Interview: Phantogram

Skidmore College has a history of enlisting top tier independent (and sometimes dependent) artists for on-Campus performances.  From Wilco to Grizzly Bear to Janelle Monae, we’ve been rather spoiled with our concert selections.  When it comes to great shows, we kind of get it done.  And when Saratoga Springs’ Phantogram made their own sort of homecoming a few weeks ago at the college’s Athletic Facilities, again, they reminded us of just how lucky we are.  They played a awe-inspiring visual/audio set of the hard hitting, psychedelic, hip-hop infused rock that encompasses their debut Eyelid Movies.

But, unlike most of the fortunate few who have had the privilege of seeing Phantogram live, we at Skidmore have been lucky enough to watch the band mature before our very eyes, from their early beginnings as Charlie Everywhere some three years ago.  This year’s graduating class even saw one of the band’s first shows, at its very own Falstaff’s, when they opened for an at-the-time emerging Yeasayer.  And to put the icing on the cake, after their most recent Skidmore gig, SEC got a chance to chat with the group’s core members, the gorgeous Sarah Barthel and the beautifully bearded Josh Carter.  We got down to business, making sure to find out why they changed their name, what that name means, who they’ve been listening to in their van, and, of course, which Saratoga Springs restaurants to eat at.  Like I said, we are lucky.

Check the interview out below:

SEC: So how does it feel to be home?

Sarah: Fuckin’ wonderful. Pardon my French, but it kind of deserves an F-word. We’re really happy to be home. It’s been a long tour. It’s been a really long tour…

SEC: When was the last time you guys were here in Saratoga Springs or at Skidmore?

Josh: At Skidmore? We played with Yeasayer at Skidmore.

SEC: That was a really good show by the way.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah, that was awesome. That was great. That was one our first shows, too.

Josh: I think it was our first show; we were just starting.

Sarah: We met this dude who went to school here [at Skidmore] and he was like ‘Hey, you’re in a band, Yeasayer’s coming…’ We were planning on doing something and canceled everything. We were like ‘We have to play the show with Yeasayer.

Josh: We were supposed to go to a wedding, or something important. We were just starting so we were really excited about the opportunity.

SEC: We [at Skidmore]know you as Charlie Everywhere. When did you guys change your name and why?

Sarah: A year and a half ago.

Josh: Well we changed our name around the time record labels started showing interest in us. We’ve had a pretty serendipitous career so far, being such a young band. Around the time record labels started showing interest in us, we decided it was time to change our name into something we liked, you know?

SEC: Why Phantogram?

Sarah: Because it’s awesome.

SEC: What’s the meaning behind that?

Sarah: We were thinking about all these cool things like Phantom Hands or Ghost Hands – something kind of – another world, dimension type of thing, and a double meaning I guess. And Josh was like ‘What about Phantogram?’ thinking it was like a message from another world, or like a ghost message.

Josh: Like a telegram.

Sarah: And we looked it up, and no band took the name, which is so rare.

Josh: Because there’s a million bands out there.

Sarah: And then we really looked it up, and it’s actually a two-dimensional object that, when you look at it from a certain angle, it pops up. It’s like a 3D—

SEC: Like a hologram?

Sarah: Kind of, in a way.

Josh: It’s sort of like an optical illusion. There’s two different kinds of phantograms: there’s a picture you take at a forty-five degree angle, and if you look at it at a forty-five degree angle, it will appear to pop up. Other phantograms are the red and blue overlapping images. And being a two piece band, we found it fitting because we’re a two piece band, two dimensions, and we make a stereophonic, bigger sound than the two of us, and that’s basically what a phantogram is.

SEC: That’s awesome. It’s working for you guys.

Sarah: Yeah, I think it’s way better.

SEC: Do you guys feel associated with these other up-and-coming boy-girl duo bands like Tennis and Sleigh Bells and Matt and Kim?

Josh: We get associated with them. We were in a layout in Spin Magazine in the September issue and it featured boy-girl bands. It was us and Sleigh Bells and Cotton Jones. Often people are like ‘You guys remind me a lot of Sleigh Bells,’ and I’m like ‘Well, Sarah does have bangs, and I do play guitar, but we don’t sound anything like Sleigh Bells.’ But we don’t feel any association with them. When we started we just wanted to make music together and it’s a pain in the ass to work with too many people.

SEC: Is the songwriting done together?

Josh: Well it’s different every time, honestly. Sometimes we’ll write separately and bring it together and see what meshes well. Often we’ll just jam over a drum machine and see what happens. Some of the songs I wrote, before we even started, and I was singing in weird falsetto, and then I met up with Sarah and was like ‘Can you please try to lay down some vocals?’ and they sounded great.

SEC: What’s your favorite band you guys have played with?

Josh: As far as personality?

SEC: Sure.

Josh: Well personality-wise, there’s been a lot. The XX were very friendly people. The Antlers are very friendly people.

SEC: That’s one of my favorite bands.

Josh: They’re great. Peter Silberman went to Skidmore.

Sarah: That was a really cool tour. I don’t know if you guys have ever seen them live…

SEC: Yeah, I’ve seen them twice. They’re awesome.

Sarah: I mean the record’s great, but them live…I never got sick of it. I’ve seen them play, I don’t know, twenty-five times in a row, and every time it’s so beautiful.

SEC: Did you say he went to Skidmore?

Josh: Yeah, he did.

SEC: I didn’t know that.

Josh: Only for a semester – I think he dropped out.

SEC: You have no idea how happy this makes me – I love him.

Sarah: He graduated not too long ago too. He’s kind of young.

Josh: He is younger than us.

Sarah: He graduated in 2006 or 7.

SEC: I did not know that; that’s awesome.

