A band’s bond can be as thick as thieves. The new royalty of indie darkness, Phantogram, has had almost 15 years to perfect their chemistry. Sarah Barthel, the band’s vixen of a leading lady, takes out a moment in their headlining US tour to talk with Trendland about sleepless nights, and the new EP that resulted from them.
Listen to “When I’m Small” here
Josh Carter and Sarah met in junior high in their hometown, Saratoga Springs, where they played in the school marching band: Josh on snares, Sarah on the alto saxophone. Unaware of the musical future they would have together, the duo risked nerd stereotypes knowing their talents would one day make them cool.
It’s been an exciting and long-winded rise to the forefront for these two friends.
The buddies branched off after high school as many do. Sarah pursued a visual arts degree in Burlington, Vermont where she embraced the hippie life, not too far from Josh in “The Big Apple.” After some soul-searching and separate ventures, they reunited and Phantogram was born. Their debut album, Eyelid Movies, released in 2009, and they’ve been gaining traction ever since.
Any friendship finds bumps and valleys, but Josh and Sarah seem to have the journey mapped out quite well. “We have our ups and downs, but we have a lot of respect for each other. It comes from an infinite place. We’ve been such good friends for so long.” The two, plus their drummer, Tim Oakley, spend day-in and day-out together.
It’s been almost 3 years since Phantogram began what Sarah calls their “Road Trip Party,” and it’s been a non-stop ride. Days are spent traveling in their van across states and nights in their intimate trailer where they try to relax in the limited space they do have. “I don’t get much sleep,” says Sarah.
When asked about their most popular song, “When I’m Small,” being featured in the HBO hit show, How To Make It In America, Sarah reveals just how busy she has been these past years. It is one huge beacon of success and a placement any artist would turn green over. However, Sarah has not seen the show–not even the episode her music was featured in–nor does she have much time to watch television in general.
Most off hours are spent writing and mentally preparing for their next show. When she does need time away from the boys, Sarah has her own pre-show ritual. “I find a quiet space, which usually means going out to the van for 5 to 10 minutes, where I gather all my energies in peace and quiet.” Before they get on stage, she says, “the three of us say ‘crush it’ and fist pump.”
Whatever they’re doing behind the curtains is working. At their sold out show last Friday at Los Angeles’ The Music Box. A dramatically slow curtain rose, creating an air of anticipation amongst the enormous crowd until that great, big bass hit. Barthel’s stick-straight, black hair draped over her face and keys as Carter strummed his swirling electric guitar. With a hip hop bass, the dark electronic sounds comparable to Radiohead blared with breath-taking power.
“We aren’t dark people,” Sarah admits. “[We] love sad music…Emotional music is able to hit a certain something in me. It hits my emotions when I get goosebumps or start tearing up. My favorite kind of music to listen to connects so deeply.”
For them, if it’s not deep musically, it is lyrically. Dark, emotional lyrics disguised by danceable melodies are their specialty. It is a musical quality they feel links them to everyone. “It’s our dark reality that can happen in anybody’s life.”
On this tour, the group is happy to have new music to share with their fans and audiences around the States. Their new EP, Nightlife, which they have described as a “mini-LP,” is the reason for all those late nights on the road. They wrote the album on tour with practically no sleep, a deprivation that impressively did not affect the quality of their work.
Listen to “Don’t Move” here
The time itself that was put into the creation of Nightlife betrays any modesty the duo may display. They take the time to “create every piece of sound,” as Sarah puts it. The EP’s single, “Don’t Move,” was written as long as two years ago. In fact, the record was put back in the studio for more improvement pushing their release date back.
“I’ve seen other bands in writing and recording. They play the song once or twice and then just record it, and I commend them.” It is all hands-on production with these two though. Josh, who does all their production, takes his time experimenting with different EQ’s, mixes, and layers for however long it takes to find perfection. And well, the hard work has payed off. Nightlife is a product of sweat, love, and alas, insomnia.
BUY Nightlife HERE
So, what comes after the tour? “Maybe some off time would be nice. We haven’t been able to relax in a solid 3 years…I don’t know if know how to anymore!” They’d like to travel without having to play shows, but like any real artist, they are eager to start writing their next full-length. We’ll let them take a leisurely vacation, but hope they won’t be off sightseeing for too long. They’ve got fans to please.