Phoenix likes a good bargain 

Thomas Mars isn't one of those musicians who has to own the priciest studio gizmos available.

Although his French alt-rock quartet Phoenix found Grammy-winning fame four years ago with its fourth album, "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix," and its hits "1901" and "Lisztomania," his outlook remains pure bargain basement.

"Usually what we like is very cheap instruments, things that are not valuable to other people, and that's why they're cheap," he says. "So we think have great value, but somehow people don't appreciate that value like us." He laughs, adding, "Or we could be totally wrong and they're just not as valuable as we think they are!"

For the high-pressure follow-up to "Wolfgang," the recently released recording "Bankrupt!" Phoenix — playing Outside Lands on Saturday — made only one concession: Buying Michael Jackson's original "Thriller" mixing console, a Harrison 4032, just to own an actual historical artifact.

But Phoenix got it half-price on eBay for $17,000. "That was a piece of equipment that we really wanted to get," says Mars, who's married to film director Sofia Coppola, with whom he has two children.

"But we were the first ones to try for it because apparently no one else has our same mentality."

True enough. For "Bankrupt!" — and skewed, new wave-frothy anthems such as "Entertainment," "Trying to Be Cool" and "S.O.S. in Bel Air" — the band amassed cheesy toys from the 1980s, such as rickety synthesizers and robotic drum machines.

"They sound really far-out and obscure and weird," Mars says of his thrift-store finds. "And I found it easier to find a sound that's really exciting and new with things that are old and familiar, because things that are really brand-new sound like the future will sound like, with no surprise element to it."

While recording "Bankrupt!" in New York (where Mars and Coppola live), Phoenix walked to the studio daily, checking out secondhand shops' windows along the way.

"Some of the things we found were more interesting, visually," says Mars, who stumbled upon some cheap security cameras now employed in the group's stage set.

But his favorite purchase was a tiny, tinny Yamaha keyboard from a pawn shop in his native Versailles.

"Usually, it's luck – just a moment when we're not even looking for anything, and that curiosity where anything is possible," he says of his shopping method.

Mars writes lyrics in Baudelairian bursts, and the general theme of "Bankrupt!" seems to be a detached analysis of his long-overdue stardom.

"I was as surprised as anyone just how unintentional that was," says the singer, who was aiming to capture an underdog-vs.-the-world tension. "So it's the beauty of a mass event, but at the same time that sadness. Because it's just too big for you."


Where: Twin Peaks Stage, Outside Lands

When: 8:40 p.m. Saturday

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Tom Lanham

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