Having released three studio albums to date, toured the world, and gone through a few line-up changes over their existence – PHANTOM PLANET continues to rock on without boundaries. They’ve been together since they were teenagers and although a few things may have changed, much stays the same. They still bring the same raw energy and crowd appeal to the stage night after night and continue to write songs that are innovative and crowd-pleasing. They’ve never been a band who has been afraid to venture into new territories soundwise and this is evident if you listen to their catalog of music.
They were writing and recording songs for their fourth album when approached to do some live dates on the East Coast with Guster. Knowing this would be the perfect time to test out some of the new songs to a live audience and take a break from the studio, they packed their bags and hit the road. We met up with the band (Alex Greenwald on lead vocals and guitar, Sam Farrar on bass, Darren Robinson on guitar, and Jeff Conrad on drums) before their recent show in Massachusetts and asked them some questions we, as huge Phantom Planet fans, have been dying to know the answers to. Hopefully you were too…..
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette, Laura DiBetta & Julie Zidel | May 2006
Cutting right to the chase—What’s the status of the new album? What’s going on and when can we expect it?
Alex: We’ve even just been talking about that today. We haven’t recorded anything definitively that we like for a record but we’ve been working towards our best record yet. Probably within the next couple of months we’ll actually start recording.
So is there any sort of timeline or should we just wait patiently?
Alex: If you can wait patiently, that would be wonderful.
Sam: As soon as we get it recorded it’s usually 3-4 months after.
We’ve seen possible track lists, has it been narrowed down at all?
Alex: I’ve written about sixty songs for the record so I think it’s just different play lists so far with different moods and it’s just a matter of figuring out which ones work together the best.
Sam: We’ve definitely tried a lot of them.
Phantom Planet getting comfy during the interview
Darren mentioned the importance of putting together a record where the songs flow and aren’t a bunch of filler. Since past albums have been eclectic collections of songs with unique sounds, how do you as a band define flow?
Sam: You did?
Darren: I guess? Well I mean every song is going to have its own character. I just mean that there’s a lot of records that you buy these days where there’s one or two good tracks and the rest just kind of doesn’t belong there, you always skip over them. I feel it would be cool where you have an album where you want to hear every song, from start to finish, the whole thing, all the way through.
Alex: No skipped tracks..
Darren: No skipping.
We’re not going to ask you to describe your sound but can you explain the personal importance to you as a band to keep your sound evolving? Or is it important?
Sam: It’s not necessarily that we feel that it’s important, it’s just a natural thing that happens. It’s never a conscious thing that we invoke.
Well there are some bands that just don’t evolve, it seems like something that’s important to Phantom Planet.
Alex: I’m sure some bands will hit a point and be like “Okay, this is our sound.”
I think we just haven’t figured out what we like about the band yet. When we do, maybe we’ll sound like the same old band.
Sam: We started when we were sixteen so the things we listened to when we were sixteen were very different than the things we listen to now.
Darren: It’s also though when you play a lot of shows, we’re playing a lot of the same songs almost every night and its fun, it’s enjoyable, but you always want to come up with different things here and there. Break some songs.
Alex: You get bored with the same songs, bored with the old band, so what can you do?
Darren: So if you don’t change at all, it just feels stagnant. It would get boring onstage.
Alex and Spooky trying out for their 10-10-220 ad
So the songs that you’ve been writing..how do you feel the music has changed from album to album and which album can the new material closest be compared to?
Alex: I think there’s going to be similarities in that we’re playing the same instruments, the same four people..but..I think that every song is sort of like a study in the way that a song should be. Each one is a feeling or a sentiment or a time or a place or all that stuff combined. That will probably be different because our experience within in the last three years have been different, from a lyrical standpoint too but it’s still going to sound like four guys banging on their “things”.
Sam: On our things?
On your things..okay..Have you decided on an album title yet? Did you get any good suggestions from fans when you asked on MySpace?
Darren: Actually, we haven’t had a chance to read them yet. We’ve been so busy accepting friend requests. We get like 40 pages a day. It’s really hard to keep up but we will read all of them!
Sam: I read a couple of them. I like..The Guest is Missing…
What prompted these live dates that you’re currently doing before the release of the new album?
Alex: The “Money money money monnneey” (Does his best O’Jays impression).
Sam: Having nothing to do in April and May and just being at home working on our music for the next record.
Alex: Plus getting invited isn’t too bad and it’s a way to pay the bills while we’re in writing mode. We love to tour.
Sam: The other great thing about it is we can test out some of the new songs on the crowds.
So you’ll be playing some new songs tonight?
Alex: We have a very short set but we’re throwing in one.
