New York electro rock duo Phantogram is renowned for their airy, swirly sound tinged with a whit of melancholy. They’re back with Three, their third studio album: beauty and sadness everywhere.
Thanks to Phantogram
Photo: Timothy Saccenti
Interview Patricia Tavares De Oliveira
We were just in the US for a month. It’s always really fun to be in Europe. We play a lot of smaller shows here than in the States. Last time we played here we opened up for Muse, so I think it really helped our fan base.
Tell us about your new album, Three.
We name the album Three because it’s our third record. It’s about heartbreak, beautiful tragedy and overcoming it, powering through it and seeing the light through the dark.
How did your approach the writing of it?
We approached it the same way we approach all of our records. We start with the samples from Josh’s beats and things and then we tend to write on top of those. It kind of just happens that way, mostly. Sometimes, we write differently. Sometimes we each write on our own, then we bring our stuff together. When we’re stuck on one of the songs, we switch so we get a different eye on the track, but for the most part we’ve always sort of considered ourselves psychic twins. We already know exactly what we both want so there’s never any miscommunication or sacrifices. Josh produces more but we both play, we both write, we both are part of the artwork and the visual concept. We’re very alike.
How different, would you say, this record is from the two previous ones and/or EPs?
It’s just a natural progression. We’ve been building for a while now, and also have been playing and touring for a while, so we build experiences through performing, collaborating and seeing the world and experiencing life. That goes into the next record, and so on. It’s a natural growth. This one is a lot more bombastic, it’s heavier. The songwriting is a little bit better, we think. We’ve really honed in on our songwriting skills. We’re very proud of it.
Regarding the visual aspect of the record, what kind of statement did you want to make?
For the album cover, we wanted a photograph of something being destructed but in a beautiful way. The imagery of the album cover is so colorful and beautiful and vibrant, but something is burning. It’s beautiful to look at.
How does that carry into the live experience?
We always gravitate toward more rhythmic lighting, or sometimes just stark black and white. We’re building color into our visual shows. Normally, we just use black, white and gold, but we’re breaching out for this tour, to tell a different story and vibe. We have a lot of strobes. For Europe, since we’re smaller out here, we can’t bring our whole lighting. We’re using the house lights tonight.
There are quite a few collaborations on this record? Was it something you wanted to do or did it just sort of happen?
We’ve always been a band that kept everything to ourselves. We held this album very close, we didn’t want anyone to hear it until we knew it was finished. Over the years, we have been collaborating with other artists on different projects, and had realized there was nothing wrong with that. It was actually fun and it made it more enjoyable. If you’re stuck in a room with one other person doing everything, mixing, producing, you’re almost limited in a way. You only learn that from experience. We didn’t know that, we just thought that’s how it worked. If you open yourself to working with other people, things get done faster, it’s more fun, you learn from them, from the way that they do things. You become a better artist in general. So we decided that we wanted to do that for this record. We didn’t want to be stuck in a barn all alone until the album was done and then release it.
Did you always want to make music?
Yes, we did. [Sarah] I’ve always loved music, I didn’t start doing it until I met Josh. Josh was in a couple other bands but I learned how to write and produce when I met him. I used to write pretty songs on the piano. I don’t know any theory or anything. Nothing was really happening; I just liked to do it. And I always use to sing. Josh taught me how to record and produce and put my ideas down and write lyrics. Listening to the first EP, we’ve come a long way. I liked our songwriting back then and I like it now.
What did you grow up listening to?
[Sarah] A lot of Prince, James Brown, Destiny’s Child, Doo-wop music from my mother. My dad used to listen to Motown. Jackson Brown, The Beatles. I would watch a lot of MTV or I would steal my sister’s records: The Smashing Pumpkin, The Cranberries, Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, female piano songwriters. That’s kind of where I started. And also, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey.
I listen to the same and more. I love Vince Staples. He’s a hip-hop artist from LA. I love everything about him, his sound, what he stands for, his visual concepts.