This article is from Issue 57: May/June 2012

Phantogram

Why one of our favorite electro-indie bands should be on everyone's playlist.

The best music doesn't just rely on melody and lyrics for its quality—it sets a mood and keeps for the length of an album. Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based electro-duo Phantogram sets a mood with the best of them. Phantogram somehow manages to make music that captures what it feels like to wander city streets at night—which is perhaps why their last project was called Nightlife. The band jokingly refers to their brand of musical melodrama as “street beat”—a combination of dark, nocturnal-
sounding synths, hip-hop beats and crashing guitars, all frosted with vocalist/keyboardist Sarah Barthel’s ethereal coo.

But as guitarist/vocalist Josh Carter prefers to explain it, once the rough-edged romanticism and sultry grooves are stripped away, at the core of Phantogram are two ordinary friends making extraordinary music.

With lives so interconnected, neither member can remember the specifics of their first meeting, both members of Phantogram (who have never been romantically involved) see their amicable musical collaboration as a natural extension of their friendship—which, as Carter recounts, didn’t become musical until much later in the game. “We ended up hanging out for a few years as friends. I would play her my demos. One day, I discovered she had a really good voice and she played the piano, which is something she kept secret from most people.”

“I think it was a Mazzy Star song or a Hope Sandoval song,” Barthel says of their first time casually making music together—noting that she didn’t consider her singing talent to be a particularly well-kept secret.

It was a revelatory moment for Barthel. Despite having attended art school and nursing ambitions of making a living as an artist, Barthel never believed a career in music was likely. “I thought it was a side thing, a break from working on visual art,” she says of her musical ambitions. “Go play the piano to chill out.”

"It may seem hopeless right now, but things get better."-Josh Carter

Carter, on the other hand, saw music as his only option. “I thought I was going to move out to California and become a professional skateboarder after high school,” he says of his pre-music goals. “I started playing the guitar when I was 18. I just knew I had to [pursue music]. Now I’m doing it. I am a firm believer that you can make anything happen, as long as you work hard and believe in what you’re doing.”

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