Sam: Even playing them in sound check or in a club, it’s different than rehearsal.
Alex: It’s more in practice that the songs come out than in theory. Does that make sense?
Well if you ever need a crowd to test the songs out on, we can set up a personal concert for us.
Alex: Well we live in LA but if you want to pay for our flights we’ll come play.
Sam: We did that the other night actually, we had all of our friends come to a club in L.A. and we played a secret show and played all of our new songs.
Oh, so our invitations must have been lost.
Sam: Well maybe we’ll do another one..for the fan club or..well we don’t really have a fan club anymore…
Yeah actually, that was our next question, what’s up with the fan club?
Alex: The woman who ran it left and we’re still looking for the right person to replace her.
Darren: In the meantime, MySpace is holding up its strength pretty well.
You’ve been featured on a few movie soundtracks lately. How does this come about and does it matter if it’s a shitty movie or is it just a business move?
Alex: It happens a couple of different ways, there’s some people that will actually approach our label or our manager because they are fans of the band and then sometimes we’ll have a person actually making calls to see if a movie would like to have our music in it. And then it’s down to whether we like the movie or not and whether the money is good.
We need to know the story behind the “Ten Men” clip on the DVD and why the person videotaping isn’t laughing hysterically? (If you have not seen this clip, it is on their DVD- MUST SEE FOR ALL PHANTOM PLANET FANS!!!)
Darren: I went into the back of the bus and Alex was playing this beat on his computer
Alex: I was making this beat yo, on the computer
Darren: And I was like straightening my hair…and it smelled like pancakes which you hear me say. We just started dancing, just very randomly..
Alex: I think you just said TEN MEN, Ten Men..
Darren: It just worked. It was totally spur of the moment.
Alex: Sometimes you’ll hear a piece of music as it were for me or for us and words just exist over that piece of music and I think those just popped out…Ten Men..Ten men..I like ten men..
Darren: One thing with this band is that wherever we are, the things that make us laugh the most is just being so random. Like I’ll look at Sam and just say like..some non sequiturs. No one else will laugh, people look at us like we’re idiots. We’d try to explain it to you but you wouldn’t get it. Every little thing makes us laugh.
Since everyone here hates the term emo, can we collectively think of a word to replace it?
Darren: That’s way better.
Darren – Any chance you’ll give us some tips on cracking the purple code? (On the Phantom Planet blog, they often type in a purple code that is not breakable to anyone but the bandmates)
Sam: I don’t even think he knows how to crack it.
Darren: It’s about seven steps long, I can tell you that much. I’ll tell you what it’s for. It’s really cheesy. If anybody cracks it I’ll be embarrassed because I was dating a girl for awhile and I basically told her look I’m going to create this code and I’m going to put it on the website and you’re going to be the only one who can crack it and I gave her instructions on how to crack it. So like, if you do what it said…
Sam: It’s instructions on how to make Veal Lasagna..
Darren: But don’t even try it, if you get it..
Sam: Phantom Planet shows for life! I swear to God. I’ll say it. I swear to God There’s no way that anyone is going to get that.
Darren: It’s possible but it would be very hard.
It’s been brought to our attention that Jesus has signed up for MySpace and is claiming Alex’s pictures as his own. What are your feelings on this and will you be retaliating?
Sam: I saw that.
Alex: I don’t know if I’m going to retaliate. I have lost all my faith..if I ever had any in the first place. I don’t even have a MySpace profile for myself..well I do, sort of, but I stole the face from Evil Dead 2 as mine so I guess you can just borrow. I’m okay with that. Oh and I think it’s funny. I have to see it though.
Darren: There was a time when I was signing into MySpace and in the “Cool New People” section there was some dude named Armondo using Sam’s pictures.
Sam: Yeah, I got so many emails about that!
You recently sent out some interview questions to your fans. We thought it might be fun to flip the table and ask you one of them. Besides California, what is your favorite Phantom Planet Song?
Darren- I think it changes all the time, but for me currently, the way we play it live – Knowitall
Sam-I’d probably agree with him, I’d say Knowitall
Jeff- I was also going to say Knowitall but that would be really…
Darren- we knew you were going to ask!
Jeff- I’ll go with Making a Killing…
Alex- I’ll say…Something is Wrong…that’s probably the last song anyone would say!
You guys have known each other forever, and it always seems like you’re having a good time and genuinely enjoy each others company which is sometimes rare to see. How do you think that factors into your success?
Sam: It certainly makes it easier to go out and play shows all the time..that we like each other.
Alex: As far as the bands success, it has 100 percent to do with that we are friends.
