The hazy synths & ambiguous nocturnal beats of Phantogram serve as the perfect playlist for longing lovers & night drives. The foreshadowing, emotionally intense melodies hint at anticipated transitory phases in life. The duo, Sarah Barthel & Josh Carter, will be playing at The Fillmore in Charlotte, North Carolina on June 25.
MJ: When did you start making music?
Sarah Barthel: I’ve been playing the piano & singing my whole life, but never had training or took it seriously until I met up with Josh. Around 2005 we started writing music.
MJ: How did you & Josh meet? What motivated you guys to get serious about music, & has that motivation altered since you first began?
SB: I actually knew him in junior high school. We mostly just wanted to make music that we wanted to listen to. We were at a point when we were pretty bored with what was coming out of the music scene. We had some interesting ideas as to how we could make some fresher sounding songs, & we just started writing for ourselves. Luckily it caught on & people dug it as well.
MJ: This year you & Josh collaborated with Big Boi from Outkast. How did you guys team up with him?
SB: He actually made our song “Mouthful of Diamonds” the song of the week on his website. I hit him up on twitter basically saying thanks & that we were into his music as well. From then on we became friends while on the same tour circuit doing festivals.
MJ: What are the major themes running through your album Voices?
SB: We got the name for the album from one of our songs called “Black Out Days”. The line is, “I’m hearing voices all the time. I’m hearing voices & they’re haunting my mind.” That’s really the best way to explain the album & our emotions at the time we were writing. We wanted to make something that people could travel with. We write dark, heavily emotional songs, but there’s always the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s always this element of hopefulness that is really important to our music.
MJ: As you hear a song of yours & play it live repeatedly, does it lose significance or gain new meaning?
SB: Absolutely. That’s really imperative to the dynamic of our songs… The audience needs to always feel this undercurrent of sensations when we perform live. Any band needs to have a passionate emotional connection to perform a song with full accuracy. We leave the idea behind our lyrics open & vague enough for them to transfer into everyday life & everyday feeling. It’s like we’ve started this painting & we want the audience to fill in their own thoughts. Our songs are ambiguous enough to mean something to everyone.
With husky vocals & casually cool melodies, Deer Tick makes the kind of music that brings people together. They’re the kind of guys you’d love to grab some beers with, laid back & absolutely hilarious. Deer Tick will be invading Charlotte at The Fillmore, along with Langhorne Slim & the Law.
MJ: How & where did you meet?
Cristopher Ryan: We met via swingerprofiles.com. Our first “band practice” was dinner at an Italian restaurant, then we went back to John’s mom’s house to “hang out.” I remember, John had lit candles to soften the mood. It was all very exciting. I was very nervous.
MJ: Loads of bands run into road blocks when starting up. How did you begin gaining momentum as a band?
CR: By Touring all the time. Unfortunately we’re still touring all the time. We’ve never been able to break the momentum. But, we were playing shows relentlessly wherever we could. People cared for some reason, & we developed a ragged & die-hard following, much of which we still have. But everything started to fall into place when we started working with John Chavez, our booking agent.
MJ: How had your music evolved since Deer Tick first formed?
CR: I don’t think that our music has evolved too much, or at least I’m too close to see it. I think, instead, that we’ve evolved, and that’s affected the music. Now the music had a little bit of a huskier voice, its balls have dropped, & there’s fur where there was no fur before.
MJ: How has the technological revolution, so to speak, influenced your approach to music, promotion, & the like?
CR: I’m not sure. Technology is so ubiquitious now that I’m having trouble remembering a music industry before it. Technology exists: laptop recordings, social media, Soundcloud are tools & we find ourselves swimming in the stream alongside everybody else.
MJ: Memorable moment on the road?
CR: This current moment is worth remembering. I am sitting in the kitchen of the House of Blues in Boston with my bandmates. The Hold Steady is currently soundchecking. I am eating a Cuban sandwich, & wearing an LL Bean sweater. Ian is looking at dogs on Instagram.
MJ: I love your song These Old Shoes from your 2007 album War Elephant. Who wrote the song, or was it a collective effort? What experience did you draw upon to write the lyrics?
CR: That song was actually written by our good friend Chris Paddock. He’s an English teacher in Boston now. & he wrote that song, obviously enough, about going to visit the girl he was dating who had gone away to college. They’re no longer together, by the way.
MJ: Do you find it difficult to maintain relationships while traveling?
CR: With each other? Yes. Tensions get high. But we’re comrades, & get over it. But you probably mean romantic relationships. The answer is yes. It’s straining to be constantly coming & going, to share an apartment for example, & then be around for a month & gone for a month. But, we’ve been pretty lucky in that respect, & for the most part have girlfriends or wives that are very patient with what our vocations demand of us. But, yeah, it sucks.
