Small towns frequently get a bad rap. It seems like their big brothers and sisters like to shell out some ‘I’m bigger and better than you’ attitude every once and a while. But every so often, something great comes from a small town. Something unexpected, surprising and wonderful. Like Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, better known as Phantogram. Torontette recently sat down with these brunette beauties from Saratoga Springs, NY when they were in the city for a show at Wrongbar.
Torontette: Tell me a little bit about how Phantogram came to be. I heard that you guys were called Charlie Everywhere before.
Josh: Yeah, originally we were called Charlie Everywhere but when our music started reaching a larger audience, we really just wanted to come up with a name that we really liked and that we thought fit our band better. From the beginning Charlie Everywhere was the first thing we thought of. Sort of an inside joke. We set up our first show three weeks after we started as a band, and then after that a lot of shows just coming and coming and we had to roll with it. Then we changed our name when the time was right.
T: What does Phantogram mean?
Sarah: When we were thinking of different names, we wanted some sort of image like ghost hands, or phantom hands but they had all been taken. Josh was like how about Phantogram. Like a telegram from another world. Pretty cool image. But it’s actually a 2-dimensional object, if you look at it at a certain angle, and we thought that it was a really good fit because it’s just the two of us. And we make a stereophonic sound on stage, much bigger sound than what you would expect.
T: What are your songs about?
J: Our songs are about dreams, and life and wonder and love and death, in a nutshell.
T: If you had to describe your sound to a virgin listener, what would you describe it as?
S: Something that will make you go on a journey without it sounding jammy. Follow the lyrics, the lyrics are beautiful. But there is also this level of awesome beats and drony guitars, analog and spaced-out gritty synths. The easiest way to describe our sound is to describe every instrument we use instead of using a genre. It is hard to pinpoint.
T: When you are playing a live show, what are the emotions that you want to stir up in the audience?
S: We want to give them goosebumps. We want people to feel overwhelmed in sound. But also kind of like a moment in time, or a scenario, like a three-minute part in the movie where something intense is going on and you can’t really figure out what it is because there is so much sound.
T: In the writing process, what musical influences are really important to you?
J: It changes a little bit all the time, and that is why our album has a lot of diversity to it. We really like hip hop, we love the beats.
S: But we also like bands like Radiohead. Also psych rock from the 60s and 70s and shoegaze music, Motown, old soul. Soundtracks from movies. Classical, jazz, avant-garde. Pretty much anything that sounds interesting and different to us, in a refreshing way.
J: We like taking old soul samples and adding a really drony guitar on top of it to see what it would sound like. Airy vocals with lots of delay. Messing around with different sounds and seeing how you could gel them together. Almost like a collage in a way but making it all fit.
T: So you guys have been played a lot of shows lately, to date, what’s your favourite festival or venue that you have played at?
S: Definitely. New York City was also fun. We sold out Bowery Ballroom. We were touring with The XX in California, and we played in this Redwood forest, in this little outside library. I was waiting for like a fairy or gnome to crawl out of the trees. It was really cool.
T: Favourite food?
J: Lobster. Any seafood really.
T: Any vices?
S: Nah, I’m perfect (laughs). Maybe mascara, or something girly.
T: Have you ever thought about moving to a big city?
J: Most of our friends live in New York City. We play more there than in our home area. But as soon as we start thinking about moving to a bigger city, we remember that we’re on tour all the time anyway. Because we’re from the country, it’s nice to be in the country when we’re at home.
T: So are you guys a couple?
S: Just friends.
J: A couple of jerks maybe.
T: If you could go on tour with anybody who would it be?
J: Animal Collective, TV on the Radio
T: Any last words for Torontette readers?
J: Have fun.
S: Don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine.
content has been edited for clarity and length
Click play to listen to ‘When I’m Small’ by Phantogram: