It’s been more than a year since Saratoga Springs duo Phantogram played in the Capital Region.
Since that show at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in May of 2011, the band released a six-song EP, “Nightlife,” in October, shared the stage with The Flaming Lips earlier this year at the Hangout Music Festival in Alabama, and recorded on tracks for both The Flaming Lips’ and Big Boi’s coming albums.
They have also toured relentlessly across the country and the world in continuing support of “Nightlife” and their Barsuk Records debut, “Eyelid Movies.”
But any thought that the duo has grown too “big” for its hometown scene is quickly dismissed by Josh Carter, the group’s guitarist, beat writer and producer. Recently, vocalist and keyboardist Sarah Barthel appeared on fellow Saratoga natives Railbird’s new track, “Jump Ship,” along with Sean Rowe. The band makes its live return to the region as part of this year’s PearlPalooza street festival on Saturday, performing just before headliners Matt & Kim.
Where: North Pearl Street, Albany
When: Noon to 9 p.m. Saturday
How Much: Free
More Info: www.pearlpalooza.com
“It has been really difficult,” Carter said of staying connected to the local music scene. “I’ve heard people in the past mention, ‘When are you coming back to Saratoga Springs, Albany, Glens Falls — the Capital Region. What, are you too good for us now?’ . . . Come on, we’re working our asses off. We’ve got so much love for the Capital Region and New York, and we’re really excited to be playing this weekend.”
Their PearlPalooza appearance is a one-off show, before the band’s next European tour in November. Despite their busy schedule for most of the year, for the past month or so the band has been holed up in a barn in the Capital Region countryside writing material for their second full-length album — in fact, it’s the third barn they have written music in.
“We haven’t been doing too many shows lately — I think our last show was in St. Louis; we did LouFest [in August],” Carter said.
Since signing with Barsuk in late 2009, Phantogram’s national profile has steadily increased. In the past two years, the band has toured with such well-known indie groups as Minus the Bear and Metric, and also appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” with The Roots’ Questlove on drums in February of last year.
WEQX Main Stage:
12:45 p.m. — The Royal Concept
2:15 p.m. — Oberhofer
3:45 p.m. — Robert Delong
5:30 p.m. — Phantogram
7:30 p.m. — Matt & Kim
Noon — Barons in the Attic
1:30 p.m. — Eastbound Jesus
3 p.m. — Mirk
4:30 p.m. — Wild Adriatic
6:45 p.m. — Conehead Buddha
“It’s been amazing. We really work our asses off. Sarah and I are no stranger to getting our hustle on, so to speak,” Carter said.
“We’ve just been touring a lot, and had a lot of great opportunities come our way. We’ve built an awesome fan base in Europe that just keeps on growing. We’re just excited about writing the next record right now.”
The upcoming album will present some firsts for the duo. “Eyelid Movies” was originally recorded in late 2008 as a set of demos, back when the band was still known as Charlie Everywhere. “Nightlife” was written primarily on the road at the height of the band’s touring behind “Eyelid Movies.” The duo has been able to focus more on the writing for this album, although the process is very much the same as it has always been.
“I make all the beats, produce all the beats and stuff, and Sarah’s getting a better handle on the production stuff now that I’ve taught her quite a bit over the years, so she’s doing a little producing,” Carter said.
“Generally I write most of the lyrics, if not all of the lyrics as in the past albums. But I’m really excited about what we’re doing. Sarah and I, it took a little time for us to grow. . . . It’s different every time — sometimes Sarah has an idea, and I have a separate idea, and we’ll work in different rooms of the studio; then I’ll be like, ‘Hey Sarah, I’m stuck, can we do something with this?’ and vice-versa. But what happens when it really all comes together — that’s what sounds best to us, when we just kind of play live together, jam out and write. That’s when we get the best results.”
“Nightlife” expanded upon the hip-hop and dream pop textures first explored on “Eyelid Movies,” and the new material will also be a natural progression, according to Carter.
“It still sounds like Phantogram,” he said. “I guess, in a way we’re kind of creating more of a — I guess you could say a darkadelic kind of sound. Kind of like nighttime, psychedelic, just sort of moody emotional music. I hear a lot of maturity in it compared to our previous releases.”
More than on past releases, the duo has been thinking about its live show in connection to the new material. That has been evolving as well — in early 2010, the band added drummer Tim Oakley, formerly of The Mathematicians, to its live lineup.
“We love him — he’s a great guy, very knowledgeable and a very solid drummer; we have a lot of fun with him,” Carter said. “We still use drum machines and samplers live too, though — this is just a way of making the sound more dynamic live, and a little more fun for the two of us.”
The band won’t be recording in a barn this time, but will bring demos to a studio sometime early next year. They’re also looking at an outside producer to help out for the first time — Carter has produced all of the band’s previous releases.
“I always love producing and stuff, but we want to bring in another pair of ears for the next album and I’d like to co-produce,” he said, “just because producing and engineering is half of the work right there, and a lot of work goes into songwriting. It’s very taxing on me to have to produce everything, so we’re looking forward to working with a producer on the next album.”
The duo’s work with The Flaming Lips and OutKast’s Big Boi may also have an influence on the next album. Big Boi’s “Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors” features three tracks with Phantogram — one that Carter produced, another song featuring Barthel’s vocals and the final track a collaboration with both members. The next Flaming Lips album will feature a track with Phantogram, after the duo joined the band onstage to perform Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
“We both grew up listening to OutKast, and we both grew up listening to The Flaming Lips as well,” Carter said. “A lot of amazing things are happening, and these people are reaching out to us. And it’s like, wow, we’re just these kids from the country, doing our thing. We didn’t really expect this, although we have worked extremely hard. We feel very blessed, and excited.”