“I feel blessed to get to do what we do” — Phantogram talks working with Big Boi, touring with Muse and more


Just a few hours before beginning their two-night stand in Paris opening for Muse in front of 18,000 people, electro/indie-rock duo Phantogram—vocalist/keyboardist Sarah Barthel and vocalist/guitarist Josh Carter—spent some time with Substream’s Edouard Camus in their hotel, dishing up some more info about the band, their new collaborative EP with Outkast’s Big Boi and some fun facts.

Thank you for having us today. Is it your first time in Paris?
JOSH CARTER: No, it’s our fourth time maybe?
BARTHEL: Maybe more. We’ve been here for a while, we’ve been touring Paris for five years.

You’re just few hours before performing with Muse, in one of Paris’ biggest venues. How are you feeling?
BARTHEL: Very excited!

You aren’t anxious at all?
BARTHEL: No, no! We’ve toured with Muse in the U.S. for about two or three weeks, so we know what it’s going to look like and feel like, and everything is just a different country, and different for people.

Two dates sold out in Paris, and you’re heading for six shows in the U.K. alongside with Nothing But Thieves. What does it feel to be able to say to friends and relatives: ”Oh, sorry, I can’t hang out today, I’m touring with one of the biggest bands in the world?” How do you feel about that?
CARTER: I guess I haven’t really thought about it. It’s cool; we feel very happy. Sarah said we’ve been on tour with Muse in December. It’s been a lot of fun. Since Phantogram [formed], we’ve toured quite a bit, and I feel blessed to get to do what we do.

Your latest album Voices was released two years ago. It hit No. 3 on Billboard‘s Top Rock Albums and Top Alternative Albums charts. Were you expecting this reception?
CARTER: When we started the band in general, we were really expecting—we had a lot of hopes and we’ve been working very hard and touring a lot, and, yeah, we weren’t really expecting this, but I wasn’t super-surprised, I guess.
BARTHEL: Yeah, I think, yeah, the same. We were hoping for, you know, the biggest record in the world but I mean, we released it and are very proud of it. Us being proud and connected to the record is the most important, because it’s from us, we wrote the record, and produced most of the record, and it’s a really great record to own, and people love it.

On Spotify, out of three of your most popular songs, two of them are reaching more than 21 million streams, and one with almost 20 million streams.
CARTER: If only we could have had a dollar for every stream!
BARTHEL: [Laughs.] Yeah, that’d be great!

You formed a supergroup with Big Boi from Outkast called Big Grams. It’s so good. I can’t find the words, because I really loved it. Outkast, such a big band, influenced so many bands… How did that happen?
BARTHEL: We met him through Twitter, actually, about five years ago. And he was a fan of us, he found one of our songs online and tweeted it, posted it, just was obsessed with it. We found out and freaked out! We responded to him, and actually became very good friends with him and starting collaborating with him on his last album which he released, with three songs on that record, which was a very wonderful experience to be a part of, and we just wanted to do more. So we decided to release an EP and just keep going. So now we have seven songs and we’ve toured a little bit, we’re doing mostly festivals, so we’re doing all the big festivals in the U.S. this summer—Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and a bunch of other ones. It’s a dream come true. It feels like a dream every time, when I turn over and I see Big Boi from Outkast, just right over there, and that we made it together as friends.

I really love the different sounds on the Big Grams EP, mixing your sound of indie rock and electro, but also with some hip-hop. Do you think about collaborating with other artists, and if so, with who?
BARTHEL: Definitely Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, some day. That’s on my list. And Beck, I’d love collaborating with Beck. But, you know, for the most part, for at least Phantogram, it’s nice to have people to add parts to our songs. Darby Cicci from the Antlers was on the last record, as well as Steven Drozd from the Flaming Lips. He wrote a little keyboard part for one of the songs. So, it’s nice because they’re our friends, and we’ve toured with them, we’ve became friends musically so reach out and collaborating with our friends is always so much fun. That’s all it’s all about. It has a positive feeling and positive energy.

How did you react when you found out that you’d be touring with Muse?
BOTH: Very excited!
BARTHEL: [Laughs.] It blows my mind to think about how massive they are, and they’re our friends, so when we hang out with them, we’re just talking about food or shoes or whatever. So it’s very interesting to see, especially in Europe—I mean, they’ve sold out five or six shows here in a row, and it’s mind blowing.
CARTER: It’s crazy!
BARTHEL: And for them to ask that they want us to come out here with them, it’s an honor, and I mean, it’s just a wonderful experience all around.

So, they asked you to come?
BARTHEL: Yeah, yeah they did! We worked with Rich Costey, who produced songs and mixed their last few records, and Rich mixed our last record, and they discovered us through that, and they loved us and asked us to open up.

Can you tell us some fun facts about your touring experience? Do you have some fun facts about Muse?
BARTHEL: Dom, the drummer, loves potatoes. He likes to eat potatoes. [Laughs.] It’s a fun fact for you!

What is your favorite Muse song?
BARTHEL: Hmm, that’s that one that goes [hums “Starlight”]. I love that one.
CARTER: I like them all, but… I’m not good with names of songs. I barely remember our own song titles.
BARTHEL: That’s the one he plays the drum pad on. When you watch the show tonight, when he plays the drum pad on the side, that’s this one! [Laughs.] [ It was “Undisclosed Desires” —ed.]

Thank you Phantogram, HIM Media and Ibis Hotel Styles.