La Phaze enter a new phase

Pungle trio release fifth album


03/05/2011 - 

After veering into anti-establishment punk rock, La Phaze have turned their image around with Psalms and Revolution. The group from Angers may have dropped their protesting tone, but die-hard fans won’t be dismayed: the outlandish energy has not diminished, and they still serve up their distinctive fusion of jungle, rock and surf music. RFI Musique met up with the band.

Twelve years after they started out, La Phaze still know how to surprise their listeners. With Miracle, their previous album, it looked like Damny and his sidekicks were ready to revive the snuffed-out flame of political French rock. But after a two-year tour and a solo escapade by their lead singer, the group decided to change course. "We were coming out of a difficult period," admitted Damny. "The endless stream of concerts and the pressure after Miracle had worn us out. So we rented a place for a couple of weeks in the winter, right in the middle of the tour, and put together some sounds and demos and got back the playful side that we’d lost a bit."

The three musicians started from scratch and gradually sketched out the bones of their future album on computers, using samples, vocal scraps and ideas for tunes. "Whereas Miracle was created really fast and live, Psalms and Revolution took us over a year to build up behind closed doors," explained Arnaud, the band’s guitarist. The result is something of a return to their roots, with the reappearance of old-fashioned drum and bass loops, now a new-found staple of La Phaze music. "Drum and bass is back in underground music," explained Damny. "The style is increasingly connected to other types of music, like rock. That’s exactly what our approach is about: moving towards fusing genres and away from archetypes."

Fewer sermons, more music

The album includes the group’s classic features, like some lovely sixties surf guitar work, but there are also some genuine surprises. Pop tunes take over from hip hop ranting and the political preaching has almost disappeared to make way for vaguer lyrics mainly served up in English. Is this a way of putting the music back in the foreground? "Definitely," replied Damny. "The far left-wing image had started to weigh us down. Our music didn’t interest the media much any more. What they focused on was what we thought about Sarkozy and we’d already told them a hundred times! Not that my convictions have changed, and I’m not hiding behind the English, in fact La Phaze has always had some English lyrics," added the singer. "It’s just that I don’t want to have to explain the lyrics anymore or be labelled as "French rock" for life. Our fans overseas don’t understand French."

Not easy, then, to find an equivalent of hard-hitting tracks like La Cause or Miracle. Fans will even come across some very unlikely themes, like Temps de chien, which contains the album’s most striking lyrics, on the topic of pregnancy denial. "It was at the time of the Courjault affair (a woman who hid her pregnancies and deep froze her new-born foetuses, ed’s note)," reminisced Damny. "I have always been fascinated by those people who maintain a social veneer but keep a terrible secret inside, and all the suffering that they must live through by hiding it from themselves and others. It really got me thinking." The overall impression of the album is that images have replaced slogans, epitomized by the symbolist artwork that decorates the cover that was produced by a young photographer and graphic designer, Hamzat.

Fed up of labels

La Phaze may be keen on renewal, but they seem stuck with an "alternative" label now used pejoratively in the French press. "In this country, once you get labelled that’s it for life! But we’re proud of where we come from. Today, I can sense a certain hostility towards alternative music, which is no longer fashionable," observed Damny. "It might just be a sign of the political times. And then Noir Désir’s break has buried the movement and taken it back underground."

The same goes for the anti-globalization movement. The three musicians admit their commitment (like the Colère Noire, or black anger, operation to support victims of the Erika oil spill on the Breton coastline in 1999), but refuse to be pigeonholed. "For me, the term “anti-globalization" doesn’t mean anything," complained Arnaud. "We got given that label when we took part in the Larzac Plateau Festival (an anti-globalization gathering initiated in 2003 by the radical French figure José Bové, ed’s note). Today we’re more interested in small local initiatives. Joining Greenpeace isn’t as important to us as it was." Instead of giving sermons, La Phaze has gone back to creating music for dancing, and their forthcoming tour will show whether they have hit the mark.

La Phaze Psalms and Revolution (Couvre Feu/Because) 2011
On tour in France from 1 June

Jérôme   Pichon

Translation : Anne-Marie  Harper