Interview: Phantogram

PhantogramPhantogram are an electro-rock band currently on a world tour with their newest album Voices. They formed in 2007 and comprise Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel.

The music is hypnotic; often almost to the point that the listener can feel they’re being exploited to a feeling. As an example, their best known song; "When I’m Small" is built around a single, pulsing riff which bridges to incorporate lyrics more befitting quiet, and then climaxes with an emotive guitar solo based around frenetic tremolo picking and the omission of bends. Tonally, early releases are the music of adolescent desperation; analysis of the self as ultimate subject, but often slowed down; a view of the storm from its exterior. Eyelid Movies contained an abundance of songs full of 'dark' lyrics, urban isolation and the loss of love amidst the indifferent fury and beauty of nature. When their work is weakest it feels unresolved, neither the lyrics nor the rhythm coming together and works best by they have an emotional center to their songs.

We speak to the duo about Nick Drake and writing in paradox.

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Firstly, how is the tour going? Are you excited to be playing new music?

PG: The tour has been going great so far! It's been mostly USA and Canada. Most of the shows sold out! Looking forward to Europe and UK next week. It's really fun to be playing the material from Voices. We toured for a few years off of our first two releases, so it keeps things fresh for us. It’s great to have new stuff for our audience and ever growing fan base.

A lot of your best songs are served by paradox, i.e. danceable songs about heartbreak. Is this an intentional form of catharsis for you? Dancing out the pain? Or was it just how you naturally make music?

PG: It's how we make music. There is a very dark element of our sound, especially lyrically, that comes out naturally. Also, we love rhythms and beats. You can hear the use of juxtaposition in our work in many ways - whether it's a couple lines of words that seem open ended, or sonics constructed and placed that may not necessarily be heard in the same 'genre' of music.

Phantogram’s work is unmistakably urban, as in unlike traditional folk. Do you relate to more traditional forms of genre such as folk? Do you listen to it at all?

PG: We listen to all kinds of music. We probably listen to less 'urban' music than one might assume. I get confused though, when thinking about the difference between certain genres. I like Nick Drake. Is that folk? I like the band WHY? Somebody told me they're folk-hop. The lines are very blurry to me as to what's what, musically.

It seems a lot of your songs are about dissolving; the dissolution of a person within a society that he or she isn’t able to exist comfortably in? Are you writing near yourselves, or about yourselves directly?

PG: All of our songs are about ourselves or our perception of others around us. Basic human feelings that are inescapable. Existence. A lot of the subject matter does deal with a struggle of fitting in society.

Are you able to escape fame and its trappings when you need to?

PG: We live very normal lives when we aren't on tour.

It’s obviously hard to say what subject, or encounter, or person produces a sound or a lyric in you but do you have reliable sources of inspiration?

PG: We are inspired by many different artists, both visually and musically. David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, Charlie Kauffman, Michel Gondry, The Beatles, MBV, GBV, RZA etc...

How do you feel about New York and how much it’s changed? When you read about how it was in the 60s and 70s and how many barriers have been erected since then, do you think it’s accurate to call it an artist’s town now? Would you live anywhere else?

PG: New York is very much an artist’s town. I would live anywhere that I felt inspired. New York is one of the most forward thinking cities for the arts.

And of course, what are your plans?

PG: We plan to keep making music and staying creative always.

Find out more about Phantogram here.

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