The Californian band Phantom planet is back with a new album entitled DEVASTATOR which will be released on June 18th. Twelve years after their last album Raise the Dead, Phantom Planet is still rocking with fantastic songs! On this special occasion, we had the honor of interviewing Sam Farrar, bassist of the group to discuss about the band and this upcoming album.
After so many years, how did you decide to play together again and record a new album?
You know we first took a break. We didn’t break up, because we really like each other. We were just tired and so I think it was never believable that we would never get back together again. I think the right things had to happened at the right time. We had a new manager coming into the place. The other band (Ed: Maroon 5) I’m in, we were kind on pause for a sec, we had a moment tour, you know. Like, Alex had to write a ton of songs. We saw each other at a couple of parties in a row. It’s a couple of things randomly happened. That sort got us back in the zone, and when we sort of find and set-up our first show. I think it was in January, last year. We just played for our friends, and it was like « oh my god this is fun, again! ».
What are your feelings about this new album? Because I talked to Darren on Instagram and he said to me that it was the best album. Do you think like him?
This isn’t downplaying that comment, but I think every record a band makes should be their best record, because if it’s not, you stop! I think that follows the trend in every record we have ever made, it’s got better every time and I think this one to me is probably the most emotional that Alex has written. Just you know because he had a lot of pain, and heartbreak (Ed: Alex broke up with his fiancée Brie Larson in 2019). I think that leads to really good songs. And also, I think we are all musically more mature now. Ten years is a long time and I think those ten years we’ve all done such different things and jumping back together was a lot easier than it used to be. We just kind of like doing our thing, it’s less ego and stuff. I just think, it just made a better experience being together again in studio. And to work with this guy that we’ve worked with before; Tony Berg. So, everything was easier. I just think it was the right time to do certain songs. So yeah, all reasons led to a better record. I think it was really special.
Yeah, the mood was special, and everything was easier.
Yes, I think so, but also just the songs. I mean, as I said, just the songs are so good! Alex is such a good songwriter. Just to be able play with him in a band is really special.
For me, you all have your special touch. For example, I discovered your bass lines when you did tutorials on Instagram and I was really amazed. Just your bass alone could be a song!
Alex and I have always been a lot in love with the rhythm section of these songs, and I think I am very lucky to be a bass player in this band, ‘cause there is no normal bass line in this band. We’ve really tried to push it as much as we can, make them very melodic. We both have so much love for like McCartney and Bruce Thomas. You know crazy bass players that really, like held down the songs. I think that we’ve always approach songs like that.
Me too I’m a big fan of Paul McCartney. I was supposed to see him on stage this month. Did you choose your Höfner bass because of him?
Oh yeah! I’m a huge Beatles fan, so yeah definitely! I didn’t think it would work as well in our band though, because I play with distortion and aggressive, and The Beatles bass, the Höfner is sort of thumpy and kind of very melodic, but now I’ve figured out how to make it work for us. I have really great jazz that I like, and I barely play them anymore because I just like the Höfner so much.
Yes, it’s also lighter, it’s maybe better on stage.
Yeah, so much bottom, it’s great!
Do you have a favourite song to play or to listen from this record?
We haven’t played a lot of them live yet and a lot of them we’ve just pieced together, so, I think a couple that we haven’t played yet as a band, but Balisong is really fun to play live. I really like this song live. Oh Only one we haven’t actually played live in front of anybody yet, but I think when we get it down it’s really good. There is the song called Through the trees, it’s on the record. I think it’s gonna be really amazing to play live.
Yeah, I found all the titles of this record on internet and I am really excited to hear them.
Yeah, I love to get the titles first and try figure out what they sound like.
Are there any surprise Guest on this album like on your quarantine cover of the song Anthem with Darren Criss?
No, I don’t think there is any guest. I am blanking right now, maybe someone played some extra instruments somewhere, but there is no like « Phantom planet featuring…» but maybe next time. I think we are working on some remakes.
Ok great, but for me, just you, it’s enough!
You talked about Alex who was writing a lot. I want to know more about this subject. Who wrote the songs, it was during the break or just before the record? Do you remember?
I would say, he had a half of the songs of the record for a couple of years, he just never managed to present them in some way that he’d like, and he was maybe saving them for Phantom Planet. Once we got it, once we did it the way we do it he was happy. But then, there is a couple of songs that he wrote just before we started, were the painful ones, you know. But he writes a song every day, it’s just a question of picking the ones that are good for our band.
I see, so more songs will come!
Yeah, it was hard to choose. We’ve got a list of like forty or forty-five songs.
It’s a lot! You can do four or five albums with it!
As we know, like Balisong, R.O.T.K. come from the previous Alex’s solo Album Yo from 2014. I like this song, but I would like to know why did you record it again with the entire band?
Hum that song is old. In various forms, it has been around probably ten or twelve years even a while ago. It changed so much. I think when he made the record for the solo record he did, he was happy with it, but it didn’t get to where he needed to go, for him. I think it’s a good enough song that he wanted one more shot at it, you know what I mean. I think, it deserves to be as good as possible. I think we got it there. It’s one of my favourites. It’s really dark but the lyrics are so good, and the melody is so good!
