Phoenix Discusses How "If I Ever Feel Better" Made Them

Phoenix is undoubtedly one of the biggest indie rock bands in the world, but that journey was a long time in the making.

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Sep 5 2013, 9:00pm

Phoenix is undoubtedly one of the biggest indie rock bands in the world, but that journey was a long time in the making. Back in 2000, they'd yet to mature into the festival-headlining force they are today and were mostly gracious to get feedback from just about anyone. "It was the first time we got fan mail, and they were all coming from mental institutions," singer Thomas Mars says with a wry chuckle.

Perhaps the institutionalized were onto something in sensing the latent sadness lurking behind the ineffable bounciness of "If I Ever Feel Better," the band's first big hit. "It's actually a very sad song, but it sounds like a happy one," says bassist Deck D'Arcy. It set the tone for Phoenix's sound, in which emotional enigmas are hidden inside light, arena-ready pop structures. As Mars sings about hard times and the dignity in defeat, the band floats behind him, sounding positively cheery. Are you supposed to dance? Are you supposed to be sad? It's somewhere in the middle, making Phoenix the rare band who can communicate deep pathos without sounding like a major bummer.

Given the song's maturity, it's surprising how green the band was. "It was our very first proper studio experience and we were like kids in a toy shop," says D'Arcy. But it wasn't a process that went smoothly, according to Mars, perhaps speaking to that inexperience. "All this album we recorded twice, almost. We felt like we didn't belong there, so we went back to my dad's place and recorded everything again," he says.

The difference on this song, says D'Arcy, was jarring: "We completely changed it to the point that my dad was like, 'I can't recognize this! Really?'" In the end, that ended up making the difference. "Maybe it made us in that because it was the first hit we got," says Mars, "and we understood how powerful that song was." They've got fans outside the mental institutions who will gladly agree, and more than a decade later, they're still playing "If I Ever Feel Better" for their festival crowds.