Once in a while there comes an act that will make you stop, stare and listen -- a group that has the power to suck you in and keep you there. That's been my experience with Phantogram. Their beatific synth-scapes, swirled with haunting lyrics and steady beats, makes them stand out in a vast ocean of boy-girl pop outfits.
They craft songs with contagious drums at its core -- structures that are reminiscent of old-school Wu-Tang Clan. And what floats on top is their psychedelic hooks and sonic charm: they're dark, yet accessible; inviting, but with a touch of danger. You never know what's coming around the next turn.
Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter originally performed under the moniker Charlie Everywhere, turning heads with their energetic synth-ridden pop all around the Saratoga, NY area, until changing their name to Phantogram when they signed with the BBE record label and put out their self-titled EP. Whatever they call themselves, this is one multi-talented outfit. Josh Carter has the ear for song structure and beats, and they both share a tremendous knack for sound manipulation, looping, and sampling. Sarah's voice is stunningly angelic and is the perfect accompaniment to Josh's own voice and anomalous guitar playing.
Their first full length, Eyelid Movies, is as fitting a title as they come. It's a pulsating, hallucinatory trip of a record, lined with tales of lost love. "Bloody Palms" has been the one getting me the most lately. The song exudes what this group is to me, an absolute ball of pleasure with rugged beats and great guitar riffs. Sarah's part on this is pure rapture, a soothing and emotional voice perfectly placed in a song of pain.
Touring heavily behind Eyelid Movies during most of 2010 did the duo well. They've received accolades for both the record and their live shows -- culminating with an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon early this month.
I caught up with Sarah and Josh over email throughout the fall and during the early part of January while the band was retreating to write new music before hitting the road again.
As far as set list constructing goes, is it a joint effort by both of you?
Sarah Barthel: The set list is constructed by the two of us. We spent a lot of time figuring out the perfect set list that goes with the mood of the show. Unfortunately we are unable to switch up the set because the songs flow with the visuals that are playing on top of us. These awesome artists from Ravacon Productions individually handcrafted a video for each song in our set.
Are you mainly pushing the material off of Eyelid Movies?
SB: We've been pushing the album pretty hard this past tour with a little bit of extra spice. There are a few songs off the album that we play completely different live. We also have been playing one new song called "Make a Fist."
I saw one interview where you guys say something along the lines of how it really doesn't matter where you're from when it comes to creating interesting music. Although I must say that coming from the Capital Region myself, it's a pleasure to hear a group like yours come from so close to where I grew up. Let's talk about your remote location "barn-haven" that I've heard about.
SB: It's in Easton, NY about 40 minutes east of Saratoga, very close from the Hudson River. The best way to describe it is that it's right out of a Grandma Moses painting: rolling hills, bright stars and peace of mind. It's the most beautiful area I have ever seen in the United States. It's okay to make a lot of noise out there because it's quite desolate. We get a lot done there because there aren't many distractions, and it's easy to reflect on ideas when there isn't anyone listening with us. It's literally just the two of us.
It's nice to have such a retreat where you're separating yourself from life to create. I've heard some artists say that they kind of do that on stage at times. Where do you go while performing?
SB: I go wherever my emotions and feelings take me. Since our lyrics are very open ended and ambiguous, I can base them around my emotions at that time.
What do you guys like to listen to?
SB: We listen to all kinds of music. On the road we've been listening to a lot of Anticon artists such as Josiah Wolf, Why?, Baths, and Thee More Shallows. We also have been listening to lot of The Moth podcast.
If you could play one show with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
SB: Pink Floyd.