Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel on “The Hunger Games” soundtrack and a major label bidding warBy John Wenzel | October 10th, 2013 | No Comments »
Most musicians would be thrilled to land a song on a Hollywood movie soundtrack, especially one as hotly anticipated as “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” slated for a Nov. 22 release.
And while the members of Phantogram are certainly excited about the increased visibility it will likely bring them, it’s also a natural extension of the band’s shadowy, cinematic persona and its sharp upward trajectory.
“The lyrics kind of connected to the storyline, so that’s why our label was like, ‘Oh, this song could work,’ ” said Phantogram singer-keyboardist Sarah Barthel of the track “Lights.” “It was actually a really old song that we had never finished and ended up recording when we were doing the new album.”
That album, “Voices,” will drop on Republic Records early next year, but in the meantime the band is enjoying a flurry of activity surrounding the release of its eponymous EP, including late-night TV appearances and a tour that takes it to the Gothic Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 12 for a sold-out show.
“They were interested in us awhile back and we had this crazy bidding war happen about a year and half ago with every major label, and we decided to pick Republic,” Barthel said. “They’ve been super rad. They completely understood what we wanted and we had complete creative control over everything, which was really important to us.”
That’s a smart move on Republic’s part, since Phantogram is in justifiably high demand.
Its sound is both a pastiche of atmospheric, beat-driven rock and utterly of-the-moment electro knob-twiddling. Like other ostensibly girl-guy duos who lean on effects boxes and loops (think Sleigh Bells, Cults, Crystal Castles, etc.), Phantogram projects a darkly sensual stage presence and crafts music for late-night drives and bleary dance parties.
Unlike most of those bands, Phantogram’s early promise is continuing to bear out with excellent new songs like “Black Out Days,” which blends jittery, buzzing synth textures and the dynamic shifts of ’90s trip-hop with Barthel’s silken shoegazing vocals.
“It’s very important to us to stay true to that sound,” said Barthel, who’s lately been consuming a diet of Pink Floyd, Kendrick Lamar, Com Truise and Black Marble. “We know how important it is for people to have their bands because you always get something more meaningful out of it when you have that connection and relationship with their music.”
The interplay of Barthel’s alluring melodies and Josh Carter’s disarmingly tight beats is no accident. Barthel and singer-producer Carter first met in nursery school in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., more than two decades ago. After a stellar debut on Barsuk Records, “Eyelid Movies,” the band released a series of EPs and has lately been collaborating with Big Boi and the Flaming Lips.
“We’re very visual creators when we write music,” Barthel said. “We always maintain this image, kind of like a daydream, or picture different scenes and scenarios in our heads when we’re writing. All our music stems from it.”