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Phantogram - As Far As I Can See

Phantogram - As Far As I Can See

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Published:
Oct 26, 2013
Total plays:
33,032
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347 times
Why do we like this?
Last weekend was the annual Treasure Island Music Festival that is located in the San Francisco Bay on Treasure Island.  With a picturesque background framing downtown San Francisco, The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and beyond, and with a massive lineup of bands ranging from electronica to indie rock to hip-hop, this makes for one of the best music festivals out there.

Day 1 of the festival was highlighted by Phantogram, one of the hottest electronic rock bands, who headlined the Tunnel Stage in true rock star fashion.  Even with the frigid Bay breeze, the duo from upstate New York blazed through all of their hits, as well as new tracks from the upcoming full-length album, Voices.

Before Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, aka Phantogram, electrified the stage at Treasure Island, yours truly had the honor of catching up with them to chat about everything from musical inspirations to collaborating with Big Boi to deep thoughts about their music.

Welcome back to Treasure Island Music Festival!  You guys are one of the few bands that have had the opportunity to play at this festival twice now.  It's been since what, 2010?  Well, I think we can all say a lot has happened in last three years, having released four EPs, one full-length album and another new full-length on the way, as well as headlining tours, it's fair to say it's all coming together for two childhood friends from a small town in upstate New York.

So, you guys are currently out on a headlining tour.  I know a few years ago, you enjoyed warming up for other bands such as School of Seven Bells and The xx. How's the tour going and how does it feel not warming up for other bands?

Josh: It's great.  The shows just keep getting bigger and bigger, and most of the shows on this tour are sold out, so it's great!  It's just a trip.  And I mean, we will always warm up for other bands, for sure, and still are.  We just played with M83 at the Hollywood bowl, and if a really huge band, like Radiohead, want to take us out and support them, we will.   

I know a lot of people might ask you, "Do you feel like you've made it?" I want to ask the same question, but not in the sense of have you "made it" because of material things, more in the sense of emotions and personal being.  For instance, your music can be very "blue" and dark in nature, as John Norris of MTV said, and when focusing on the lyrics of your music, they can be pretty heavy and somber.  At this point in your career, has your success helped you move on from what perhaps certain songs were about and given you a sense of happiness or closure?

Sarah:  No, it hasn't, but we're not unhappy people.  We gravitate towards sad art in general.   Whether it's songs or movies, I guess we gravitate towards emotional art.  We always want to write emotional music.  I don't know necessarily if we're going to go out and write a song about feeling great and it's a beautiful sunny wonderful day, but yeah, we both mostly gravitate towards the darker side of art.

Josh:  Well for me, being happy is a daily choice.  You never know when your ticket is up, but I don't think that's the case with us, because we have a lot of growing to do and a lot more ground to cover. But no, it hasn't really helped us move on.  I mean, if we were writing in a mansion down in Beverly Hills, which I doubt we would ever want to do, we would still write what we do.  We write songs about life in general, you know, and there are a lot of undertones of life, love, death, and existence. But if something strikes us to write a happy song, then we will.  I think a lot of our songs kind of run the gamut of all aspects of life.  I mean, it definitely feels great when people accept your music, but we create music regardless of our fan base.

Sarah:  Yeah, and the struggle that artists have to go through with getting their music or their art out, in general, always adds more expression.

Josh, I read in a past interview that you wanted people to suck and fuck to your music, not have sex.  Is that still the case, or have the notions of sex and love trickled in to the midst of things?  Remember this?

Sarah: [laughing]

Josh:  Haha, we've said a lot of things in interviews. Um"¦

Sarah:  Love can be a lonely thing, too.  I think love trickles in everywhere, even if you don't want it to or if you're looking for it or not.  In general, the people around you and love are always apart of our music.

True that. Over time, and as you hear a particular song more and more, and begin to play them live, do they begin to take on a new meaning?  I mean, how do you still relate to the songs enough that you're not just playing them because the audience wants to hear them? 

Josh:  You know, doing this current tour, a lot of our songs have breathed new life into how I look at them, how I listen to them, and how I play them.  I think they will always mean something new or will be able to connect to how I felt when we wrote the songs.  But that's the special thing about music in the sense that it will take you back to some time.  Like, I can listen to a Smashing Pumpkin CD or something and it will take me back to when I was in 8th grade"¦

Sarah: ...mowing the lawn"¦

Josh:  Haha"¦ holding hands with my first girlfriend out in the woods during the fall or something.  

So, with respect to new songs and inspiration...  I know certain artist have inspired you both -- J Dilla and John Frusciante are two that stick out in my mind that are prevalent in your sound today. Are there any new artists that inspire you and/or may influence your musical direction?  Miley Cyrus?

Josh:  Haha.  Danny Brown just played.  We love that guy.

Sarah:  Yeah, he's the man!  Future Islands is another.  Also bands that we go out on tour with.

Josh:  I think being down at Stankonia and working with Big Boi for a while influenced some of the new record a little bit, like the 808 stuff.

Sarah: Yep.

Josh: I mean as far as some of the beats, but we're always going to be grabbing from all kinds of music.

Sarah:  Yeah, it just depends.  I mean, both Josh and I love that "Party in the USA" song by Miley Cyrus -- it's the fucking jam.

Josh, your first concert was Beck, right?  He's headlining here tomorrow, are you going to be able to catch him play?  

Josh: Yeah, when I was 14.  But no, we can't.  We have a show tomorrow, unfortunately.  We got to play Governors Ball a few years ago and he headlined "“ that was a lot of fun.

Did you get to meet him?

Josh:  No"¦ hopefully one day, and perhaps get the chance to work with him as well.

Speaking of collaborating.  So one day Big Boi was closing down some pop-up ads, and the "Mouth Full of Diamonds" video starts playing.  He Shazams it, then makes it song of the week on his site.  Sarah sees it, then hollers back to him basically saying thanks and that you're a huge fan, and shortly after you guys were on stage with him supporting his Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors album.  How dope was that?  Do you feel that relationship, which is as organic as you can get from the Internet, has helped open new doors for you guys?  Or was it just a mere fun collaboration?

Sarah:  Totally, it gave us a little more respect on level where they can hear Josh's production.  For instance, Josh wants to make beats for MCs in the future, and having Big Boi represent us is always a plus.  It's nice that he thinks so highly of us and says great things about us.

Josh:  You know, it's amazing looking up to these artists that we grew up listening to and love, to find out that those people really love our music is a head-trip.

I don't think you guys have dabbled in the remix department yet, at least not for the masses, have you?  Is that something you guys are interested in ever doing?

Josh:  Ehh"¦ a little bit. We've gotten offers and I've taken stabs at songs, but I mean, personally, I don't really like remixes that much.  I think they are a little pointless.  I'd rather listen to the original song, but we might do some in the future.  But it's not really my cup of tea.

Sarah:  Yeah totally, I'm on the same page.

Lastly, your last full-length album, Eyelid Movies, was a collective bunch of random thoughts or ideas that you see when you close your eyes that ultimately came from a dark tunnel where you can barely see the light.  Can you share what Voices is all about "“ is it a sequel to Eyelid Movies?  

Sarah:  Yeah.  It's an optical illusion where you think you're getting to the end of the tunnel.  You can see it, but you never get to it.

Josh:  It's like a labyrinth!

Word. Well I'll be looking forward to the new full length, and your show tonight.  Till next time, cheers guys!
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