Josh: Our first major US tour, this band called The School of Seven Bells took us on tour, and we became really good friends with them. Sonically, I love all three of the bands we mentioned, all of their music. We’ve been lucky. [To Sarah] Who’d we just get of tour with? [To SEC] Oh, Josiah Wolf. We took Josiah Wolf of Why? on tour, and he and his fiancé were wonderful.

Sarah: Junk Culture.

Josh: Junk Culture was awesome.

Sarah: He’s this dude who makes beats. He’s kind of like a cross between Tobacco and…

Josh: Maybe like Flying Lotus. Almost a little Panda Bear, too. He’s on the same label as Girl Talk. There’s only been one band that we’ve toured with that we didn’t really like, but I’m not going to say who they are. They were a pain in the ass though.

SEC: [Jokingly] I’ll try to guess. So, piggybacking off of that, what bands are you listening to now? Who do you really respect?

Josh: The new Gold Panda album is really cool.

Sarah: Yeah. Really cool. [To Josh] Who else? Who else do we listen to on tour?

Josh: The new Black Milk album is pretty cool; I just bought that. We always listen to Why? That’s kind of a staple – Why? and Flying Lotus are usually a staple in the van.

Sarah: Yeah. And Beach House.

Josh: Yeah, Beach House. Their new record is awesome.

SEC: It’s one of my favorites already; I’ve listened to it so many times.

Sarah: Yeah, so good.

Josh: We warmed up for them about a year ago. They were just fantastic.

SEC: I saw them last month and they were amazing.

Josh: Did they have the big triangle and blue lights?

SEC: Yeah, they did. The light show was awesome.

Sarah: [Agreeing] And they’re all back-lit. Did could you see their faces?

SEC: Yeah, you could. I saw them at Radio City Music Hall.

Sarah: Oh, they were opening for…

SEC: Vampire Weekend.

Sarah: Yes. I saw them open up for them in Dallas. They were actually playing downstairs from us the same night, which was kind of a bummer. It was this huge place. It was actually kind of nice. I was walking out, finishing my dinner, and I was like [after hearing Beach House] ‘What?! No.’ I had no idea they were opening. I’m not a huge fan of Vampire Weekend, but Beach House, I was like ‘Oh my god’.

SEC: Have you met them?

Sarah: Yeah, we met the…dude. We played a show with them.

Josh: [Jokingly] Well I hung out with both of them.

Sarah: Oh, did you?

Josh: You were too busy taking shots at the bar.

Sarah: Yeah, that’s true.

SEC: They have a similar dynamic to you guys – they added a drummer recently.

Sarah: Yeah, they’re fuckin’ wonderful. I love them.

SEC: Do you guys like Portishead?

Josh: Their new album is awesome.

Sarah: Their most recent record is my favorite, yeah.

SEC: When I first listened to you guys it reminded me of a more hip-hop-y Portishead.

Josh: Yeah, we get that a lot.  It’s weird because when we first started a band, we weren’t thinking anything along the lines of trip-hop.

SEC: What are your influences?

Josh: All kinds of music.

Sarah: Yeah, normally people think we’re influenced by Portishead and Massive Attack and all the trip-hop stuff, but we’re not even close to any of those.

SEC: What about Bjork?

Sarah: Uh, no. The Cocteau Twins – people say we sound like the Cocteau Twins.

Josh: I do like the Cocteau Twins a lot.

Sarah: We’re influenced by a lot of old soul music and Motown, and old obscure records. Josh has a bunch of French Pop from the 60’s.

SEC: Yeah, I’ve heard you talk about Serge Gainsbourg a lot.

Josh: Big time, yeah. Francois Hardy and stuff like that. But we also really like droning bands like Slowdive and Ride and My Bloody Valentine, even though everybody says that. We really like all kinds – Guided By Voices, Pavement – we don’t really discriminate. We even like that song “Party in the USA”.

SEC: [Laughing] We were actually going to ask you what you thought about Miley Cyrus, just as a joke.

Sarah: You were? Shut Up!

Josh: Well I think Miley Cyrus is kind of douche-y, but that song sounds like a Passion Pit song; it really does.

Sarah: Yeah, whoever wrote that was definitely listening to Passion Pit.

SEC: And a couple last questions, hitting home I guess – favorite sandwich shop in Saratoga?

Josh: Legends. It’s either Legends or Roma’s.

Sarah: That place is pretty damn good, yeah.

Josh: Have you been to legends?

SEC: Roma’s is great.

Sarah: You know, I like the Putnam Market.

SEC: Putnam’s my favorite, yeah, absolutely.

Sarah: Alright, I think I’ll say that then, yeah.

SEC: And favorite restaurant on Broadway? This is a much-heated debate amongst Skidmore students.

Sarah: Does it have to be on Broadway?

SEC: It’s up to you.

Sarah: Let’s see. On Broadway…One Caroline, but that’s not on Broadway.

SEC: That’s my favorite.

Sarah: I used to work there, for five years. It’s so good. So good.

Josh: I like the new Phila Fusion restaurant.

Sarah: Sperry’s, have you been to Sperry’s? Highly recommended. It’s a little price-y, but it’s really good.

SEC: Max London’s?

Sarah: Oh, Max London’s. Yeah, that was good; that’s a good place.

Josh: Max London’s is great. We always try to go there, but every time we try to go there, it’s a Monday night and they’re never open.

SEC: Well…thanks a lot. You’ve given me a recommendation. I’ll try to eat there.

[Interview by Taylor Dafoe and Drew Litowitz]

2 thoughts on “Interview: Phantogram

  1. Pingback: Album Review: Phantogram – Nightlife EP « Consequence of Sound

  2. Pingback: AM1700 Radio » PHANTOGRAM // Nightlife

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