Despite their spectral moniker, Phantogram’s success is definitely real. Their song “Lights” landed a coveted spot on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack, and the New York-based twosome hit Jimmy Kimmel Live last week to perform a few tracks off their new album, Voices (just out on Indica Records), a woozy, shoegaze-y blend of indie-rock and retro synth-pop (with a little hip-hop flavour). In anticipation of Phantogram’s Canadian tour dates (including February 28 in Laval, a sold-out show March 1 in Toronto and March 2 in London), we chatted with Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter about life on tour, crafting that unique sound, and their impeccable style.
You’ve described your sound as very beat-heavy, with some trip-hop, alternative, and even 1960s French pop. Are there any other sounds or styles you like to experiment with?
J: We listen to all kinds of music, really. The best way I’d describe our sound is experimental pop.
S: We don’t necessarily try to navigate towards a certain sound. I think it kind of happens naturally from our influences of hip-hop, shoegaze, jazz and classical. It’s all kind of in there.
How would you describe your personal day-to-day style and when you’re on stage?
S: I’ve got a stylist that helps me find stuff—I give her an idea of rock-and-roll-meets-hip hop and she comes up with different ideas for me.
J: My personal style is more casual. I guess some people would describe my style as more skater. Generally, I like wearing dark, monochromatic colours.
S: Usually black, white, and gold. We like to keep it simple and classic without trying to go too crazy. Classic is important because it also includes our music—our idea is timeless pieces rather than just trending.
Light seems to play an important role in your performances and visuals. Can you tell me a bit about this?
S: It ties in with the songs, sounds and the feelings that we have. When our songs explode, we want that to happen visually as well. We’re very rhythmic, so we like using different patterns, shapes, and movements to incorporate with the song. Visually, it’s just so much better of an experience when a band really cares about their lightshow—it brings you into their world and their experience.
J: We’re also very visual writers, so when we’re writing music we’re always keeping in mind the colours, shapes, and short stories or movie-like vignettes. It’s a part of our creative process.
We’re seeing a new generation of female performers—Grimes, LORDE, Lauren Mayberry of Chrvches. How do you feel about this change in the band scene and being a part of that?
S: It’s cool. I always enjoy female performers; I always looked up to them when I was a kid, more so than maybe male performers that were popular at the time.
What do you want your audience to take away from the show?
J: A real experience. When people come to a Phantogram show, we want them to see a real show, rather than just a band playing a bunch of songs. We want it to be a cool, emotional, audio-visual experience.