Published October 28, 2010
PHANTOGRAM: JOSH CARTER (LEFT) AND SARAH BARTHEL. PHOTO COURTESY OF DORON GILD.
Though Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, the duo that makes up Phantogram, may be based in a small town—they still call Saratoga Springs, NY, not exactly known as a musical hub, home—their trip-hop sound is anything but provincial. Barthel and Carter are quickly making a name for themselves with the insanely sexy electro-pop beats featured on their debut album Eyelid Movies, released on Barsuk in February 2010.
HOMETOWN: Greenwich, New York. It’s spelled the same as Greenwich, CT, but it’s pronounced in upstate lingo—Green-wich.
PHANTOGRAM’S FORMATION: One of my best friends lived next door to Sarah in high school and I used to hang out at her house all the time, skateboard and jump on the trampoline. After she graduated from college, we had both moved back to Saratoga and were in a transitional time and started hanging out again. She asked if she could hear some of my music and she really loved it, and I asked if she could help lay down some vocals. It sounded great, so I was like, “Yo, you want to start a band or what?” She said yes.
MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER OR ALONE: It’s really not that much different, but it’s good to have another head to just say, “Hey, this idea sucks, sorry, Josh.” Her vocals brought a lot to the table. We both work on music independently from one another and then we’ll bring it to the rehearsal space. It’s really easy to write with each other, probably because we’re such good friends.
DESCRIBE YOUR SOUND: Beat-heavy, experimental drone-pop.
MUSICAL INFLUENCES: I listen to all kinds of music, from jazz, old Motown and soul music, to French pop from the ’60s like Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy. We like a lot of underground hip-hop, like Madlib, J Dilla, Flying Lotus. When I was growing up, my older brother got me onto Guided by Voices, Pavement, bands like that.
VISUAL INFLUENCES: We’re very visual people. Sarah’s also a great photographer and graphic designer. We get really inspired by films and by dreams that we’ve had. One of my favorites movies of all time is Adaptation—such a brilliantly written movie. Anything that Charlie Kaufman does is really cool, and we really like David Lynch. Heady movies like that.
FANTASY COLLABORATOR: I’ve always been a big fan of Sparklehorse. Before he killed himself, I would have said Mark Linkous. We played in San Francisco a couple weeks ago [at Treasure Island Music Festival] and we hung out with Four Tet. I think working with him would be really cool.
TELL US ABOUT THE SARATOGA MUSIC SCENE: I would describe it as a DIY scene. There’s some really cool indie bands: interesting electronic, to folk, to straight-up power pop, punk. Everybody comes out to shows to support one another. So that’s cool, but the crappy part about Saratoga is the fact that it’s pretty much a tourist city, so most of the bars and clubs are full of crappy cover bands. We have to do everything ourselves.
FAVORITE STOP ON THIS TOUR: A lot of our shows have gone really well, but Minneapolis was crazy.
SAY WHAT? We just have a big fan base there for some reason. There’s a radio station there called The Current—it’s really awesome and they have great bands on it all the time. They’ve been really plugging our stuff. Just about every show we’ve played has been packed—but this was off the charts.
MEMORABLE STORY FROM THE ROAD: Knock on wood, but everything’s gone pretty smooth for us. We got harassed by a bum in Austin, but that wasn’t a big deal, that happens. [LAUGHS]
PHANTOGRAM WILL PLAY THE MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG ON FRIDAY, OCTOBER 29. EYELID MOVIES IS AVAILABLE NOW ON BARSUK.