On the Record with Phantogram
The dreamy duo’s frontwoman Sarah Barthel dishes on local hotspots and San Diego’s awesome fans
Photo by Charles Reagan Hackleman
In the nine years since electropop duo Phantogram made their debut with Eyelid Movies, their brand of hypnotic harmony has swirled from intimate venues like The Casbah to big-budget movie soundtracks, and into collaborations with industry heavy-hitters like The Flaming Lips and Outkast’s Big Boi. Next up for New Yorkers Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter is a headlining gig at the sold-out CRSSD Festival, making its return to Waterfront Park March 2–3.
When Barthel thinks about Eyelid Movies now, it really does feel like their first record. “We produced, wrote, and mixed everything ourselves,” she says, “so that was the awesome, epic, DIY band when we were first starting out; it was so exciting and fun.”
Phantogram has released only two other studio albums since, though that unhurried pace is deliberate. “We made the decision that we wanted to gradually grow, not fizzle out so fast, or try and become something more than we could be capable of,” Barthel says. “Now we have these opportunities where we can make our records and collaborate with other people that we admire.” As for the future, she names Pharrell, Beck, and Missy Elliott as artists she’d love to work with.
Barthel and Carter’s songwriting process is methodical, a coveted and somewhat rare experience in the industry, and their 20-plus-year friendship adds synchronicity and depth. “Josh and I are best friends. We grew up together. We’ve known each other for so long and we’ve been through a lot of stuff. We experience the same things because we’re so close. If we’re writing, we both relate to that song. It feels real and it feels right because we connect no matter what, which is huge. I don’t know what it’s like to sing other people’s songs, and he doesn’t either. It makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable having someone that you can relate to.”
While the band hails from the East Coast, they’re no strangers to San Diego. They’ve played several shows here over the past few years, including The Observatory North Park and SDSU’s Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theater. (Fun fact: Barthel’s Olympic gold medalist boyfriend, Shaun White, is a San Diego native.) “We had a lot of solid memories at The Casbah. That place sticks out, because we did our first US tour there with School of Seven Bells. Whenever we play San Diego, people always say, ‘Hey, I met you at the merch table at The Casbah!’ Casbah is so cool and there are such awesome music fans in San Diego. They’re different from LA because they’re more open to having a good time.”
Barthel says she and Carter are looking forward to hitting their favorite local restaurants while they’re in town: Fish 101 in Encinitas and “anything Mexican or tacos.” But no doubt the highlight of their stay will be CRSSD. “It’s a different experience playing festivals. It’s exciting. People are making their whole weekend out of going to see music and everyone’s celebrating music together.”
(Be on the lookout for Leroy the Good Boy, Barthel’s Yorkie-Maltese mix and a celebrity in his own right, in an outfit carefully selected for his San Diego trip!)
Even after the dust settles from CRSSD, Phantogram fans still have more to look forward to: The duo is in the process of recording their fourth album. They’re also crafting beats for Big Grams, their next collaboration with Big Boi. “We’re working hard. We have plans to finish it up soon so we can continue the next record cycle: go on tour, play some shows,” Barthel says. “We’re really excited for people to hear it. We can’t wait.”