Before MAVI PHOENIX played two enviable slots at the PRIMAVERA FESTIVAL 2018, she gave an interview to Stefan Niederwieser and talked about Los Angeles, Feminism, Red Bull and her Syrian grandfather.
It can be quite annoying when everybody’s social media is filled with posts about the PRIMAVERA FESTIVAL. But hardly any other European festival promises so much prestige, over a thousand journalists on site, and a very grateful audience. In 2017, HVOB has been the first Austrian band to be booked there regularly. MAVI PHOENIX followed this year as headliner at Sala Apolo and landing a nice spot on the Pitchfork Stage. In the festival program, “Aventura” was declared one of last summer’s viral hits. In the three major Romanic countries, the song reached a few million ears through a campaign by DESIGUAL. While her team was visiting the hotel, MAVI PHOENIX sat at the pool and gave pop star answers.
Stefan Niederwieser: Which snakes bit you?
Mavi Phoenix: I’m talking about people who won’t give you any credit, who are very skeptical. That’s what everyone in the music scene tells you, that there are a lot of people like that. I also get hate comments, but that’s not really what I mean. I have the potential to do something big. Everyone has an opinion, but if someone still gives me well-intentioned advice… I say: “Be quiet, let me do this, everything is there. You just have to pick it up. But watch out left and right.”
Snakes are a recurring theme. Right now, you are wearing a snake leather bag, in the video for “Bite” your blouse has a snake pattern, on the logo is a cobra, in “Aventura” snakes crawl through the picture.
Mavi Phoenix: This started with “Aventura”. When the designer from the UK sent through the logo, I said, “Totally awesome.”; and at “Bite” I wanted to close the loop.
What distinguishes a Maybach from an Escalade, Bugatti or Porsche?
Mavi Phoenix: “Maybach” rhymes well with “Payback”. And it’s a real star car in Los Angeles, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian…
So, L.A. is a … snake pit?
Mavi Phoenix: I just spent ten days there because we signed with Copenhagen Records for the Nordic countries. Every year they rent a Mansion in the Hollywood Hills, in which they build studios. That was brilliant. Of course I know that it’s pure show business and fake, everyone thinks you’re great and I also think everyone is great, but actually I don’t think anyone is great – and so do the others. But I could do that, I can fit in.
How well did that go?
Mavi Phoenix: I had sessions with producers and songwriters from L.A., Alex The Flipper was there. It didn’t always work out, but it did most of the time.
Do you hear colors?
Mavi Phoenix: [laughing] Funnily enough, yes. Every time I hear a song, it triggers a color or a mood in me. Yellow can be dull or really vibrant. When I heard the beat of “Yellow”, I immediately thought of the color yellow, of the sun.
Mavi Phoenix: Definitely. It’s gonna be okay, better times are coming.
Your team has expanded.
Mavi Phoenix: A year ago I founded a company, LLT Records GmbH [short for “Love Long Time”], of which I am the main shareholder. Christoph and Igor, my managers, are involved. Alex The Flipper is fully involved, we see each other at gigs and in the studio almost all the time, we can be so honest with each other, it’s really nice to work with him. Most of the songs are written with Alex, but not only with him.
What can a major do that we can’t?
Salute said he was invited to London, for big features you have to sign with certain labels.
Mavi Phoenix: Thank God I don’t have these kinds of conversations. I’ve had huge sessions with Sony, Universal, Atlantic, Glassnote Records, but we don’t sign anywhere, we just take the sessions [laughs]. What’s that gonna get me besides an advance? What can a major do that we can’t? The deals aren’t special either. We just haven’t gotten the kind of mega-offer for licensing yet, we want to wait until we have a better negotiating position.
OF COURSE I’M A FEMINIST BECAUSE I DON’T TRY TO BE A TRADITIONAL WOMAN […]
You don’t often talk about what it’s like to be a woman in this business.
Mavi Phoenix: Yeah…. eh… the topic is already so… but it is extremely important. Every day I spend hours thinking about feminism and sexism. I have a lot of conversations in private. I want to know why things are the way they are. I can put stuff together and it frustrates me. In our business, not only there, no matter where you look, in every situation in life you notice that. There are role models that are simply not cool for women. Often it’s the same for men. I’m completely clueless. What am I supposed to do? I can inspire life and people. I didn’t choose this, I got my ass grabbed. Of course I’m a feminist, because I’m not trying to be a traditional woman, but myself. And for a lot of people, that’s the same thing politics wise.
Were you aware of the discussion about the Red Bull Festival you played at?
Mavi Phoenix: That was good and important. I read the article. Look, who else will do that? It’s important to do something like this, it was cool. Of course, Red Bull is a company and not only positive, but the work at the Red Bull Music Academy is doing something. They pay decently. I fully understand why artists say they won’t participate, fair enough. I’ll take care of it [laughs].
Are you an extreme daydreamer?
Mavi Phoenix: Not the way I used to be, you unlearn it. It was really cool, quite beautiful, you feel as if it actually happened. I used to listen to songs and imagine they were my songs and that was me in the video. Nowadays I still think about what could look cool, I talk to the directors a lot. Going from pitch to finished video concepts doesn’t work with me.
Do you still listen to a lot of music?
Mavi Phoenix: I used to have more time back then and now I know so much music, although I’m only 22, I have a lot to come back to. I listen to a lot of music, not SoundCloud newcomers, but Billboard. I don’t dig for music. It’s time consuming, it’s a lot of work.
Who was your favorite Jonas Brother?
Mavi Phoenix: [Answering instantly.] Nick Jonas. I’m a big fan.