MJ: Any goals for the future regarding the band as a whole or members individually?
CR: Some of us would like to go back to school, get degrees in banking. Some of us want to make children. Some of us want to die. Personally I want to lie down in the grass & see what our future brings. But, it I could quote my favorite R&R hall of famer, “We’re probably gonna make another record next year.”
Growling “We Belong in the Wilderness,” Nashville natives, Those Darlins, took over Snug Harbor with their potent music & wild eyes. After the show, Nikki Darlin, Linwood Regensburg, & Adrian Berrers leaned against the railing outside, in grungy attire, blowing cigarette smoke into the air. Jessi & I remained inside as we talked one on one.
MJ: How did all of you get together?
JD: Me, Nikki, & the drummer met when we were teenagers through this nock ‘n roll camp. We had another girl in the band but she left a while back. We knew Adrian from touring so we just asked him to join.
MJ: How did your southern upbringing influence your music?
JD: Well, musically I’ve been inspired by traditional Tennessee music. But growing up it was also a restrictive atmosphere because there are a lot of southern roles & etiquette. The spirit of our music has been rebelling to those standards, especially for me as a female. The southern woman is supposed to be sweet, drinkin’ her sweet tea & cleanin’. I grew up in a family where half the woman didn’t know how to drive. They were always cookin’. & they were total bad asses! But lookin’ at that I thought, you know what, I’m gonna do something a little different.
MJ: Sounds like a bit of feminine repression. Have you experienced any of this while touring?
JD: Yeah, it’s always there, but it’s subtler than people might think. There are blatant things like write-ups labeling us a “girl band”. First of all, half of us are boys! Second of all, it’s as if “girl band” is a type of music, but it’s not! You’ve got people coming up after saying “Wow, you’re pretty good for a girl” or “That guitar is bigger than you are”. I get that they’re not trying to offend me, so I’m like, “Yup, it is. But did you like the show?”It’s also harder for women to push their way to the front in terms of recognition. You get brushed aside. It’s hard to explain without going through it. But whatever, you just shrug it off. Just keep on goin’.
MJ: What are some crazy moments you’ve experienced on stage?
JD: Man, my mind totally went blank. (She says as disco ball lights flash across her eyes) I remember this one guy in Chicago who kept hittin’ me. I went on playin’ when he knocked my hand off my guitar. Then he jumped on stage! So me & Kelly, our old band mate, just looked over at each other. At the same time we walked over & kicked him off the stage. The whole crowd split down the middle & let him fall on the ground! The guy has exes on the back of his hands. Like, dude, you just got the attention of at the security guards & you’re under age! So that was the last of him. My favorite is when the audience & us are really connecting & share a moment together.
MJ: What is the underlying theme of your new album Blur the Line?
JD: A lot of themes run through the album. In a really broad way, it’s about the duality of man. & by man, I mean man & woman. Just the idea that there’s good & evil within all of us. It’s about parallels. Everything has two sides; you can choose to be whatever you want to be. Nothing in black & while, everything runs together. A bit of everything in everything. What is male & female? Even those are interchangeable. ME & Nikki really identify with rock ‘n roll, which is supposedly masculine. We just wanna be loud! We believe in that “manly” power that women have. It’s the raw power that everyone is able to possess, but people just don’t realize it. Our album blurs the line between sanity & insanity. “Am I creative, or crazy?” I also found that there is strength in vulnerability & putting yourself out there. Spend time to get to know yourself. We do that through music.
MJ: The audience could really feel that tonight.
JD: Yeah, you gotta take the things you don’t like about yourself & just look them in the face & say, “This is who I am.” Create something out of it. Our song Ain’t Afraid is about putting things out there. All this shit is happening in the world, & anything can happen to anybody, but you know what? I’m not afraid of it. Because I accept it.
MJ: Who were your influences growing up?
Django Stewart: I was never really into one scene. I was just taken by different songs & artists & voices. When I was a kid I loved soul music, like James Brown & Aretha Franklin. Then I became obsessed with glam rock like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, the Velvet Underground, & the Andy Warhol scene in New York. I didn’t agree with a lot of what I was being taught in school, & I didn’t really fit in. It hit me that I was more of an artist than an academic.
Sam Stewart: Oasis & Nirvana really opened up the world of music to me.
MJ: How did not exactly fitting in throughout high school affect you as artists?
