Phoenix borrowed an iconic Prince sound to make “J-Boy”
Phoenix vocalist Thomas Mars and guitarist Laurent “Branco” Brancowitz chatted with VICE News about the making of “J-Boy,” a single from their album Ti Amo, released June 9.
Ti Amo’s vibe was inspired by a song called “Weekend in Rome,” by the French artist Étienne Daho.
“We talked a lot about this song and especially the video, which is really cool because it’s a song about Rome, but you can really tell that [Daho] had never been to Rome,” Brancowitz said. “It’s a fantasy of Rome, and the video is shot not in Rome but in a tube station in Paris which is called Rome.”
The album is about Italy from a French perspective.
“That’s [where] the beauty comes from, this contrast of not living a dream, which is boring, but wanting to live a dream and failing, but that’s the beauty of it,” Brancowitz explained.
“J-Boy” is the first song on Ti Amo. “The song started with an ‘ah,’ and we wanted that sound to be the first thing that comes off it because this record is about being relieved,” Mars said.
The song used an LM1 Drum Machine — a favorite of Prince — to achieve the distinct flanged effect in “J-Boy.”
“When we start recording, we just gather all of our favorite instruments. We come up with some sort of color palette,” said Mars. “[Laurent] played samples of those drum machines that I grew up listening to, and whenever he plays those sounds… that’s the only instrument that can make me cry… my DNA is loving it, my brain… I feel connected to it.”
Mars pulled the vibe of “J-Boy” from another part of his childhood: the book “Candide,” by Voltaire, a French satire published in the 18th century.
“That’s a book you have to read when you are a teenager in France. It’s not my favorite, but it’s the first book you read that has a sense of humor. And suddenly you see perspective,” said Mars. “[Candide] is totally unaffected by everything around him… just the idea that you are witness and that you can’t really grasp or you can’t really control what’s happening around you. And the more you try to control it, the more it slips.”
It’s that kind of sentiment of giving up control in the creation of “J-Boy” that helped Phoenix complete the song. Mars and Brancowitz revealed that the first demo of “J-Boy,” written two years before the final draft, isn’t much different from the final sound.
“When we recorded the fall demo, when we listened back, there was something on the tape. It was edited by chance so that it was an intro. So we kept that. But this one is very mysterious, I don’t remember,” said Brancowitz. “We didn’t play it. So you know we love those kind of accidents. Chance is a very good songwriter.”
This segment originally aired June 13, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
Check out the first episode of “Beat Break” with Beach Fossils.