Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Phantom Band play Dolan's Warehouse on Thursday

SOME bands are reclusive by their very nature, shunning the spotlight in favour of allowing their creative output to speak for itself. The appropriately named The Phantom Band are such a band, a Scottish six-piece who have made avoiding the limelight into something approaching an art form.
The band’s propensity for recording densely layered and exciting, on-the-edge music has, however, seen them gain plaudits and critical acclaim for their 2009 debut Checkmate Savage and last year’s superb follow-up, The Wants, thereby ironically exposing the band to the outside world via the applause they have received.
You get the feeling that this exposure might not sit well with the Glasgow-based band that, when they were starting out initially, performed and released music under alternating identities, from Robert Redford to Robert Louis Stevenson.

“We didn’t do anything by design - we didn’t set out to get that acclaim, that is maybe something that has come (as a result),” says Andy Wake, the band’s keyboardist.
“You can hear bands that are formed in order to get a record deal and get popular, you can hear it in the music and you can hear that in bands that definitely do not do that. The fact is that we were never big ‘showmen’. The whole thing about the name changes wasn’t to be cool or enigmatic, it was the opposite, we were trying to erase our history a bit, because we weren’t sure what we were doing, we were just messing around, we never formed a band with any aspirations, we were more of a collective than a band, it wasn’t settled, more just something do on a Friday night, have a couple of beers and make music and have fun.”
When they eventually settled on their present moniker, it reflected their desire to remain “under the radar”.

“When people were offering us gigs, we were never doing them to try and build up popularity, we were doing them for the experience of doing them,” says Andy.
“We didn’t want people to be able to follow us from one gig to the next, because we wanted to be able to start from scratch every time. We only stuck with the name once we were happier with what we were doing live and we were starting to form a collection of pieces of music that we would play, and the whole thing about the name emerged because people referred to us as the ‘phantom’ band, in reference to the fact that we were changing the name and staying under the radar, and it is still something that we do from time to time.”

Indeed, after the success of the first album, the band went back to this tactic when sketching out pieces for the follow-up. The Wants is a weird, claustrophobic album that channels influences as broad as Animal Collective, Berlin-era Bowie, Brian Eno, The Walkmen and The National, and is an elusive, mercurial offering that is as enigmatic as the band themselves. Unlike their first record, the songs for which were built up over a period of playing time them live, The Phantom Band literally locked themselves away for six months in a remote studio to record the follow-up, with only a broad canvas on which to paint, allowing the process to dictate the output.

“We were locked in and weren’t let out until we recorded an album,” laughs Andy. “The first time we went into the studio with some things already finalised as tracks because we had been playing them live for a couple of years, but this time we went in with pretty much nothing and were holed up for quite a while and writing it as we went along,” he explains.
“To be honest, it was pretty stressful, there was a lot of arguing, because nobody had a clear idea of what direction each track had. You end up fighting over it and trying to pull it in different directions, so you can probably hear it in the music that it does that, but it was quite interesting for us, the idea that on a different day, the whole album could have gone in a different direction altogether.”

The band employed a succession of strange and colourful instruments during this time in the studio to help with the creative process. The instruments, both home made and hard-bought, ranged from bits of furniture to a toy drum machine and FX pedals to the studio fire extinguisher.

“It is something we have always done. We don’t use these instruments to be wacky or to try and be original, we just use them because we find the sound of them interesting,” explains Andy with a laugh.
“You might say they (the albums) are quite layered and we use the studio a lot when we record, we almost use it as an instrument and really exploit it.”

Asked about playing live, which the band will do this week in Dolan’s Warehouse, the Scot is as definitive as he can be on the band’s live direction, which he says he can’t wait to bring to Limerick.
“We have always had the mindset that the live sound and the recorded sound are never going to be the same, so we don’t fight against that, we use it as something to make the live shows as interesting as we can and not replicate the album exactly,” he says.
“Obviously you can only do that to a certain degree, because people want to hear music that they know, if they have the album, but really we are conscious of making it a different experience. I have heard good things about Dolan’s, hopefully it goes well,” he adds.

The Phantom Band play Dolan’s Warehouse this Thursday.

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