Q&A: Phantogram

Phantogram: NightlifePhantogram: Nightlife (Barsuk, 11/1/11)

Phantogram: “Don’t Move”

[audio:|titles=Phantogram: “Don’t Move”]

A few years ago, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel took to recording their own music in a barn in upstate New York. Though it was never intended for the masses, the music made an auspicious debut via the 2010 album Eyelid Movies on Barsuk, and a loyal Phantogram following materialized — and continues to grow ever larger. In addition to praise from unexpected sources (Questlove, Big Boi, Fitz and the Tantrums, Kings of Leon), the duo’s popularity has risen from a years-long tour stint, loaded with sold-out shows, international bookings, and major festival appearances.

And in the midst of the tour hustle and bustle, Phantogram has managed to pull off yet another standout release in the form of Nightlife. Carter’s minimalist guitar lines, hip-hop beats, and assorted loops and samples weave the perfect melodic backing for Barthel’s breathy singing and, at times, his own reverb-laden vocals. The synths and drum-machine beats draw similarities to Eyelid Movies, but the new record holds its own as a mini-LP — and also holds fans over until the next full-length release.

Here, ALARM speaks with Carter about performing live, his collaboration with Barthel, and Nightlife.

What do you like about recording in a barn versus a recording studio?

It was circumstantial, really. We lived up in the country in upstate New York, and it’s what we had. My parents had a barn on their property, and I had been collecting a lot of recording equipment and learning how to record myself. Instead of having to pay a lot of money to go into a studio, we just did our first album ourselves, and the new record as well.

You have a long, diverse list of musical influences. What non-musical influences impact your songwriting?

Dreams definitely impact my lyric writing and our songwriting. Often when Sarah and I get together to work on music, we kind of come up with imaginary plots that would be in a movie. We think very visually when we’re writing.

What are your roles in songwriting?

I write the lyrics. I make the beats and I write most of the music, but often Sarah and I get together and write. Sometimes she’ll come up with something on the piano or guitar and bring it to the table, or I’ll make a beat or write something on guitar or piano, and we’ll bring it together.

Sometimes we just jam over a basic drum-machine rhythm and vamp for a few hours and write that way. Often when I write lyrics too, I’ll bounce them off Sarah and see what she thinks of it; so, sometimes even though she isn’t writing the lyrics, she’s connected to them anyway because she’s there while I’m writing them.


Pop Addict: Phantogram’s Nightlife EP

Every other Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Phantogram: NightlifePhantogram: Nightlife EP (Barsuk, 11/1/11)

Phantogram: “Don’t Move”

[audio:|titles=Phantogram: “Don’t Move”]

In 2010, the electronic-pop duo Phantogram burst on the scene with its impressive debut offering, Eyelid Movies. The duo, comprised of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, brought a fresh perspective to the indie scene, showcasing an album that was both elusive and grounded at the same time — simultaneously experimental and catchy. It was so well received, in fact, that Carter and Barthel were able to quit their day jobs and tour relentlessly in support of the album. Alternating between vocal duties, Barthel and Carter concocted an assortment of beat-heavy drum loops, ornamental guitar work, bipolar synthesizers and samples, and two-headed harmonies. Phantogram was one of the best new acts of year. And so the question remained, as it does with every notable debut act: could they follow it up?

With the six-song Nightlife EP, Phantogram builds on what made Eyelid Movies such an achievement in saturated digital pop. Yet again harboring a swath of soundscapes and sonic concoctions, Phantogram has constructed a record that fleshes out its strengths. Between Carter’s guitar work, Barthel’s keyboard work, and both of their vocal and sampling duties, the duo has positioned itself as one of indie’s most beloved new entities.


Concert Photos: Phantogram @ Metro (Chicago, IL)

With a new six-song EP, Nightlife, due out November 1, New York-based indie-pop duo Phantogram is currently on a US tour with Reptar and Exit Music. Save for a pair of singles earlier this year, Nightlife is the first release for the band since its debut, Eyelid Movies, in 2010. It reprises the same successful synth-pop formula, with Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel trading vocals over electronic beats and layers of bubbling, shoegaze-y trip-hop. Photographer Elizabeth Gilmore captured these shots of the band during its recent stop at Metro in Chicago.