Even of One Direction?
Mavi Phoenix: Also. Not like this. But I know my stuff.
Would you agree with “You don’t know you’re beautiful, that’s because you’re beautiful”?
Mavi Phoenix: It’s true, there are people who don’t realize how beautiful they are, how adorable they are.
What did you hear at home?
Mavi Phoenix: My mother listened to a lot of pop, a lot of 80s, Boy George or Madonna, really trashy to some extent, or David Bowie.
Even though Boy George, Madonna and Bowie stood for much more than just music: for their identity. Is that something that Pop is supposed to be?
Mavi Phoenix: Exactly, that’s what One Direction is missing. It’s great when you can combine that, when you have visions, and are a leader. People have to want to follow you.
What do you stand for?
Mavi Phoenix: I’m often associated with being myself, I get that in every interview. I think a lot of people don’t know who they are. And that many people don’t focus enough on themselves, what they want, what is important to them, and why they are who they are. Among my friends I am known for asking deep, personal questions about why they say something, like something.
You used to be compared to MØ, Nerd, Kaytranada. Should that change?
Mavi Phoenix: Those are good names, but others are more interesting for me. I much prefer Cardi B, Ariana Grande, because it’s wild, because it’s such a phenomenon. Right now also U2 or Snow Patrol. There I’m a bit of pleb.
You said that with some of your old stuff you wanted to be someone you’re not.
Mavi Phoenix: When you’re under 20 or 18, you copy a lot. It gets less and less with age, I have the feeling that I already am so old.
Your grandfather’s trail is lost?
Mavi Phoenix: Well said. I leave it to my Mama to investigate this story, he´s her father. I’ve told it once and there has been a detailed Wikipedia article – which, like 90 percent of Austrian musicians, I did not write myself – which states he came to Austria in the seventies as a Syrian refugee. At the same time as the refugee crisis, this was a feast for the media, it’s already written. I have this inside me. But I don’t want to adorn myself with this culture if I don’t know anything about it.
Are you collecting ideas on lyrics, videos, beats, with textfiles, with Post-its, memos?
Mavi Phoenix: Not really, I should do that more often. I sit down to beat sketches and write, that’s not glamorous at all. I have over 30 texts open on my laptop, which aren’t finished yet, full of chaos, I don’t know my way around anymore. Sometimes I copy something, but that’s already advanced. The melody always comes first, then I’ll look which words sound good with it.
You don’t really find a sample as in “Aventura” just like that?
Mavi Phoenix: Alex The Flipper had the sample lying around for a long time, I tried something on it, sent it back, he wrote the motif for the chorus …
When did you first get in touch with the Desigual-Campagne?
Mavi Phoenix: Last year in May, I was in London for chats. A phone call came in, they explained the concept, they wanted to rejuvenate their image. I was really happy because this edgy low-fi song was played every day on TV in three countries, France, Spain and Italy. “Aventura” was already at number one on Hype Machine, that’s what got the agency onto us. It has opened many doors for us, the industry has noticed us. The numbers for the song were good, but not where I wanted them to be. Do you want a global hit like “Despacito”? Who doesn’t want that?
Do you have dry spells?
Mavi Phoenix: Most of the time I can imagine something, but it can suck quite bad. I’m disciplined when it comes to my career, I get stressed when nothing happens for a longer period of time. But in the last few months I have written so much, we have so many demos laying around, that I would like to release first. Shows, interviews, photos, press tour, video, I’m glad when I don’t have to do much for a day.
Are there times when your phone is muted or turned off?
Mavi Phoenix: Unfortunately not, this interview has been the longest time I haven’t had it in my hands. I’m really addicted. I try not to look at it for the first half hour of the day. But most of the time I still look instantly.
What has been your worst decision yet?
Mavi Phoenix: That I had to cancel three important concerts due to gastritis. That’s what I had to decide. When you are self-employed, you always have to ask yourself whether or not you are making the right decisions. We are cautious, it may take longer, but you know why things happen the way they do.
Why are you so deliberate?
Mavi Phoenix: I’m afraid that I’ll feel bad, that I’ll make mistakes. My dreams go much further, I don’t want to waste it all, I want to work now because I am able to do so. Maybe you don’t enjoy life enough [laughs].
NOW I REALIZE I COULD USE A LITTLE BREAK. BUT I ALWAYS WANT MORE.
A lot of Austrian musicians would be satisfied with a just a little bit of recognition.
Mavi Phoenix: Yeah, I know! If the goal in life is to play at the Donauinselfest or to win an FM4 Award at Amadeus, you got the wrong person right here. Now I realize I could use a break. But I always want more.
Bono from U2 once said something must be wrong with him, because he needs the confirmation of 80,000 people every evening. Is something wrong with you?
Mavi Phoenix: Yeah, definitely not. Definitely not. You get so much love and attention. When you keep standing in front of thousands of people who adore you, nobody can tell me that it doesn’t affect you.
How has your live performance developed?
Mavi Phoenix: In the beginning I took every gig I could get, even if there were only five people. Luckily, I don’t have to do that anymore, but I like to play, that’s the best way to learn. Soon Roskilde, Rock am Ring and Rock im Park are up. From mid-July on I have a live band with a drummer and a bassist in addition to the DJ.
And an album?
Mavi Phoenix: I want to do one, but not this year. I’m not ready for my debut yet. There are many musicians who are smaller than me and have already released a few albums. But I want my album to go straight onto the Billboard charts. And if it takes three more years, it takes three more years.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Stefan Niederwieser (translated by David Dempsey)