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Interview: Phantogram

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on June 30, 2014

American electro-rock duo, Phantogram, are headed our way soon for Splendour In The Grass. After being in the business since 2007, they’ve made a name for themselves on and off the stage. Their latest album Voices is a wall of sound, with exciting melodies and beats, and incredible vocals. We caught up with them in the midst of their seemingly never-ending touring schedule to chat about the future of music, what we can expect from their first time on Australian soil, and how the hell they managed to work with Big Boi!

So how did it all start? Have you guys known each other for a while, or are you just really lucky?

Well, Sarah and I have been friends since high school! She grew up in the same neighbourhood as one of my best friends, and I was really good friends with her sister. We’ve known each other for a very long time! Basically, we started the band about 5 or 6 years ago. I was playing in a band in New York City with my brother, but I quit that and decided to pursue my solo material. I moved upstate to Saratoga Springs, and was just making beats and writing songs. For a lot of that, I was singing in really high-pitched falsetto. Then Sarah and I started hanging out a lot, and I started playing her some stuff, and realised that she had a great voice and she was really good at the piano. I asked her if she wanted to sing on some of my stuff, and it turned out really great, and we started the band!

Where does the name come from?

Well, it took us a while to think of a cool name. We would come up with an idea, then Google it to see if anyone else was called that. There are a million bands out there, and a lot of different names! So I thought, “what about like, a telegram from another dimension, or some ghost world? What about ‘Phantogram’?” Sarah thought it was cool, and we looked it up and no one else had it, so we stuck with it.

You guys have been touring a LOT! What is it like on the road for extended periods of time?

It’s very tiring. I work on music almost every day. Yesterday I went skate boarding, which was fun. I try to do other things, but it can be a grind, you know? One bummer is I don’t get to see my family or friends often, and the cool people that I meet on the road, you have to say, “Hey it was cool meeting you and hanging out, but I have to go to another city now.” I really can’t complain though, I have the best job in the world and I love what I do. We’re real “road dogs” though. We know that it’s part of the job and has a lot to do with our success as a band. There are a lot of bands who ask me how we do it, how we tour so much – they can’t handle being away for so long.

You describe your music as saying, “Imagery goes hand in hand” with it – can you describe that a bit more?

Well, a lot of our song writing process is visual. When I’m working on something, I’m often picturing a kind of imaginary scenario of something happening, or I’m picturing colours or shapes. That’s how we write together too.

As someone who’s been in the industry for a few years now, I’m interested to see what your thoughts are on what’s happening right now. Where do you see it heading?

It’s exciting, at least for Phantogram. I love full length records, don’t get me wrong – I think they serve a purpose, but they way labels are putting out records is a bit archaic. Fans and listeners digest music in a much faster rate, so what I want to do is just release songs more often, and release them online. Maybe at our shows, sell a download or something like that. It would be a good way to keep us as artists happy, and keep creating, but also it’s a great way to keep fans excited about new music.

You have to tell me – what was it like working with Big Boi?

He was online looking up something, and some kind of ad with our song came on. He Shazam’d it, and it was ‘Mouthful of Diamonds’. He was DJing that night and apparently he just played it all night long; he was in love with it, and he tweeted about it! Sarah caught wind of that and she tweeted back to him, and they got a dialogue going. Next thing you know, we were on the road and we met him. He ended up flying us down to Atlanta, and I played him a bunch of my beats. Now we’re friends and we make music and vibe really well together.

What can we expect from your new album? Is it different from your previous stuff?

Voices is a natural progression and extension of what we do, and we were just kind of doing what we’ve already done as a band, and made music we would want to listen to. We wrote a lot of music for the record, and decided on 11 songs that we thought went well for it. Sonically, it’s heavier and a little more bombastic. It’s also a little bit more “live” sounding too, because when we made Eyelid Movies, we didn’t really have fans and we hadn’t really played shows, so when we made Voices we were thinking, “Who’s going to play what live?” Sarah and I used to do a lot of juggling back and forth on stage, which was a lot of fun, but now we’re a little freer because we have four people onstage instead of two. We think about how it’s going to be translated live. Now when I’m on the road, I’m definitely thinking about the live show.

What can we, in Australia, expect from your live shows when you come here?

You can expect lots of dynamics – a loud, energetic show with lots of emotions. We try to connect with our audience and give them an experience and something that they can take away rather then just seeing another band. This is a Phantogram show!

How does playing your own show differ to playing a festival?

It’s different because lots of times at festivals, you don’t get to do a soundcheck unless you’re a headliner. This is going to be our first time in Australia, so I imagine we’re not going to be playing at night with a super good slot. Sometimes they’re a rush and you just get up and play. I like the festival vibe a lot. It’s definitely different than an actual Phantogram show though.

Phantogram Australian tour dates:

Thurs July 24 – Metro Theatre, Sydney
Fri July 25 – Prince Bandroom, Melbourne
Sat July 27 – Splendour In The Grass

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