Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel Talks Fashion, Touring, and ‘Voices’

Photo courtesy of Phantogram

For both indie and mega-mainstream artists, the music industry and fashion world are, with increasing vigor, taking advantage of the promotional opportunities at their feet. NYC’s subways are covered in pictures of LA based singer Banks wearing Coach, Miley Cyrus paraded down Jeremy Scott’s runway during Fashion Week, and Madonna was just renamed the face of Versace. Outside of this, there are a handful of musical artists who still resonate within the fashion industry for simply looking fucking cool all the time, even if they’re not splattered across the country in a corporate ad campaign.

One example is Sarah Barthel of electric rock duo Phantogram, who is currently promoting the band’s sophomore album, Voices. We talked to Barthel about the tour, her upcoming show at Madison Square Garden, and her thoughts on fashion.

Do you have a preference between being in the studio and touring?   

It’s great to have all of it because it gets you kind of refreshed and changes scenery, which is good. We love to tour, and luckily we’re all really close, and Josh and I are best friends so we have a blast out on tour.

You guys are playing Madison Square Garden in March with Alt-J. Is this your biggest show yet?   

I’m not sure how big it’s gonna be. When we play festivals it’s always in front of pretty big crowds. It’ll definitely be the biggest indoor show we’ve ever done. It’s going to be so much fun, we can’t believe it. We’re all super excited about it because we never thought that we’d get to play Madison Square Garden. We can check it off our bucket lists for the moment.

As you guys grew bigger, it seemed like more and more fans were looking up to you and your style. Are there any specific designers or brands you’d like to be associated with?   

I’m a huge fan of all fashions…Black Denim is a great example for me because the aesthetic in general is very stark, black and white, and kind of just high-contrast, which connects to our sound in a way. It’s very visual but, you know, black and white. There’s this really cool guy who makes awesome jackets, these custom jackets. His name’s Christian Benner. He’s based in New York.

But at the same time, Jeremy Scott is someone that I love, because he’s just super funky and bizarre. He has the Hip-Hop aesthetic as well, and we do too. It’s kind of all over the place.

Do you guys get involved in Fashion Week?  

Yeah, we played a show for Interview Magazine’s fashion party this year, which was really cool. I forget the name of the venue, but it was really dirty, sweaty, and cool. It smelled like shit in there, but everyone was super pumped about it. It was packed and it was sweaty and it was really fun. We’ve been to a few of them, though. We try to go whenever we’re in town.

Do you dress differently onstage than offstage?   

I think it’s important to make that transition. It wasn’t that apparent when we first started out, but the more and more we grew, we realized that it’s important. It’s your music, I mean it’s you, it’s us. You make it and you connect to it. But I think when you’re performing, people want to see something different. That’s why they come to the shows. That’s why our production and our lights are so important in our shows. It’s all connected…I think bands that pay attention to that kind of detail, I really admire because they’re really thinking about it all, and it all goes hand-in-hand.

I always try and spruce it up fashion-wise on stage—and offstage too—it’s just different. I might dress a little bit more sexual just to give the feminine vibe to myself. I get more into it, just into my sexuality a bit more. It helps me get the groove.

What do you think about festival style? The way people dress at Coachella, for example, has become the target of lots of jokes.   

I don’t know. I think it’s pretty cool…I’ve been to a bunch of festivals at this point. Coachella is literally the only festival where there is a scene. Like, there’s a fashion scene, and there’s this appearance scene. Like you go for the music but you can tell the girls are there as well to fit into this scene where people take fashion a bit more seriously. You always seem them with the flowers, and they kind of started that trend, which I have seen around in other festivals, and I never used to. And it’s cool.  Coachella is just a different category compared to like, Bonnaroo, where people don’t give a shit if they smell. They love it. They know it’s gonna rain and they’re camping out. I think they’re more concentrated on just that.

But we played this festival called Lightning in a Bottle. It’s kind of connected to Burning Man, and people are totally dressed up, or not wearing anything. There’s a whole scene there too. There’s always a vibe that’s like, “This is what you wear  when you go to this festival,” and everyone’s wearing it. We were just there playing and we just stuck out like a sore thumb because we were wearing jean shorts and whatever. We weren’t really a part of it, but it was really cool to see that kind of thing because it just makes you feel like you’re leaving a different world…you’re leaving your normal life and you’re, for a weekend, somewhere just completely different, which just adds to the experience of festivals. That’s why I love them so much.

Do you do a lot of shopping in random towns when you’re on the road, or do you not really have time?    

No I totally do. If I have time I’ll spend like an hour walking around near the venue to scope out the different shops. Sometimes you can find some cool stuff. The most random city ever…it was some place in Arkansas where we played, and they’re all about second-hand stores. They had the coolest shit. The shit that if you were in New York they’d charge you like $300,  but since you’re in the middle of nowhere they charge you like $10.

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