Wolfgang Amadeus FIT CHECK
Thomas Mars of Phoenix comes thru talkin’ custom shirts and new chunes
Phoenix — they’re French ROCK GOATS with a bunch of precision-engineered heaters that stay in heavy rotation here at HQ, none rotated more heavily than Spyplane Certified Perfect Song “1901” from Spyplane Certified Perfect Album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, not to mention Spyplane Certified Slept-On 2020 Slapper “Identical.” God d*mn that track is good!!
The last time I saw Phoenix’s singer, Thomas Mars, it was October, 2010, and he was backstage at Madison Square Garden, taping his brown Sartore boots tight to his ankles. Phoenix were about to play a show (Daft Punk were in the mix, too, for a surprise appearance at the end of Phoenix’s set) and the tape was an anti-theft measure: Thomas had been stage-diving nightly on tour, but then some LOON tried to yank off one of the d*mn Sartores while he crowdsurfed, so Thomas had to thwart any and all future attempted boot-crimes because this man takes his jawns seriously!!
Standing backstage, I thought to myself, “Wow, if a decade from now I co-found a phat masterpiece sletter about ‘unbeatable recon,’ Thomas will be welcome to come chop it up about beloved jawns anytime he pleases.”
D*mn, that was prophetic. Because the other day we hit up Thomas to see if he wanted to tell Blackbird Spyplane about some rare & cherished possessions, and his reply was immediate and unambiguous. “O yes,” he basically said, “but only on the condition that we get into some turbo-mode shirt talk!!”
So that’s exactly what we did…
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Blackbird Spyplane: My two chief memories from when we first met is you fusing yr boots to yr legs with gaffer’s tape so fans wouldn’t tug them off when you crowd-surfed, and you telling me that you hired a tailor in Paris to make you ~60 versions of the same blue shirt…
Thomas Mars: “I don’t think it was 60! But yeah, I hesitated today in deciding between talking about shirts or boots, because those really are the two things I can’t get rid of. I’m not that sentimental about a lot of things, but last year I was in Northern California during the wildfires and a police squad came to our house and said, ‘You have 5 minutes to evacuate,’ so I had to confront this question of, ‘What do I take and what do I leave behind?’ And, along with some more essential stuff, I wound up taking a pair of boots and my two favorite shirts.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Makes sense…
Thomas Mars: “What they have in common is that even though I care about them, they’re not precious — they’re messed up, they’re used. The boots are taped up, there’s an Acne shirt I wore for so many shows that I had to staple one of the button holes together, just so it wouldn’t rip open…”
Blackbird Spyplane: Whoa, the staples look pretty good! You really locked in on blue button-ups for a while there…
Thomas Mars: “When you’re on tour you develop superstitions, to the point where, if you have a good show, the shirt you were wearing that night becomes, um…”
Blackbird Spyplane: A talisman?
Thomas Mars: “Yeah. But before that Acne shirt, the first shirt I ever got where I thought, ‘Okay, I like this design, I’m gonna make it my own and have a tailor copy it,’ was this chambray from Aspesi that I bought around 2000 (below left). When I was a teen, growing up in Versailles, it was impossible to find things that fit. All the clothes were crazy large — I remember Chris in the band wearing a shirt his mom got him and he was so skinny, it looked like he was wearing George’s puffy jacket from Seinfeld.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Aspesi is very slept-on — those are some simple, beautiful Italian clothes…
Thomas Mars: “The Acne shirt is kind of the same shirt as the Aspesi, but even more fitted, and that one became the staple I wore performing. In the band, we all wanted uniforms. We thought about bands whose clothes we’d always loved, like Roxy Music or the Velvet Underground, and it’s not that everyone in those bands dressed exactly the same — it’s more that they were all doing the same amount of spice.
“It’s also just satisfying to wear the same shirt every day because it’s one less thing to think about. And it’s satisfying to have a ritual.”
