Phantogram has been making the big-time festival rounds over the past half-decade or so, and even though it isn't really a jam band, the group will stop at this weekend's McDowell Mountain Music Festival. The fest isn't really a stretch for the Bonnaroo veterans, but suffice it to say, four years ago, Phantogram probably would not have been considered for this festival.
With just a couple of days left before the group's 7:45 p.m. set on Saturday at Margaret T. Hance Park, Phantogram's Josh Carter talked with New Times about Big Boi, Wayne Coyne, the role ego plays in the creation of art, and chowing down in unfamiliar cities.
New Times: How did Phantogram end up on the lineup for traditionally jam-band-oriented MMMF?
Josh Carter: I noticed Passion Pit is on it, too. They're probably trying to branch out and obviously there is a demand for other music, music other than just jam music. We make interesting enough music that people who like jammy kind of stuff can appreciate it. I feel a lot of festivals do that. Bonnaroo used to be more of a jammy kind of festival and it's branched [out] over the past several years.
What's going on right now between Phantogram and Big Boi?
We're making an album together with Big Boi. It's not a Phantogram record. Sarah [Barthel, Phantogram bandmate] and I are in a band with Big Boi, and right now we are calling it Big Gram. It's almost done and we are going to start working on a Phantogram album after that.
What's it like working with a musical icon like Big Boi?
It's really cool. Big is a great guy, and we have become really good friends over the past couple of years. It's a real honor and head trip to work with someone you looked up to. I grew up listening to Outkast, and it's pretty trippy being friends with people you grew up listening to. Same thing goes with the Flaming Lips, I grew up listening to them and I listen to those guys pretty frequently, and we work together, which is reaffirming that I must be doing something right.
Does the upcoming project with Big Boi have a name yet?
No name right now. We are talking to some different animators and trying to put out a psychedelic cartoon with the songs. Not sure how many songs, probably just an EP worth of music and the psyched-out cartoon, and we are talking to different people about how we can execute that.
What does the music the two of you are making sound like?
It's sort of like psyched-out hip-hop. I'm producing most of it because I make beats a lot and we got Sarah singing on stuff and Big rapping and even I'm singing on it a little bit. It's just an experimental project that we are doing because we are friends and it's fun. Run the Jewels is going to be on one track, which is pretty dope, and we are talking to some others about some guest appearances.
Enough about Big Boi. What is working with Wayne Coyne like?
Wayne is very spontaneous and quick on his feet. I've got a lot of respect for Wayne. He churns out a lot of creative shit all the time. He's always drawing or creating visual art or making music. He's got a childlike nature to the way he creates, which I admire greatly. It's really badass; he doesn't seem to overthink things. It's just spontaneous and fun. Wayne just sent me this idea he's working on with Miley Cyrus and have Sarah sing. I don't know if we will have time to work on that, but we stay in contact a lot.
Do you think Phantogram's music is any different after working with these legends?
No, I don't, actually. I think that Phantogram is always creating music that we would naturally make. But the music we do create with other people is definitely different than something we would do on our own, and that's the whole purpose of collaborating. I learned a lot from collaborating with other people, and everyone had a different pace how they work, but the biggest thing for me is you gotta like it and like the other artists you're working with. Let go of your ego a bit and let everyone's creative processes seep in.
Speaking of ego, what role do you think ego plays in the creation of art?
I think that all art in general is ego-driven. It's about self-expression and that comes from one's ego. It doesn't have to be a bad thing; it's not like tripping out or anything. But that's what healthy expression is and where it comes from otherwise you wouldn't have art or a particular vision.
What does working with people like Big Boi and The Flaming Lips do for the ego?
I don't know. I haven't thought about that. It's not like all of the sudden I think we are hot shit cause someone like Big Boi wants to work with me. It's just reaffirming because I question myself a lot. I'm sure everybody can second-guess themselves. But it's just more or less reaffirming, like 'Oh, cool, if I love OutKast and I love Big Boi, if I really like them and they like my thing, I must be onto something good."
What do you eat on tour when you don't know what's good in a city?
If we're at a venue and we are waiting backstage, we will often ask the promoter or the runner if there is any local hotspots that are good or any local fare, and we aren't super-picky. So we like to order whatever people think is good in the area. When we are in Austin, Texas, we always end up with tacos or barbecue. When we are in Montreal, sometimes we get poutine, even though I don't like it that much. But it's one of those things you do. Like, when we were in Buffalo, we got buffalo wings from the supposed originators of buffalo wings. We like to get a little touristy on the food.
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