Phantom Rhythms

Experimental Duo Phantogram to Play Laval After Releasing New Record ‘Voices’

Phantogram will stopping by Laval before continuing on to Europe, hot off the heels of their new release “Voices”

A “phantogram” is an optical illusion in which a two-dimensional image appears to enter our realm in the third.

It should come as little surprise, then, that a band by the same name creates experimental genre-blending music that reaches far beyond the sum of its parts.

The band, composed of New Yorkers Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, grew from Carter’s solo project, which he said was the “blueprint for Phantogram.” He used to toy with recording techniques and mix various beats and samples before he became partners-in-music with longtime friend Barthel.

“In a lot of the original tapes, I was just singing in this kind of weird falsetto,” Carter told The Link over the phone from California, where they are on tour.

“I asked [Sarah] if she wanted to sing on some of my stuff, and she did and it sounded really cool, so I asked her if she wanted to start a band and the rest is history.”

While Carter writes most of the lyrics for the band, both he and Barthel take turns doing vocals for tracks, going on a song-by-song basis to determine who performs the vocals in an organic recording process.

“I think about Sarah’s voice a lot when I’m recording and writing songs. There’s some songs on the record that I originally sang but […] we’d have Sarah re-do it,” he said.

“But there’s no specific way to divide up who sings, it’s just that on this record we used Sarah on the majority of them, which I’m totally cool with. I prefer her voice, I think it’s great.”

“We experiment with so many different styles and sounds and sonic textures, there’s no specific derivative to where we get our influence.” —Josh Carter, guitarist/singer of Phantogram

Hearing Voices

Phantogram has released two EPs and two full-length albums since their beginning in 2007. Their most recent album, Voices, was released on Feb. 18.

While they’ve been known to mash-up styles and genres of hip-hop, trip-hop, indie rock, electronica and more, the duo’s latest record has unified their sound into a specific Phanto-brand that’s totally unique to them.

“I would call [ Voices ] experimental pop,” said Carter. “We experiment with so many different styles and sounds and sonic textures, there’s no specific derivative to where we get our influence.”

The duo have recorded all of their albums in their stomping ground of rural upstate New York at different “barn slash studios,” according to Carter.

Their latest effort was mostly written and recorded there but was completed in Los Angeles with the help of producer John Hill, who has worked with the likes of Snoop Lion, Wavves, Rihanna and Shakira.

The songs on Voices display the group’s versatility: tracks like “I Don’t Blame You” exude loneliness and despair, with its titular one-line chorus calling out like a desperate cry for help, while other tracks such as “Bill Murray” are dreamy, synthy rides through twinkling xylophones and swirling, lazy guitar riffs.

But Carter says most of his musical inspiration comes from the heavier, more somber side of life.

“A lot of songs sort of come from a dark place; it’s where I tend to gravitate when I write. I don’t know why that is, I just find it a little more inspiring,” he said.

“Our songs are about existence, really. Like, what does all this mean, and life, living, love and death. Really just the basic human feelings that are universal.”

Keep On Growing

While the band is only made up of Carter and Barthel on the songwriting side, they bring in reinforcements for their onstage presence—you won’t find any iPod drummers at a Phantogram show.

“We have two other members for our live shows: we’ve got a guy playing drums and samples and another guy who plays guitar and synth. They help balance out our sound live and it’s a lot of fun playing with them,” Carter said.

Carter himself plays guitar and sings onstage, while Barthel plays the keyboard and sings as well.

The band is currently touring North America supporting their new album, and will head over to Europe in May to continue their tour. Carter says he and Barthel are looking forward to playing Laval and that they’ve been astounded at the response to their tour thus far.

“I’m super inspired; all these shows have been sold out, and I feel so inspired to just write music,” he said, adding that he’ll be writing while on the road this tour.

“I feel very grateful that I get to do this. The plan is to just keep writing music, tour, keep getting better and just grow as artists.”

Phantogram + Foreign Diplomats // Feb. 28 // Salle André-Mathieu (475 Avenir Blvd., Laval) // 9 p.m. // $23.50 advance