By Thomas Crone
First, a little bit of inside baseball: there are phone interviews that come off to perfection. Others fall into the “just okay” camp, to one degree of another. A smaller group, well, you’d love to have the experience back. For me, it was simply too tempting to speak to the principal members of Phantogram, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Josh Carter and vocalist/keyboardist Sarah Barthel. But to get the phone chat, I had to grab an interview slot that was a bit too close for comfort to the start time for a class of mine. Taking the interview after all, I arrived at school a few minutes late, pushing the interview even further into pre-class prep time.
My rattled state was almost a for-sure thing during our brief conversation, which Barthel and Carter soldiered through despite my fragile state. In the questions, I bounced around some legit topics, but we never fully discussed the group’s newest album, Voices. Luckily, for Eleven readers, Jack Probst ably tackles that job in the current, March issue of the print edition, calling it “an album full of hooks and hits that will garner more attention for the band this year and for many to come.”
Having really enjoyed the band’s debut, Eyelid Movies, I knew they were sharply attuned to bringing smart, visually appealing, evocative videos to life and that’s where we started the conversation. (In fact, go check out “When I’m Small” and “Mouthful of Diamonds” just as soon as you’ve finished reading this.) We didn’t get to the eleventh question, but got as close as some weird circumstances allowed.
1. How involved are you in the creation and visioning of your videos?
For us every aspect is important and Phantogram is a very visual band. We spend a lot of time collaborating with the director, the producer, to make sure the the concept is followed through upon. We’re very visual artists and when it comes to writing music, the visual are also very important to us.
2. Is the process of video creation a labor for you, or a joy?
It’s more of the idea and concept that we get into before the shoot. That’s what’s important to us. We leave it the hand of the director after that, in order for them to refine the idea.
3. Can you give a sense of your embrace of the EP format?
We’d been busy touring so much that we just didn’t have the time to put out a full-length. I will say in the future that we’ll be putting out EPs constantly. It’s a good way to fans to keep up with us. It’s good for the fans and for us, its keeps everyone interested. In this day-and-age, everything seems so disposable with the internet and downloading, it’s better to put things out more frequently. Digital singles and EPs, something to keep everybody happy.
4. At the risk of ignorance, I haven’t been able to find this info. Will this be your first appearance in St. Louis?
No, we played LouFest a few years ago. And we played The Firebird - is that a club there? - about three years ago. So it’s been awhile.
5. Do you ever get sense of towns’ individuality when your tour?
Yes and no. It depends on the day, of course. We just started touring in a bus. So we can finally see something other than a green room when we show up in a city. We’ve spent a lot of time touring in cars and vans. You go to bed, pack up for the show, get up and drive. Hopefully, you make it in time for load-in, for soundcheck. You try to eat, sleep and play. That’s the thing of touring with busses. You can see cities, you can see a little bit of the nightlife. Before now, we haven’t had a lot of chance to hang out in St. Louis, but we hope to.
6. What cities have adopted you over time?
As far as playing different cities, a lot of smaller markets are fun to play. Fans there are less-jaded and super-excited to see some live music. Bands don’t come around as frequently as in New York or Chicago. Most of the smaller markets are fun. There’s a real feeling of energy.
7. How often do you play festival dates? You have a lot to play this year?
Yeah, for sure. Sasquatch has been announced, another one in Atlanta, too. There’ll be a couple more.
8. What’s the feeling of playing those dates, form a performer’s perspective?
Just playing in front of a large audience is always fun. There’s a really cool vibe playing festivals, since people are so excited about being there. It’s more like a big party, in a way. It’s great to hang out with other bands and see them backstage, catch up with lots of people that we’re friends with.
9. Immediately following this interview, I’m teaching a class, with a large number of audio students, most of whom see themselves working in the music industry in a couple of years. What advice should I pass along to them?
Yeah, I would say that if you want to do it, do it all the way. Don’t half-ass it. In our case, music was our only option, it’s what we really believe in and what we wanted to do. If you really want to do it, don’t let anything stop you.
Phantogram play The Pageant on Tuesday, April 8.