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Beck and Phoenix: old friends unite for summer

(AFP)

It feels so natural a collaboration that the only surprise is it didn’t happen before: indie favourites Beck and Phoenix have teamed up for a new single and summer tour. 

The California singer-songwriter joined AFP on a sunny riverside in Paris to talk about their joint single “Odyssey” and upcoming dates in North America. 

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“A lot of times these tours where they put bands together, no-one really talks. There’s no real connection,” said Beck. 

“To me it’s more interesting if there’s a life behind all that. We didn’t ask permission to do it. We just did it.”

The connections between the Los Angeles native and the band from Versailles — probably France’s biggest indie export of recent decades — go back a long way to their debuts in the 1990s.

“The first time I heard Beck was probably ‘Loser’ on MTV, but the song I would play the most was ‘Jack-Ass’,” recalled Phoenix singer Thomas Mars, referring to a hit from Beck’s seminal 1996 album “Odelay”.

“It felt like we had a cousin or brother somewhere in the world.”

Beck said he was sent the first Phoenix album by mutual friends — probably French electro bands Air or Daft Punk. 

“In the 1990s we were coming out of a long period of hard rock and grunge and Phoenix’s music had 80s influences that were not fashionable yet. And it felt risque to embrace happy 80s sounds,” he said. 

“‘Risque’ was my email address back then,” Mars joked. 

– Together for a summer –

The old friends have been hanging out in Paris where Beck has been busy attending fashion shows and joining The Black Keys for a rendition of his 1990s breakout hit “Loser” last week. 

He plays an acoustic set this Wednesday at city hall. 

“It will be me, one guitar, and we’ll see what happens,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe I’ll just do French hits sung with a really terrible American accent.”

Mars suggests he sing “Je t’aime… moi non plus”, the sexy 1960s classic by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and “get the public to do the sex sounds”, which Beck heartily agrees with. 

The two friends will reconnect from August 1 for the North American summer tour, titled “Summer Odyssey”.

So why now to finally write a song together? 

Beck jumps in: “Well we have the tour, and we decided to give it a name, and then a song, and why not a T-shirt… And let’s have a restaurant and a hot-air balloon!”

Then a little more seriously, he added that it “makes it more interesting to have these artefacts from this time where we came together for a summer”.

Philippe GRELARD

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