Feature: Phantogram at Outland Live

By Columbus Alive
From the October 20, 2011 edition

“We just wanted to see what happened,” Sarah Barthel said. “And people liked it from the beginning, and people still seem to like it.”

Barthel is one half of the musical duo Phantogram, a band that has tapped a nerve with its omnivorous brand of electronic rock. When Barthel started making music with childhood friend Josh Carter in 2007, they attempted to throw out the genre playbook and incorporate elements from all over their record collections.

Thus, Phantogram songs bridge the gaps between slice-and-dice hip-hop beats, atmospheric shoegaze noise, indie pop, arena rock and more. It’s a potent blend, and they haven’t been shy about sharing it with the outside world.

Barthel called from the band’s hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York, the kind of place where a DIY music scene bustles in truly underground fashion. As Barthel put it, “There’s a lot of good bands, but not really a lot of good places to play.” So musicians from Saratoga make the trip to nearby New York City, Boston and Philadelphia when they want to get in front of a sizable audience.

Phantogram covered those bases quickly and wasted no time expanding their radius. By 2009, they were touring through Columbus every few months, a practice that hasn’t stopped as they’ve made their way up the venue ladder from cozy neighborhood hangout The Treehouse to the 300-capacity Basement to Outland, a room more than twice that size.

When they play there Friday with Exitmusic and Petit Mal, it won’t just be Phantogram’s biggest Columbus show ever, it will also be the first in support of their new EP, “Nightlife.” Though the record comes out next month, it will be on sale at the show as a special perk for concertgoers.

“Nightlife” courses through the same vein as last year’s “Eyelid Movies,” but Barthel and Carter arrived there by a much different route.

“The process was completely different, really, because … for the first record we pretty much locked ourselves in a barn and wrote a bunch of music that we wanted to use as a demo. We didn’t necessarily have to take each song seriously,” Barthel said. “This one I feel like it’s exceptionally emotional for us, and hopefully for everybody else.”

After this tour, the duo plans to take a rare extended break from the road to craft their next full-length album. Barthel has little idea what sort of shape this next batch of songs will take.

“That’s where I think Josh and I are going to spend some time experimenting and figuring that out. We’re always going to sound like Phantogram, but Josh and I have a lot of different influences. There will always be beats involved, and there will always be emotion involved, and swirly guitars and arpeggios and stuff. I guess we’ll just see.”

Doron Gild photo