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Q&A: Phantogram

By Daniel Kohn on June 23, 2010

 

Q&A: Phantogram

Though it possesses one of the best outdoor music venues in the country, Saratoga Springs, New York, is better known for horse racing than for its music scene. However, Phantogram is determined to change that. With catchy beats and energetic live performances, a new album, Eyelid Moves, released on Barsuk Records, and an extensive tour opening for Metric and The xx, the two-piece band has seen its profile grow over the first half of 2010. Recently, FILTER caught up with keyboardist Sarah Barthel to rap about how Phantogram formed, her favorite albums and what happens to your hair follicles when you tour with Minus The Bear and Yeasayer.


You and the band's guitarist, Josh Carter, have known each other a long time. How did you meet and what were your first impressions of one another?

We met in high school. Josh was good friends with my sister and neighbor. He came over to our house every single day after school and that's how we became good friends. Me being a grade below them, I thought they were the coolest group of kids around. They weren't necessarily the popular kids in school (you had to have a farmer's tan and own a snow mobile to be that) but they were kids that liked to have fun and goof off. We all had such a fun time whether it was outside hanging in the street skateboarding or out back jumping on the trampoline. Ahh, the good old days.

Saratoga Springs is home to one of the best music venues in the country, SPAC. Did you see any bands there that influenced your decision to become musicians? Do you have any memorable concert experiences when you were younger that led you to want to be musicians?

Poison was pretty awesome a few years ago. There were a lot of trashy girls running around talking about "Rock of Love" and how they wanted to have sex with Bret Michaels.

But in all seriousness, the only times I remember going to SPAC was when I was younger to see the symphony or the ballet. Not our favorite bands come through this area - no offense to Dave Matthews and Phish, but we have to drive down to NYC to see good shows. Once we won tickets to the Big Day Out festival and saw the Deftones. They were awesome live.

You've described your sound as being "street beat, psych pop." What are some of your favorite albums and have they shaped this unique sound in any way?

We grab our influences from all kinds of genres. I think the list would be too long if I told you all of them but to name a few classics: Ziggy Stardust, Revolver, The Dark Side of the Moon, Kid A, Ill Communication, Donuts, Siamese Dream, Thriller, The Love Below, Stankonia, Rounds, Midnight Marauders, Beat Konducta, Loveless, and It's A Wonderful Life.

Opening for Minus The Bear and Yeasayer must have been exciting. Have you incorporated any of the lessons learned from these bands into your performance?

Haha, well, after touring with Minus The Bear, Josh decided to grow his beard out and after playing with Yeasayer, I wanted to shave my beard into a mustache.

What influenced you to sign with Barsuk? Did having respected label mates have anything to do with the decision?

Where do we start? I don't think we could have asked for more in a label; nice, hardworking, and dedicated people that believed in our sound was a good enough reason so sign with them. Although, sharing the same label with Menomena, Nada Surf, Death Cab, and Ra Ra Riot didn't hurt our decision. :)

What was more exciting about the release Eyelid Movies: seeing the album on shelves or having fans familiarly sing along to the tunes?

It was pretty cool seeing people singing along to our songs for the first time on the other side of the country. I think the best part is that we have a very diverse fan base. It gives us hope that we can connect with any person from all walks of life.

As 2010 hits its midway point, you guys are finishing up a string of dates opening for The XX and Metric. Do you watch those bands' sets each night? What kind of a relationship do you develop with a band you are touring with, whether you are supporting or headlining? And are more dates in store for the second half of the year?

We definitely watch their set every night! We get something out of every single performance and it's extremely inspiring to us. We had a blast touring with The xx. They put on a great show and were wonderful people. We didn't really get to meet Metric. They seemed a little too caught up in their own stuff to hang out. Josh talked with the drummer for a while and said he was nice.

What do you feel has been the crowning achievement for Phantogram thus far in your career? What would you like to be able to say was the crowning achievement 5 years from now?

Being able to tour Europe was a huge achievement for us. Also, being able to meet and play with our favorite bands has been a blessing. There is always something new and exciting coming about with this career. Things just keep getting better and better.

In 5 years from now, we hope to have made it to Japan, South America, and Australia. We also hope to have gotten our music into some well-respected director's movies. It would be awesome to have our music paired with a film from Michel Gondry, David Lynch, Danny Boyle, Spike Jonze or Wes Anderson. F

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