, some of those longer tracks were definitely the absolute highlights of the shows and the audience reactions were amazing. The song 'Sideways Glance' goes into this big crazy outro which we really stretch out and take to some quite interesting places. That seems to be the moment in the gig that really captures people’s imaginations. So it hasn't been a case of losing people's attention with these longer songs - it actually has been more absorbing, I think.

Do you think music from the Phoenix Foundation might move further yet in the direction you have travelled with Fandango?

I'm pretty sure there will be another tangent coming up pretty soon - I don't know what it will be, but we don't tend to try and emulate what we've just done, and I think we really worked the arrangements on Fandango. We produced and produced and produced - so even though they're long and trippy and proggy and whatnot, we probably think the next album will go a little bit more live and a little bit more instant. I don't know what that will be like, but we'll definitely be trying to take it somewhere else again.


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