Sarah Barthel, lead singer of electro-pop duo Phantogram, talks to us about the band’s upcoming tour stop at Life is Beautiful and which artists she can’t wait to see perform.
Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel.
Phantogram might’ve quietly tiptoed onto the scene in 2007, but since then, the electro-pop duo composed of upstate New York’s Sarah Barthel (vocals, keyboards) and Josh Carter (vocals, guitars) has managed to get the attention of an international audience. Barthel and Carter released their debut album, Eyelid Movies, in 2009, followed by 2014’s Voices, a critically acclaimed sophomore effort that peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200. A spot on the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack, collaborations with The Flaming Lips and Outkast rapper Big Boi, and top billing at all of the major stateside festivals (Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Coachella) kept the pair more than occupied in the interim.
This weekend, the duo will touch down in Las Vegas for a set at Rehan Choudhry’s Life is Beautiful festival on Friday, October 24. In advance of the appearance, we caught up with Barthel for a quick conversation about artistic influences, upcoming releases, and which fellow performers she and Carter are most looking forward to seeing at the festival.
You’ve been on a pretty lengthy tour throughout the past year. How’s it going so far? SARAH BARTHEL: It’s good; we’re almost done with it, believe it or not. We’ve got a few more shows, then a little bit of time off to work on music.
What are you most looking forward to once the tour is over?
SB: Sleeping in my own bed.
Your performance at Life is Beautiful happens on Friday during the first evening of the festival. Are you planning on hanging around afterward for anyone else’s sets? SB: We’re planning on it, yes. We’ll definitely want to see Kanye West and hang out with Outkast.
Speaking of Outkast, you guys have previously worked with Big Boi. Was that process like? SB: Yeah, we first worked with him a couple of years ago when he was releasing his last record [Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors]. It was a lot of fun; we had a really good time with him.
Any other upcoming collaborations that we should know about? SB: We’ve got a remix coming out with Danny Brown for “Black Out Days,” and we just collaborated with The Flaming Lips on a Sgt. Pepper’s cover of [Beatles song] “She’s Leaving Home.”
How does the creative process work for you and Josh? Is it collaborative, or do you typically work on songs individually? SB: It’s different for every song. Each song comes from somewhere different, so sometimes it starts with a beat, sometimes it starts with a piano melody or a guitar melody, or whatever else might be inspiring to us at the time. We don’t have any formula; we kind of just wing it.
What are some other musical acts you’re especially excited about right now? SB: I haven’t gotten a chance to listen to too much new music these days, but we’re really happy for Future Islands. We’ve been big fans of those guys for years and years, and we were lucky enough to take them out on tour last year. Just to be able to see how much they’re blowing up makes us really happy—it should’ve happened a long time ago, but I’m glad it’s happening now.
Both you and Josh are known for being very hands-on regarding Phantogram’s visual aesthetic. Are there particular artists or filmmakers that inspire you?
SB: We’re really inspired by the films of Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry—some of the more surrealist filmmakers out there who specialize in high contrast, darks and lights, bright colors. Their work is a lot like our music in that everything seems very dark, but there’s always a bright light at the end of the tunnel. They’re kind of representative of what we do with emotion in our songs, so we tend to gravitate toward artists like that.
Last question: When can we expect more music from Phantogram?
SB: Definitely soon. We’re working on new music all the time.
The 2014 Life is Beautiful festival runs Friday, October 24-Sunday, October 26. Find tickets here.