Blackbird Spyplane: At the start of the Ti Amo tour U got a little nuttier, wearing these custom Valentino shirts you sent me, with tropical prints…
Thomas Mars: “I got together with Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino, and he was super open to doing anything. Early on, on Phoenix’s first record, we played all these weird Italian TV shows, where we’d go on after a guy with a parrot and stuffed animals, and after us it was these Veline girls, which is the term for showgirls on, like, Rai 1 — we were basically in the middle of this Berlusconi nightmare, and when we were thinking about things like the album art and stage design for Ti Amo, those memories came back. This shirt felt like it fit into that context — including the parrot.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Do you stay in “uniform” mindset when you’re not on tour, or is that yr chance to switch it up with the vetements ??
Thomas Mars: “No, we all dress the same off stage — it’s not a different look.”
Blackbird Spyplane: I think a lot of readers might envy that — I’m always impressed when someone figures out the one singular fit that just works, day in, day out… Who’s the tailor you mentioned who copies shirts for you?
Thomas Mars: “It’s Anne-Marie Colban, of Charvet. Her grandfather used to own the company — it’s this place that’s been around for something like 180 years…”
Blackbird Spyplane: Legendary Parisian bespoke shirt-makers ! People love Charvet… How do you explain the appeal?
Thomas Mars: “They’re the complete opposite of the shirts I’d see at the Versailles Mall growing up — they fit you perfectly, and you can make them your own. All these fancy shirt-makers ask you if you want to embroider your initials, which — when I see people with their initials monogrammed on their cuffs or on their Vuitton bags, I never liked how that looks. But it’s tempting to customize a shirt, so when Anne-Marie asked if I wanted to do it, I asked them to put just my first initial on the front. It’s not ‘supposed’ to be just one letter, and you’re not ‘supposed’ to put it there, but I bent their tradition a little bit.”
“Charvet do things a very specific way, so aside from the monogram, you get a few options, like, this is how the collar could be, this is what the color could be, and I tried everything with Anne-Marie, to the point that maybe she got a little tired of the novelty of working with me. I’m not sure if they sell shirts to many musicians…”
Blackbird Spyplane: The standard customer vibe there is probably more like bankers and politicians, I’d imagine…
Thomas Mars: “Probably. But at the same time, she considers every request. Like, with the blue-and-red shirts I wore on the second part of the Ti Amo tour, I asked her, ‘Can you do something like this?’ and she thought about it. French people, a lot of times they say no first, but she’s not like that. She’ll say yes, then find a way to do it — and when you get the final result, it’s exactly what you had in mind, but even better.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You told me the inspiration for those colorblock shirts goes back to Young John McEnroe…
Thomas Mars: “Yeah, I remembered, as a teenager, seeing McEnroe wearing Tacchini jackets and polos that looked exactly like that. They were almost, like, Prussian Army colors. There was something heroic about them. And McEnroe, that’s the first person where I just wanted everything he had: The jackets, his racquet, the Air Trainer Ones…”
Blackbird Spyplane: I know Phoenix is working on album 7. Have you figured out what The Next Shirt is gonna be yet?
Thomas Mars: “Ha ha, no, it’s still too early for that…”
Blackbird Spyplane: The band’s been posting little video loops to social media recently, from the studio. Are those new songs? Is “Identical” a clue to what the new music’s gonna sound like? Give Phoenix Nation some intel, please…
Thomas Mars: “I don’t think those loops will be on the record — when we post things from the studio, usually it’s to move on from them, to get rid of things that we like but that we need to move past.
“‘Identical’ might be revealing in a certain way — the use of the sounds on that song is probably revealing of what the album is going to be. But at this point the album is still a Frankenstein. In a good way. When you’re making an album, the best moment is when you don’t have to decide which direction you’re going in, when your ideas are all over the place.
“And sometimes the ideas stay all over the place, and that becomes its own kind of coherence — every song on United was almost its own exercise, with these random sounds coming together. So it’s possible this one will be like that. I hope so — I hope it’ll stay weird.”
Phoenix are online here.
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