Sunday, April 26, 2009

Phantogram - Sounds That Grab a Hold of Your Heart in a Beautiful Way

On April 2, I walked into the Mercury Lounge at 8:00 sharp to have a beer and get ready for night of great music. I am not one to come for the headliner, missing the opening acts. Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel are the reason I don’t. They were a most unexpected surprise for me. The sound that started churning and flowing off the stage left me in a trance-like state, ready for the next song, and the next, and the next. They will not stay an opening act for long, and I feel very privileged to talk to them and let them introduce themselves and their music to you.

Josh, Sarah. Thank you for taking the time to chat and shed
some light on what you do and how you do it. I guess first of all, I wanted to ask you about that show at the Merc. The energy just poured from the stage. How did you feel about playing in that venue and the love from the crowd?

We have played at Mercury Lounge a couple of times now. It is a fun venue to play at. W
e had a blast! The audience seemed to enjoy themselves. After each song we played, the crowd response intensified more and more.

I have to ask about how you two came together. Music class? Bulletin board? Afterhours party?

We've been friends for about 12 years. We grew up together in a VERY small town called Greenwich (upstate, new york) We were both raised on small farm houses a few miles from each other. We both moved out of the area for a few years- I went to college to find my "creative niche" and Josh moved to NYC to pursue his goals in being in a band. I came home to discover I was unsatisfied with the direction I was going with my creativity. I decided to study theater and musical theater.... absolutely hated it. Then Josh moved home after his break-up with his previous band...

...we sparked-up our friendship again and started hanging out a lot.

Sarah: He let me listen to some of his short beats and ideas that he had been working on. I thought they were super unique and had a lot of potential to become something and I was instantly inspired to work with him.

Josh: We started making music together. I had an idea of what i wanted to do musically for a few years. After accumulating loads of random sketch ideas on 4-track tape, and eventually digital files (thank you mr. computer), Sarah encouraged me to take some of these ideas more seriously. She helped me finish some ideas. Satisfied with the outcome of these songs, we decided to start a band together.

Your sound is so rich and unique. You two aren’t your average 3-5 piece rock band. It’s part electronica shoegaze throwback, part modern indie rock. You’ve carved out a nice niche for yourself. How did you arrive at this sound?

We don't favor any particular genre of music over another. We love so many different kinds of music, styles, and textures. I think by combining the elements that we enjoy most of certain genres , we have developed our own sound. It's fun to experiment. But, overall, following our emotions has been key. Too much thinking can ruin the flow from your heart.

The path to find this sound was carved out from our influences and visual ideas, I guess. We are inspired by all types of music. - french pop, old soul and doo-wop, classical, jazz, krautrock, hip-hop, indie, electronica - whether it be a simple hand clap pattern from an old Herbie Hancock song or or a gritty analog synth from The Silver Apples, they all have some sort of influence on our music. It has been hard to describe our music to people who haven't heard it. When a stranger asks us what kind of music we make, we refer to it as "STREET BEAT PSYCHE POP"

OAN: Are the songs a total collaborative effort? Do you share in the composition, lyrics and layers like you do on stage? And do you get sick of each other?

It is mostly a collaborative project. A lot of our songs were written together in our rehearsal space, some on our own. Josh writes most of the lyrics with a little help from me here and there. As for us getting sick of each other, oddly enough, we manage to get along great. There are a few minor disagreements here and there, but it amazes me how well we work together.

It depends on the song. Some songs start from a beat that i make that we jam over in our rehearsal space. Some are ideas that were written on guitar or piano by either of us. Sometimes we hum something over and over again until we figure out how to translate it into a song. Not all of the songs are totally collaborative. Of the songs that were created individually, we weed out the ideas that we both agree are good.

Did you have any formal music training? When did you know that this is what you wanted to do? What drives your passion behind the music?

