Interview: Phantogram on Musical Inspiration, Life & Future Projects

Photo Courtesy of Phantogram.

While mostly unknown now, Phantogram is a two-piece electronic rock band combining funky street beats with catchy pop and guitar. The sound is hard to put into words, but the music is easy to listen to and will likely win you over. And while there are many bright spots on the album, the band will likely need to iron out their sound they’re going to hit it big.

The first song, “Mouthful of Diamonds,” is probably the album’s best. It begins with a catchy synth beat paired with jangly electric guitar picking. And just when you don’t think it can sound any better, keyboardist and singer Sarah Barthel lets lose her angelic voice. The song chugs along with addictive catchy beat – the moving guitar line is paired perfectly with the slow synth beat while Barthel offers cutting lines such as, “And if it isn’t me, then pack your bags and leave.” “Mouthful of Diamonds” screams single, but not in an overly contrived, too-sweet pop sense. The next song, “When I’m Small” begins with a drum and bass style groove and features more of Barthel’s breathless singing. This is showcased in the brief guitar break, which provides a great contrast from the chugging rhythm of the rest of the song. The funky beat drops back in and brings the song back up to speed, which will leave listeners wondering whether this band is truly just a two-piece – there’s a lot of sound here. However, it’s not overdone; the repeating synth and bass lines swirl and lull listeners into a state of musical bliss.

“You Are The Ocean,” begins with some slower drumming and some great guitar riffing. Unfortunately, though, the guitar drops out and Carter uses his voice instead of his hands to move the song along, which is kind of a shame, as the guitar was just getting good. Carter offers some soulful lyrics, though, singing, “This song is about you, ’cause I can’t live without you.” His vocal performance is better on this track than on previous ones, though, as he comes out of his shell and extends his range. Overall, though, the track is a bit subdued and not one of the album’s best. The next song, “Bloody Palms,” spices things up with a bouncing beat and some more distorted synths. Carter shows off some catchy guitar on this one, laying some odd-meter riffing over the percussion and keys. He and Barthel split the vocal work on the track, which has a vaguely spacey feel. The guitar is the most notable aspect of this seemingly Flaming Lips-influenced track, complete the echoing vocals and a funky beat.

The oddly named “Futuristic Casket” follows, and the track is heavier on percussion than guitar or synths. The vocals are distant as well, and some more spacey instrumentation takes the lead as the song moves along. Carter does most of the singing here, although with all of the instrumentation, his voice comes through very lightly, as through a dream-like haze. “Let ME Go,” the next song, is a bit more forgettable, as it doesn’t seem to have a definite direction, moving from a quieter, nearly acapella sections to spacey, swirling ones. The following track, “10,000 Claps,” begins with some ominous piano, seemingly acknowledging its place as the final song of the album. Barthel sings in a soothing tone here, offering a calming effect even on disconcerting lines such as, “Seasonal change, stars rearrange…why are you following me?” The speed of this track is very slow, but it is by no means boring as it is an interesting contrast to all the up-tempo, percussion-driven tracks. The song seems a fitting farewell to the album, slowly drawing things to a close. “10,000 Claps” indicates that Phantogram is capable of switching things up, which speaks to future success

Daniel: who are your major influences in the music industry? What do your draw upon for your musical inspiration?

Josh: We have so many influences musically. Bands we enjoy listening to range from Silver Apples, The Beatles, Debussy, Beethoven, John Cage, Four Tet, Madlib, John Frusciante, David Bowie, Miles Davis, Sparklehorse, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, The Cure, The Supremes, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, – just to name some. We really draw influences from so many different artists.

Daniel: What keeps you motivated to make music?

Josh: We make music because it’s fun for us. It’s something that we do because we want to do it.

Daniel: Is there a meaning behind the name of your album?

Josh: The name of our album is Eyelid Movies. It comes out February 9th, 2010. We named the album Eyelid Movies because a lot of our inspiration for the songs came from dreams and also imaginary scenarios (like scenes from movies) that we would discuss together while writing.

Daniel: What has been the most difficult aspect of breaking through in this industry?

Josh: The most difficult aspect of being in the music industry is finding enough time for ourselves to hang out and do normal, everyday things, like hanging out with friends, going to the movies, recreational activities…. Being constantly busy doesn’t allow it. – But we make our own fun.

Daniel: You’ve been gigging around for some time now, what has been the most memorable experience on the road so far?

Josh: Playing at legendary venues like The Troubadour in Los Angeles was really cool. We had a lot of fun on tour with School Of Seven Bells. Also playing some huge shows in theatres with Zero 7 was amazing. Making friends and touring with other cool bands like Pomegranates. Seeing beautiful cities like Victoria, Paris, London, Zurich. Seeing the Rocky Mountains and theSwiss Alps for the first time in our lives – all in the same month! It’s hard to pick out one particular moment.

Daniel: What are the hopes for the new album?

Josh: We hope that people enjoy it and connect with it in some kind of way.

Daniel: What are the hopes for 2010?

Josh: We hope to have a great year touring our asses off and making new fans and friends.