If you could change places, with someone in the band for 48 hours, who would you change with and what would you do?
Alex- I would be Sam, and sell my brand new house to Alex for ten bucks. Yoink!
Sam- Thanks a good one.
Alex: Yeah beat that bitches!
Jeff: The meanest thing I can think of is, I would be Alex, and have a triple cheese steak wrapped in bacon.
Alex: That’s pretty cruel.
Darren- I would be Alex, and the only reason why is because then I would be getting Sam’s house for ten dollars.
Alex: Ohhhhh…but then Sam could be himself and then not sell it!
Okay, time for some fun questions… Sam – If Jack Bauer went down with the LOST plane, who would he kill first?
Sam: Ooh good question. I would hope he would kill Ana Lucia because I just hate her-Yeah, I think I’d want her out first. I don’t really know why.
Jeff: I think Bauer would do a lot of interrogating first – What’s going on on this Island! I want to know now! There’d be a lot more urgency.
Darren: No, he’d probably want to take out Sawyer, just to get rid of the bad attitude guy.
Sam: God it was a good episode last night, did you guys watch..
Darren-Would you rather be a dragon or a zombie?
Darren: A dragon or a zombie. Well, I’ve already been a zombie once, so I’m gonna go with dragon so I can breathe fire. I would start so many fires everywhere.
Sam: And then you can say lines like “I am the last one!”
Alex: “…and I’m sitting on a big box of treasure..just sitting on it!”
Alex-Where did you get your Pac-Man costume and where is it now? (Alex can be seen in said Pac-Man suit in some of the video clips on the Phantom Planet Blog)
Alex: You know, the funnier story is how I lost it, but we won’t get into that now. I found a website that was selling them and I paid like fifty bucks for that stupid thing. It was my favorite toy for like three days. I only owned it for that long. It took forever to ship too. Like I ordered it in July of last year and it came in October..or September..well I pre-ordered. I think I wore it or I brought it to the studio and then to The Roxy and I left it at The Roxy Theater on Sunset Blvd. Now it’s gone.
So you haven’t seen anyone wearing it around L.A.?
Alex: If I ever do..because I’m the only one in L.A. that had one.
Phantom Planet vs Space Mountain
Jeff-What happened to that stinky dirty shirt you wore every day on the Sting tour? Did you have some sort of ceremonial burning for it at the end of the tour?
Jeff: Oh the Steve Martin shirt.
Alex: It actually walked away as soon as the tour ended…
Jeff: I still have it…We’re wearing these hoodies tonight, but if we weren’t, I’d probably have it on.
Has it been washed?
Jeff: Yeah it did get washed.
Sam: Did you have to wash that a couple of times?
Sam: It’s pretty gnarly.
Jeff: Yeah it had a good odor.
It was crunchy!
Alex: It was…crispy..
(Brief interlude while Darren discusses Sam’s key ring with him)
Sam – Do you REALLY watch Deal or No Deal?
Sam: Oh Yeah. I watch it all the time. It’s amazing. I love watching people be so incredibly greedy. Oh here’s 200K..but you can go for more…it was great last night, someone took a deal for 25K but they had 100K in their case. It’s really funny because Howie Mandel is a total germaphobe so it’s funny to see him try to totally avoid any possible handshake.
Darren: He always sits on the other side of the stage.
Darren-You’ve recently become a vegetarian, how is that going?
Darren: Almost a year ago.
Alex: Now that’s a lie, because he eats fish. He’s a Pescetarian.
Darren: I’m a Pescetarian..
Alex: Which is still very commendable..
So how’s it going?
Darren: It’s very easy..very easy..
Alex: He eats all the steak and chicken he wants…and then says he’s a vegetarian. No just kidding.
Darren: It’s really easy. I did it first to see how I’d feel..because I ate so much meat growing up. I don’t eat fish every day. I just had some penne pasta, and I feel great.
Sam-Do you consider curling a legitimate Olympic event?
Sam: Curling? Is that the one where you push the..
Alex: That’s MY favorite event!
Sam: That’s the broom thing right? NO! Not even close…
Alex: I think that’s great, it requires a team and..
Sam: ..absolutely no physical strength..
Alex: There’s not much of a point..
Sam: If curling is a sport than billiards should be a sport..
Alex: No..totally different..in curling, the sweepers are in charge of getting the thing to go slower and faster and which direction..there’s a real art to it. It’s like brushstrokes. It’s like painting and physics..and ice skating combined.
Sam: When I think of the Olympics I think of the 100 meter dash, the javelin, shot-put, slalom…
Sam: Discus is pushing it, but I think it’s an Olympic sport. I think there’s something to be said about physical strength.