By James Manning
The Phoenix Foundation have just returned from a one-month tour through Europe and the U.K., taking their recently released fifth double album 'Fandango' to international shores for the first time.
We got some phone time with frontman Samuel Flynn Scott, right before he shoots off again for their nationwide tour beginning this Friday.
Here's what he had to say...
Hey there, how has your day been so far?
Well this morning I got my son ready for pre-school, and I've gone back to bed, and I've just been doing interviews from my bed.
Are more interviews planned, or do you have the rest of the day off?
This is the end really, and after this I'll probably go to the studio and start putting all our gear together for the start of the tour. We're flying up to Auckland tomorrow for a day of rehearsals, and then we'll be back into it.
How did the European tour go?
Yeah it was great! We had a good time over there. A tour's a bit of a full-on thing, you know, going on tour on the other side of the world, so if it doesn't go well you end up feeling a bit slated. You know, you start thinking 'oh what's the point, we're spending all that money' and 'blah, blah, blah'. But it was really good.
Were there any particular shows which stood out from the rest?
I really loved our Amsterdam show, we played in this awesome venue called the Paradiso. It was a little mini festival (London Calling Festival 2013) that Unknown Mortal Orchestra were also playing at. Amsterdam is just a great time all round.
How do you feel about the success of Fandango so far?
People seem to be really digging it. It's a bit of a slow burner album, but it's getting a good response. It's a double album you know, so it could have bombed really [laughs].
At what stage did you guys decide to go - "Let's do a double album"?
We had a lot of songs, and we actually dropped a whole bunch of stuff, it could have been longer. But it was the right tunes, the right pacing, which made it to the double vinyl. It wasn't a conscience decision to record enough stuff to make a double album. We were recording and recording, and it just seemed like a double album was the only option we had to put something out that made sense [of] the work we'd put in.
I understand it was recorded over various locations throughout New Zealand...
Well it was recorded in a barn in Featherstone, and Roundhead studios in Auckland, and a lot of it was recorded in our own studio (The Car Club, Wellington). We were just recording wherever we could, and [with] whatever we could afford.
Was there a noticeable difference in sound coming from the separate recording locations? The 'bush' and the 'city'?
Interestingly, it's pretty hard to tell what songs are recorded where, and I think that comes down to the mixing job that Lee Prebble did was really, really amazing. He took whatever we'd recorded and crafted it into a new sound. So it's almost like a new space created in the mixing that was what tied the whole album together. It doesn't really sound like this studio or that studio or anything, it kind of sounds like it's all on the same wavelength.
It's been described as Cricket test-match music, where did this come from?
I said that, and it was quite a flippant comment, I was just trying to think of a way to put a spin on how long it was, just trying to come up with something funny and 'throwaway'. But it got picked up by so many interviewers and the press. I ended up having to write a blog about the England/New Zealand test match series which was published in The Guardian. It's become a bit of a phobia for a lot of the press, which is funny because I love cricket, but there's really no association between the band and cricket; we're not some cricket band. But you know, anything that gets people talking about it (the album) is fine.
There's a lot of diversity on the album. There are poppy bits, long bits and trippy bits. Is there a specific aspect of the album that youare particularly pleased with?
Oh there are lots of bits that I'm really happy with, [and] how they turned out, but I think 'Sideways Glance' is a really excellent arrangement and recording. I'm pretty proud of the job that everyone did on that track.
The lyrics in 'Black Mould' are some of my favourites, they just roll so damn well with the rhythms of the track. Can you tell me a bit about the recording process...
Luke (Buda), was recording the demo of the music, and I kinda came up with the vocal approach, lyrics and the vocal timing quite quickly based on his arrangement. But I think the vocals came together so quickly because I was inspired by the energy that Luke brought to the recording of the demo. That's kind of the way it works with the band, once we've sketched a plan there's a bit of an inspired moment that can drive others to work quickly and come up with something good as well, and that's the joy of working with this band really. Everyone feeding off of each other's energy.
It sounds like a tight knit family within the band...
Oh it is. Sometimes it's 'happy families', sometimes it's, you know....[laughs].
Speaking of families, is it difficult juggling the band family with the actual family?
Yeah we're all in that boat, we're all in our thirties, and four out of the six band members have children. It's difficult, but we can shape things to work within our framework. [When] we go away on tour in Europe, we don't go away for three months at a time, we go away for one month. It makes it manageable.
So the final track on the double LP - 'Friendly Society' - is about the biggest thing you guys have ever done. Was it a journey to get to the final cut?
Well that track came together very easily. The recording was easy, and we didn't intend it to be so long, it just sort of happened. It's mostly a live take, and then Luke sort of extended and twisted a little bit with overdubs and things, and then [a take] of the band singing and chanting and playing percussion. Also [we had] Neil Finn and Lawrence Arabia jamming along with us, recording over the top of the live take. So it's pretty much just capturing a bit of a studio vibe, you know. It's a long, crazy thing, but it wasn't a super worked out progressive, rock music [track]. It captures a certain approach that the band has, a moment in time, I guess.
Is there a story behind the album title 'Fandango'?
Fandango means a useless or futile act. Well that's a modern interpretation of it, originally [it was] a Spanish dance involving lots of clapping or something. But you know, we thought the double album was a bit of a folly, so we wanted an album title to reflect that kind of sense.
And does the album artwork relate to the title at all?
Uhhh, well I don't know if it does [laughs]. We were looking through photos taken by my brother, and that's one of the things he sent through. We just loved it, it's E.T., but it also looks like a pre-European settlement utility or something. That's what drew us to it, you know, that faux-spiritual silliness.
Going back to the touring side of things; how has the new work been translating live? There's a spacious, psychedelic sound in there, has it been holding up in the live setting?
Yeah, it's great. I think the new album translates live wonderfully. There's a lot of room for experimentation, something to pull the audience into a strange, dark, psychedelic world. It went down really well in Europe and the United Kingdom, so I'm pretty excited about bringing it back to New Zealand. It will be really interesting to see how it goes down here but I think it's going to be a good time.
THE PHOENIX FOUNDATION - FANDANGO TOUR
July 12th: The Powerstation, Auckland
July 19th: The Bedford @ CPSU, Christchurch
July 20th: Queens, Dunedin
July 21st: Chicks Hotel, Dunedin
July 26th: The Cabana, Napier
July 27th: James Cabaret, Wellington
Wellington - RPM & Slowboat.
Christchurch and Dunedin - Cosmic.
Auckland - Real Groovy Auckland