Q & A: Josh Carter of Phantogram: "My Brain Doesn't Work Creatively During the Day"
The duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter has been performing in upstate New York under a couple of monikers since 2007. Originally called Charlie Everywhere, Barthel and Carter decided a more serious name was needed once they actually started recording and attracting a few fans.
Phantogram became the new name, and with that in place, the duo promptly began rehearsing and recording the songs that would become Eyelid Movies, the band's debut full-length released in late 2009.
Mixing the classic shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine with trip-hop and indie rock influences, Phantogram has come up with a unique sound that's perfectly suited to those late night after parties. The band's recently issued EP, Nightlife, finds Phantogram hitting its stride as songs such as "16 Years" and "Make a Fist" are as trendsetting as they are cool.
Speaking from a tour stop in New Mexico and in anticipation of tonight's show at The Loft, Josh Carter spoke with DC-9 about why his band's music is best suited for late night concert going.
You've been friends with bandmate Sarah Barthel since junior high. Is there anything you don't know about her? I don't think so. I don't think she has any deep, dark secrets. I know her pretty damn well.
How long have you known each other? Between 15 and 17 years.
Is there ever a time that you have to take a break from each other? Yes, definitely, but we don't see each other all of the time. When we're on the road, we are around each other a lot. We do have time to do our own thing, but we sure see a lot of each other.
Originally, the band's name was Charlie Everywhere. Was it trademark issues that forced you to change the band to Phantogram? No, the idea behind the name Charlie Everywhere was an inside joke. We had just started playing shows and we needed a name. It was the first thing we came up with. And then we started getting a fan base in Albany and New York City. We actually had fans. We decided then to change our name to something a little more serious.
How did you come up with Phantogram? We were throwing around words like ghost and phantom. I think someone said telegram from another world, some kind of parallel dimension. And then I asked, "What about Phantogram?" We found out that phantogram was a real thing and that made it a cool name to choose.
Does the band still write and record everything in an old barn in Albany? Yes, we do.
Why there as opposed to a regular studio? I've been producing music for years now and have built up my own home studio stuff. It was cheaper that way, and we can do whatever we want. You don't have to pay $300 an hour to rush through something in someone else's studio. We can take our time.
How are the acoustics in a barn? They're OK. They're not great, but I experiment a lot with sound and recording. I make the most of what I got.
In your bio, it states that you guys play "Street beat/psych pop." Exactly what is that? I don't know. You'll have to ask the person who labeled us that.
Who was that? That was a mutual friend of ours named Matthew. That's what he said we sounded like. I think it was kind of fitting. We definitely have elements of shoegaze, hip-hop and pop. I guess that's it. I think it's a relatively accurate description of what we do.
Many of the reviews describe the music as not easy to categorize. Is that important to you? No, not really. I don't really care what people call us. You can call us indie. You can call us pop. You can call us trip-hop. You can call us whatever. We're just here to make music.
On this tour, are you using Tim Oakley again on drums? Yes.
Why use him on tour, but not in the studio? Well, I play the drums myself. Drums are my first instrument. I do all the percussion on our stuff. I record all of the drumming and then chop it up. Maybe we'll bring him in the studio next time. I don't know. But as for now, with recording, it's not extremely necessary.
You just released the Nightlife EP. What's the time line for another full-length? Hopefully, it will be out next year. After this tour, we are going to take a break, and then we will work on the next full length.
Will songs from the EP make it onto the full-length? No, the EP is a work of its own. The next album will be all fresh material.
What was the inspiration for the song "16 Years"? I love that song. I wrote the song a year and half or two years ago. I sang gibberish over it and then I came back to it when we decided to put out the Nightlife EP. I made sense of the gibberish when I read this article about these women who were sentenced to prison in Tennessee for 16 years for petty theft. The words in that article lined up and I formed lyrics.
The sound on the new EP is a bit more aggressive than what you've released in the past. Was that intentional? I don't think anything was intentional. It was just sort of where our mindset was. I like to think the EP is more emotional than our previous works. We've been touring a lot and the band has been through quite a bit, and I think that is reflected on the EP. It came out naturally.
Is your music best suited for late nights? Yes, definitely. I would rather play late at night than any other time. I write music late at night. My brain doesn't work creatively during the day. I am not the kind of person who wakes up in the morning, drinks a cup of coffee and goes to work. I am a night owl. My gears start grinding at night. I've pulled countless all-nighters writing and recording music.
Phantogram performs with Reptar on Tuesday, November 8, at The Loft.
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