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Phantogram on Being Best Friends

The powerhouse duo share how they went from pre-school to pre-show together and might end up in the puppet business

The twosome I’m about to sit down with at Firefly Music Festival look like a walking billboard for being a badass. With monochromatic black outfits, shades hiding their eyes and intimidating straight faces to match, my “worn-in” (I stepped in a puddle the day before) black combat boots feel like substandard festival apparel.

Josh says hello and smoothly grabs a glass of wine before we dive in. When Sarah sits down she notices the wine and nonchalantly steals a sip before returning the cup to her band mate’s hand as if he were never without.

Together, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel are the stylish duo that makes up Phantogram, the electro-rock band behind the recent hit “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” and their arguably most popular single, “When I’m Small.” Their newest and most emotional album yet, Three is available now.

Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel
Photo credit: Wolf James

After a few minutes of chatting with these two I realize that they are not so intimidating. They are self-proclaimed goofballs disguised as typical “cool kids.” Josh explains how they’ve known each other since pre-school and have basically grown up together into Phantogram. “We were always vibing with each other, from pre-school into high school. After college, I was working on solo ideas, making beats and writing songs. Little did I know, it was the blueprint of Phantogram,” he admits.

Sarah has melted into her chair and began playing with her quirky tube socks that fit comfortably into her chunky black heels. “I had been in musicals and sang a little in college but I didn’t know I had the potential to write music or produce until Josh showed me,” Sarah reveals. “He basically showed me how to express myself musically and we hit the ground running.”

Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel
Photo credit: Wolf James

They’ve been officially running together since 2007, as Charlie Everywhere in their early years and now as Phantogram. Their beat-heavy sound is explosive and unlike anything you’ve heard, which is what the pair strives for. “We take pride in our attention to detail with the lighting, visuals and production of the live show,” Sarah says. “We want to be forward thinking, fresh and new sounding. We really want people to leave a Phantogram show and be like, ‘This was great. It’s different and doesn’t sound like anything else and I can’t put my finger on it.’”

The one thing you can probably put your finger on is that Phantogram can get dark sometimes. Which makes sense, given their edgy and seriously coveted look. How can you be wearing so much black in 88-degree weather and still look cool? 

“We write dark music but I think it can be really cathartic and helpful for other people who are in a dark place. Fans have told us how our music helped them get through some really tough times and those are the most special moments for us,” Josh says of the band’s impact on fans. “We’ve also had creepy interactions,” he says.

Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel
Photo credit: Wolf James

The next stories told involve a pair of shaved eyebrows, a homemade lighter and a beer.

The two return from their giggly trip down memory lane and Sarah says, “We’re really goofy all the time. We take Phantogram very seriously but in our private lives, we’re just ridiculous.” She adds, “We work for one thing and that’s Phantogram. Our ego’s don’t get in the way. We don’t care about who has more followers or whatever.”

She has more, by the way. It really pisses me off,” Josh interrupts deadpan.

I ask this set of best friends what they’d be doing if not in Phantogram and their responses solidify my thought that, Phantogram is adorable.

“I’d probably be a puppeteer for puppet movies that they make all the time now,” Sarah says without skipping a beat.

To her band mate she pleads, “Please say the same thing just so you can hang out with me all the time.”

“I would be a sock puppeteer. Strictly socks. We’d work together for something by Jim Henson or Frank Oz or something,” Josh concludes.