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Darkness from the gut

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Dark, moody, emotive; the list of adjectives could go on and on when it comes to Phantogram, a duo whose commanding brand of nuanced synth- and drum-driven indie pop has been steadily gaining traction since the release of Eyelid Movies in 2009.

Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, who met in high school before reconnecting and starting to work on music in 2007, continue to hone their cascading, intricately layered melodies on Voices, Phantogram’s major-label debut with Republic Records/Indica.

“When we first started it, we had a lot of ideas and came up with different blueprints and mission statements, but that ended up being stifling for our creativity,” Carter says. “We ended up just starting to record and writing how we naturally do and that’s how we wrote Voices. It just sounds like a natural progression and maturation of us as a band, and that’s just how we worked because I think we put a little bit too much pressure on ourselves to put a certain vibe on the record before we even tried writing songs for it.”

Carter is hesitant to divulge what those “mission statements” were exactly, as some of the ideas have been put on hold for the next album—the duo have also been in the studio working on a collaboration with Big Boi of Outkast that Carter calls “darkadelic,” as in dark, psychedelic hip hop.

There’s no release date for that project as of yet, but for now Barthel and Carter are focusing on finishing off a banner 2014 that included sets at Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, sold-out shows and a chart-climbing single. That track, “Fall in Love,” almost didn’t make the record, though. Carter had crafted the single’s brooding yet dreamy melody with a rapper in mind, but Barthel discovered it and convinced him to save it for Phantogram.

“I was like, ‘Alright, if you can write a cool vocal thing for it then we’ll do it,'” Carter recalls. “She kind of breathed new life into this beat that otherwise would not have been heard by anybody—or hopefully it would have been someone like Jay-Z rapping over it.”

It’s probably for the best that Phantogram kept that beat for themselves, anyway, since “Fall in Love” became the number-four “Most Shazamed Rock and Indie Song of 2014” and did well on the charts. The duo no doubt make a great team, with Carter creating beats and chopping up song samples and he and Barthel sharing lyric ideas.

“It’s different every time, but I write most of the lyrics and Sarah’s really good at translating those as well; she’s very with me as I’m writing lyrics, too, so she kept the vibe. It’s not like we’re singing somebody else’s song. We’re both going through the same experiences most of the time,” Carter explains.

Phantogram kept its live performance in mind while writing Voices as well. When the pair wrote Eyelid Movies, they were relatively unknown and hadn’t logged many gigs, so Carter says it just turned out to be an album he and Barthel would want to listen to.

“Then for Voices we were like, ‘Oh, we have fans and know how to perform live and how to execute things as Phantogram,’ so we had in mind having a live drummer and other multi-instrumentalists and that definitely went into my construction of the songs,” Carter says, noting Voices has a higher-fidelity sound that came from working with better equipment, courtesy of co-producer John Hill (Santigold, MIA). “Also, Sarah’s singing is a lot more soulful on Voices, whereas on Eyelid Movies it’s wispier and I think she’s really singing from the gut on Voices.”

Fri, Dec 12 (8 pm)
With Mounties, Dear Rouge
Starlite Room, sold out

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