When alt-rock duo Phantogram make their way to The Bomb Factory on Sept. 13, they won’t be coming to play the hits and coast to the next stop. Going through the motions would be easy for the band, thanks to a catalog of catchy songs starting on their first record Eyelid Stories, but Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter of Phantogram will instead use the tour to showcase their first collection of new songs since their third album, the 2016 release Three.
The New York-based Barthel and Carter toured extensively to support Three, with standout selections such as “Answer” and “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” continuing the word of mouth that keeps Phantogram steadily gaining fans. When it was time for the two to write new music, a retreat from the chaos around them was not a luxury but a requirement.
“Josh and I prefer to kind of have our own little think tank vibe,” Barthel says. “Where we can’t be distracted, and we don’t have the pressures of like, having to rent a studio, and our brains work the best when we can do things on our own time. That’s kind of how we started — grassroots. We kind of had our own little barn that we wrote Eyelid Movies in. Like we don’t have to answer to anybody, we can just run away and write.”
Barthel and Carter seemingly ran away to write for a significant time, producing two newly released singles. Aug. 9 saw the premier of “Mister Impossible,” a moody, rhythmic amalgam of foot-thumping beats and seductive lyrics. May brought with it “Into Happiness,” lighter by comparison in its tone, with darker lyrics that rest beneath the poppier surface. Barthel is sworn to record label secrecy on whether these singles will be part of an upcoming fourth album, but she assures us more music will be available sooner than later.
The three-year gap between the release of Three has brought its share of heartbreak for Barthel. Months after the release of the album, her sister committed suicide. While not explicitly mentioning past events, the grieving process can’t help but bleed into new work, such as “Into Happiness,” with lyrics like: “Everything is clearer now/ I've been getting better/ How could I have been so blind?”
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Barthel makes it clear the “Into Happiness” is not a direct response to her sister, however.
“It’s a response to all parts of our lives I think,” Barthel says. “That is one element that Josh and I had to go through, my sister’s suicide, but it’s just also one of those songs, just a feel-good song that makes you feel OK being alone, but also happily missing somebody.”
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The musicians have taken great strides in finding ways to make a positive impact from the loss, most prominently putting a spotlight on suicide awareness. Barthel has been very candid about her sister and the isolating depression that can be caused from anxiety, and by using the very large platform Phantogram has created, the duo can start more conversations about ways to prevent suicide. Additionally, $1 from the purchase of each ticket to their headline performances will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
”We’re always looking for a reason to help, and this is a way that we can,” Barthel says. “We also released two songs last May, and all of the money goes to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, AFSP. So yeah, any way we can help, we want to.”
With 23 more stops on their tour, and many tickets being sold in each one of those cities worldwide, there’s no room for doubt Phantogram will help many along the way.
For more information about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention please visit afsp.org.