DJ: Not fitting in during high school prepared us for what was to come, because we were never into “going with the curve.” It’s like the saying “dead fish go with the stream.” I’ve always wanted to break barriers, & I guess it’s a lot harder now to be original in the music industry. Especially trying to get a giant corporation to back you up & believe in you.
MJ: Where did the name Nightmare & the Cat come from?
SS: It originally came from a song that Django & I both really loved, written by a guy called Anthony Harwood. He had this incredible album he made in the early 90s that never saw the light of day. He went off the rails & became a drug addict & no one really ever heard from him again. There are rumors that he moved to Afghanistan.
DS: We just found his album in our dad’s record collection & fell in love with his music… He was a really unstable genius & ever since we’ve been curious as to where he is. We thought maybe if we named our band after his song that he’d turn up somewhere. So far it’s been silence.
MJ: How has your music evolved?
DS: We used to focus more on our live shows than our recordings. We wanted to let out our emotions & rock out. Now it’s different, & we really want to create catchy songs. We know each others strengths better.
MJ: Favorite parts about being on tour?
DS: Huge highlight is our driver. He’s probably one of the funniest & nicest people I’ve ever met.
SS: Top notch!
DS: I seriously haven’t ever met someone as hilarious as him. On the road we also got to check out Third Man Records in Nashville & actually bumped into Brandon, the bassist for the Neon Trees. Sam complimented him on his bow tie & Brandon took it off & gave it to him.
SS: Playing on the Late Show with David Letterman was another highlight. We found out about the show less than twelve hours before we had to be there. The drive was about eight hours.
DJ: We barely slept! It didn’t help that we had to sleep sitting up in a van full of gear & guitars.
SS: It was an odd mix of massive adrenaline shocks to the heart every ten minutes & sleep deprivation. Together it made us feel like we were in a dream.
DJ: What’s so strange is that you get so much preparation for, what, five minutes on stage? Then everyone ushers you off & you’re like, “What just happened?”
MJ: What’s next for Nightmare & the Cat?
SS: We tour with the Neon Trees & Smallpools for another six weeks. Our album will be released early in July & we want to put on some sort of an underground album release party downtown LA.
DJ: Me & our bass player go to a circus school. She’s an acrobat & we’ve been talking about collaborating with circus for our release show. Hopefully our new song will be a hit on the radio. Fingers crossed!
With abrasive undertones & percussive stomp clap rhythms, Sleigh Bells creates anthems for waves of angsty youth, though their electric beats are anything but adolescent. Intrigue for Sleigh Bells piqued when they crashed into the music scene guided by M.I.A, seemingly out of nowhere. After their show at The Fillmore in Charlotte, North Carolina, I met with lead singer Alexis Krauss & was taken aback by her soft-spoken, down to earth demeanor, completely contrasting her bold onstage presence. Krauss offered me a seat on the couch in her dressing room as she sat, cross legged, on the floor.
MJ: How did you & Derek meet?
AK: My mother & I actually met him at a restaurant. Derek was my server, believe it or not! We struck up a conversation, mostly revolving around where he was from. My mom & Derek grew up in a similar area & they began talking about what he was doing in Brooklyn. He said something like, “Yeah, I’m a musician & just moved to New York to find a female vocalist to make music with.” My mom, being a typical mom, was like, “My daughter is a singer!” As it turned out, Derek & I lived in the same neighborhood. I hadn’t been singing for a while, but I thought, “Why the hell not?” & so it began. Derek & I were total strangers & had no mutual friends, but it became this really organic serendipitous thing.
MJ: Derek told me earlier that you were teaching in the Bronx at the time. What was that like?
AK: I did a program called Teach for America right out of college. You basically teach at low-income schools & rough neighborhoods. I really loved it, but it wasn’t my calling, you know?
MJ: Can you describe the process of finding your sound?
AK: It’s a combination of everything that we love- from hip hop & experimental electronic to punk & metal. We’re strong supporters of pop music, but pop music that has an angle. The kind of pop that’s dark & twisted. We combined all those seemingly paradoxical elements & formed this cacaphonistic melodic sound that’s unique to us. But we’re always experimenting. We’re always growing & trying to push ourselves outside of the box.
MJ: So your first time recording in a studio setting together was with M.I.A. What was that like?
AK: Derek actually wound up losing his job as a waiter because of that. It was such an incredible experience, especially since most of our friends didn’t even know we had a band!
MJ: What are your future plans for Sleigh Bells?
AK: We’re touring for the rest of the summer, & will continue to work on new music after that. We’ve actually finished recording a few songs that we’re super stoked about. We want to keep putting out new records & doing what we love. Stomping & shouting & making music.