The place to find and share independent music. From hip-hop to pop, dubstep to drum n bass; Beatnik is your filter.
Beatnik introduces new talent: Phantogram
Proud to break new artists, Beatnik is delighted to bring you yet another exclusive under the banner ‘one to watch’. Phantogram, hailing from quiet New York State, are certainly just that.
We caught up with the band at their first ever London gig, the first date of their first ever tour of Europe. Add to that the fact that we are the first to interview Phantogram outside of the USA and you recognise there are a lot of ‘firsts.’ But one listen to this hot transatlantic export, and you appreciate there’s nothing amateur brewing here.
We received the promo for their exciting debut ‘Eyelid Movies’ and immediately, just like the staff over at BBE, rubbed our hands with glee.
In short it’s a brilliant, left-field release. Hypnotic and dark (in a good way), their sound is sort of hard to decipher making for intriguing listening. I guess the best descriptive jacket is trip-hop twined with indie electro, with a pinch of folk and dirty base thrown in for good measure. But, with the pigeonholing attempt over, their music is made up of surreal sounds that stir different reactions with each listen.
Made up of American duo Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, the talented two share both vocal and production duties on the album. Their unique friendship stems from pre school days, and this vast time of comaraderie is clear throughout the debut, creating music impossible to ignore, nurtured in raw inner city vibrancy.
And yes while we’ve had a flourish of indie-electro bands of late, especially here in the UK, Phantogram are beyond just another ‘cool band.’ The solid goodness of their music means they have no place on the rickety hipster bandwagon set to crash at any moment. So much is the appeal that Bat for Lashes is a major fan, asking Phantogram to open up for her on this year’s European tour.
Over three pints, a semi- passable pizza and a book of scribbled notes Beatnik finally sits down in Brixton’s Windmill, a quaint tucked away pub during sound check to get a deeper introduction to the phenomenon of Phantogram.
Straight away I sense a strong closeness between the two of you.
Sarah: We actually went to nursery school together.
So you’ve been making music since then?
S:(laughs) No. We’ve been around each other and really good friends that long but we only started making music about two and half years ago. Being really good friends is what it’s about.
Tell me about the set up. I heard you guys have a secluded barn, where you produce. It’s an interesting contrast to the type of music you make.
S: Yeah (laughs) we have a barn in rural eastern New York. Close to Montreal, Bosten and Phili and New York, It’s nice to be surrounded, but really about 45 min away from any city or town.
We love it out there because we’re not distracted by any metropolis. This can also kinda sucks cos there isn’t anything to do. But then again we get a lot done, and it means we can make loads of noise late hours of the night.
To be together in a confined space over long periods of time there must be arguments?
S: (laughs) Arguments but not about important things. Luckily we get along really well and bicker about stupid things. Maybe just to entertain ourselves more than anything.
Josh: When we recorded the record and stuff we never really fought or argued about anything, now most of the arguments come from touring ‘cos the road stresses you out.
What instruments to you play?
S: I play the keys and josh plays the guitar.
J: My first instrument was a drum kit. Along with drum kits and percussion we’ve got loads of instruments in the barn.
Coming from a small city, music choice can sometimes be limited. How did you go about finding new music growing up?
J: I was fortunate to grow up with a hip older brother….
S: … and father and mother, and great music all around.
J: Yeah, but as far as indie and more underground sounds, my brother was always on top of everything, so I was exposed to great music at just 10 years old. Sarah introduced me to a lot of underground hip hop later on in life. So she turned me to the abstract.
So is that where the Hip Hop angle comes from in the band?
S: Well josh makes the beats, so he should really take all the credit for that. But we are both influenced by a great mc and a great beat. We respect Hip Hop a lot.
J: I’d really like to work with Dangermouse, MF Doom or Dam-Funk.
Have you been compared to any other bands like Portishead or Sol Seppy?
S: A lot of people pick out different parts of our sound and refer us to them, which is great. Its great people can catch something in our music but just not too much. And that’s what we are going for. We are certainly shooting for a new sound.
You refer you’re sounds to dreams, explain.
S: Yeah, We get a lot of ideas and stories from visions and dreams that we create in our minds. Our music is definitely visually driven.
Looking at ‘Eyelid Movies’, which were your favourite tracks to make?
S: Really depends on the time of day.
J: One of my favourite songs, which we both wrote, is ‘You Were The Ocean.’ That was a fun song. It felt more emotionally driven in particular to the rest.
S: Yeah I would have to say that one too and ‘10,000 Claps.’ Just because we were able to use an old piano in Josh’s parents’ house. We sort of set it up as best we could, laying microphones in the piano hoping the sound would come through. I mean it’s kind of dirty and low fi but that’s what I like about the piano sound in that song.
One of my favourites is the dirty baseline of ‘Running From The Cops’.
J: Yeah, that was like one of our first songs that we wrote, and I remember making the beat, 8 bars on a base. We were driving to New York City. I had a different drum line and wondered what it would be like if we made it into a song. I was working out a melody and it sort of come together by the time we got back from our weekend trip. It felt good to drive through the city to that song.
How long did the album take?
J: It was recorded during the winter of 2007 and it took us 4 month’s to write and record. But the album was only originally intended as a demo. During the course of that year we had written 25-30 songs and picked the songs we thought would go best together. It was something we planned on releasing ourselves until we got picked up by a couple of labels. It’s really exciting to see the copy in it’s physical form now.
S: We finished it and got it re-mastered with our own money. Initially we just thought get it out! I think literally two days after we sent it out BBE got in contact and was like we want to sign you and release this. So it was really awesome although we lost a load of money doing the mastering ourselves (laughs). But it’s great!
What would you really like to get across to the listen when they first hear you’re debut?
J: For me I want it to stimulate peoples imagination. The album ranges with beat. I guess if the album made someone happy then great but I’d prefer for it to make them camphoric in working out some sort of depression and anax. I don’t want to make someone sad, but you know how there’s comfort in listening to something mellow.
S: We want it to ticker emotions from happy to sad. We want people to listen to it twice and interpret their own ideas and stories. To see something visually.