Q&A with Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel
What’s going on in that photo?
I’m on top and Josh is on the bottom. That was a picture I set up a long time ago. It was when we first started out and we were trying to get cool press photos. The apartment that I lived in, in Saratoga, had this crazy weird fake wardrobe there, so we decided to use it as our own little press photo set. This was probably like 2008, right when we first started out.
You‘ve known each other since middle school. How did you first meet?
We met through my sister Becky, who was good friends with Josh. They were in the same grade, so he would come over and he lived in this little cross-street in town where all the kids would hang out because we all lived on the same little street called “the crossroads.” We would just hang out there every day after school. I had a trampoline, and our neighbors had a trampoline, and the guys across the street had a porch and we would just take turns hanging out in different spots.
Trampolines were very prized back in those days.
They were the coolest.
“I was the most awkward-looking human being on the planet. I always thought Josh was really cool though.”
Was middle school the awkward years for you, or for Josh?
For sure. I was the most awkward-looking human being on the planet. I always thought Josh was really cool though. He was the cool skater kid that had the longer hair, but it was shaved underneath. He had the cool band t-shirts and the baggy jeans, like the grunge look. I tried to have the grunge look but I was too gross looking, I think.
I hear some of your favorite pastimes were prank phone calls, so what kind of other things did you do together?
We also used to smoke cigarettes in a graveyard that was right behind the school. In between my house and the school, you’d have to walk through this cornfield where everyone would smoke. Right in between the graveyard and the cornfield, there was this little spot where it wasn’t the school property, so people would meet up there after school. We used to go to McDonald’s together, which was down the street. We used to skateboard — Josh was a big skateboarder — and I wanted to be cool, so I tried to skateboard with them and accomplished an ollie once, but that’s not that rad.
How did this evolve into you guys playing music together?
We didn’t do anything musical together until we met back up in our 20s. I went away to school and he moved down to New York. He was in another band before me with his brother and it didn’t work out, so he moved back upstate and we met randomly at church on Christmas Eve, actually. We hadn’t seen each other in like five years, so it was kind of like, “Hey, Josh Carter. What’s up?”
We just became really good friends that shared a passion for music. He let me listen to some of his stuff he was working on at the time, and he asked me to sing on one of his songs, and I was super excited about it. After that — because it worked out so well — we decided to write music together and play in Phantogram.
How would you say 2014 Phantogram is different than 2007 Phantogram?
We never played shows back then; we just had music we kind of just recorded. We spent a lot of years on tour and evolved and have grown sonically and as people.It was the same, but we’re a little more grown up.
Do you miss playing the small venues sometimes?
We do. We love small venues. It’s fun to have more intimate appeal to everything. We always enjoy them.
Is there any small venue you are particularly nostalgic for?
I’d say our favorite smaller venue is the Mohawk in Austin, Texas. I forget how big it is, but it’s on the bigger side I’d say, although it’s smaller than what we do now. It’s just a really great vibe — the people are so happy to be there.
You’ve worked with some cool people (your collaboration with Big Boi was born on Twitter). What are your favorite online tools for music discovery, linking with other artists, etc.?
Twitter is the jam for that. We have connected with a lot of different artists and people in general on Twitter. That’s where we find all the blogs for music — I get the scoop on Twitter, I love it.
Are there songs that just instantly bring you back to the beginning?
When Phantogram first started out, it was really inspired by Detroit hip-hop and underground producers and stuff like that.
You use a lot of electro elements — any predictions for how music will continue to evolve as tech changes? What would you like to see?
I love how artists and genres are starting to do separate things by bringing other sounds and influences into their own. That is kind of the definition of Phantogram, in general. It’s always great to see that happen with other bands and artists. There’s only so much you can do in a particular genre, so it’s nice to see people dive into other sounds.