No formal instrument training. I play the piano and am learning to play guitar. I've been singing my entire life. Playing in a band and writing original tunes is something I have always wanted to do. Josh helped inspire me to do so. My passion comes from textures, beauty, and experiences. Creating music motivates me. It is an outlet for my imagination.

Josh: I am self-taught. I grew up in a very musical family. My parents, brother and sister all play instruments. I started playing drums in my late teens and picked up the guitar and piano a bit. My parents bought me a 4-track machine for my 18th birthday, and I became obsessed with making strange textures and writing songs, messing around with loop pedals, drum machines, and whatever instruments i could get my hands on. Music is something that I have to do. It is something that I tend to fixate on at all times. I can't see myself not making music or being creative in some way or another.

OAN: Well, you do it very well. Each song is so unique. The themes are all different. The music is diverse. The pace for each takes puts you in a completely different mind-set from the others. It’s so well thought out. Is this a conscience effort on your part, to make each song an individual journey?

Josh and Sarah: It is not always a conscience effort. Usually what comes out, comes out in our songs. But we try to start off with a fresh canvas for each song. It starts with an idea, then turns into some sort of a theme and works from there. We pull a lot of these ideas from our imaginations, dreams, or past experiences. sometimes we start off by writing a simple melody or beat and visuals come to our heads.. I think the best way to describe this process, is visualizing short stories or films in our minds, and creating the theme of a song around that.

Springboarding off of that question, how do you arrive at a final result? Because again, the sound is so layered, with so many parts that have to work together. What’s the process you work through to create?

From there, they continue to grow and develop their emotion. I like to hear sounds that can grab a hold of your heart in a beautiful way.

OAN: Let’s touch on the lyrics.Many of them are dark, haunting, sad. All of them are moving. Do you write together, drawing on individual experience? Or do you use the outlet to tell a story?

A lot of our lyrics tend to be on the darker or sad side. I suppose that's what comes out the easiest. But we like to offer a bit of hope within our music. Like a light at the end of the tunnel. Generally speaking, our songs are about life and death, love, meaning, existence, pain and joy, isolation, relationships with friends...

...Some of them are driven from personal experience in one way or another. When the lyrics are written, we grab personal experience for the emotional aspect and grab visuals in our imagination the thematic aspect.

OAN: What gets your blood flowing outside of music? What do you do to have fun and unwind.

Hmmm, outside of music. That's a tough question because music is the main reason behind my blood flowing. Comedy would have to be the other reason. Tim and Eric at the moment. They are comedic geniuses. Josh and I spend a lot of time being amused by them in our free time.

Josh, Sarah. I cannot thank you enough for your time. The EP is fantastic and just from personal experience, your fanbase is growing every day. Don’t forget me when you’re famous. (kidding)

Josh and Sarah:
A big big big THANK YOU!!! cheers!

mp3: When I'm Small

Official Site and EP Purchase

An Indie Mix from Josh
mp3: Why - Fatalist Palmistry
mp3: Snowden - Anti-Anti
mp3: Slowdive - Dagger
mp3: Lambchop - The Old Fat Robin
mp3: Morphine - In Spite of Me
mp3: The Pixies - Alec Eiffel
mp3: Deerhunter - Nothing Ever Happened
mp3: Sparklehorse - Eyepennies
mp3: The Walkmen - In the New Year
mp3: Robyn Hitchcock - Television
mp3: My Bloody Valentine - No More Sorry

A Beat Mix from Sarah
mp3: Elzhi - Guessing Game
mp3: Madlib - Take it Back
mp3: Quasimoto - Come On Feet
mp3: Oh No - Oh Zone
mp3: Dosh - Naoise
mp3: J Dilla - Airworks
mp3: Jay-Z - Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)
mp3: Flying Lotus - Massage Situation
mp3: Animal Collective - My Girls
mp3: Black Moth Super Rainbow - Sun Lips
mp3: J Dilla - Time: The Donuts of the Heart

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