Yes, I completely understand, he wanted the sound of Phantom Planet on it!
I think when he did the solo record, it was all on Garageband, in his apartment, and so, I think he had the opportunity to get some real drums on it, and just make it sounds bigger. I mean, I would do the same thing!
It is maybe an unusual question, but as a musician, one thing I like to talk about the most is instruments. I didn’t find a lot of things about your gear online.
For example, on the acoustic version of Time moves on, you are using a « Teenage Engineering Synthetizers » to create the rhythm of the song, and it works perfectly. It was cool to see, because I tried to use it once, and it was not so easy!
Yeah, it’s one of the most difficult keyboards to learn how to use. It’s not easy, but it sounds really good! If you put the time and the effort into it and learn it, it’s great, but it’s hard.
Did you use this keyboard on the record?
Alex played it a lot on the records. It’s on a lot of songs. I can’t remember, but there is a bass sound the he uses quite a lot, like a big subby distorted thing. Yes, he definitely used it on the record.
You were talking about Paul McCartney earlier. For me you are like The Beatles in a way, because you are experimenting a lot with instruments. I saw a video of Alex playing a kind of keyboard with a string on it.
Oh! You are talking about the Ondomo, where he has a string and he goes like this? (movement of sliding)
Jonny Greenwood plays that in Radiohead, and Alex met the Japanese instrument maker. He had to go and hang out with him and like have tea and sort of like be very respectful and then kind of pray that he was going to make him one. It’s an all in process he had to go through to get this guy making him one, and he did make it. Its an amazing instrument! It’s really crazy!
Yes, it looks crazy, but maybe hard to play!
It’s hard but it’s easier than you think because there is spot where your finger fits. It’s kind of little holes, and you can sit there and go like that, and then move it, but yes, it’s very hard. There is three ways to play it. The keyboard itself moves, so you can play with keys, the string or you can use both! It’s a bizarre instrument but it’s really cool!
Good to know. I thought it was like violin and you must learn by heart where to put your fingers.
No, they make it a little easier, there is marks on it. You can see where you are going, but it’s still hard.
Do you remember if you used any other strange instruments on the record?
Let me think… I mostly did bass stuff, personally. We are experimenting with playing bass out a guitar amp and few weird pedals and overloading the mic prise. You know, whatever trick, like chorus and phaser going to smack. Between my Höfner I have a Mustang, a short scale Fender that I really like and then Tony has Höfner, an old one that blows minds away. It’s so good! What else do we play? I think I played a P Bass at some point. My role is much simpler, Alex has got to have more. He’s like, let’s round a drill through a drum set and he record it and pitch it.
At the time guitarists were using a lot of Gibson or Epiphone guitars, but recently Daren bought a Telecaster guitar from the brand Nashguitars. Do you know if he used like Fender guitars on it? To me, it sounds more like a Fender sometimes now.
I don’t know what they where using. Again, Tony has a pretty eclectic collection of guitars and amps. I don’t think they played the same thing twice as far as I know. I’m trying to give you good examples. You should try to get a photo of Tony’s guitar wall, cause it’s like that all wall back there, but it’s just guitars, guitars, guitars. There is like fifty acoustics. He just also got a lot of weird stuff. I think for every song, it was, well I need to sound like this, and he was just walk up to the wall, and he was like, you want that one! That is sort of what it felt like to me, but Darren would probably tell you more.
It is a really cool process. It is good to know how it comes in your mind, when you say “I need it to sound like this” and you select the instrument after.
Yeah! I mean that’s Tony Berg’s great gift. He’s been doing record producing for so long. There is not much he hasn’t tried at this point! So, it’s really good to work with him! I say, I want the sound of this record, and he’s like « oh, oh! », and he did this, he took this, and he plugged it in here. I’m like « okay cool, great! ».
Now I will talk a little a bit about social media. You are very active and close to your audience on social media! You did a lot of tutorials for musicians! Who had the idea?
I can’t remember! I think Darren started. He did one, one day and then I was really in the comments and someone wanted a bass one, so I did a few tutorials. And I was more than happy to do more, it’s fun. I like teaching that kind of stuff. I know there are really bizarre bass parts and if we can inspire other bass player too, not just stay on the root and play weirder stuff, then I’m happy.
Thank you again for that, because I asked to Darren a tutorial for the solo of Leader, and he did it!
Oh really? you asked for the Leader one! That’s a hard guitar part!
You were very active during the quarantine. By the way, I don’t know if it is still the quarantine at your place?
Yeah, it’s still, although I heard today that they might be opening some restaurants, but it’s still very much in place. We’re still not like hanging out with each other that much. Where are you guys at?
Everything is closed, restaurants are closed, and we are wearing masks, but for example Parisians have started again to hang out together in parks. They love to be outside.
Yes, at some point this is gonna have to go back to normal. Don’t know how it’s gonna work yet. (Interview achieved on June 3rd 2020)
You are also very creative, and you proved that during the quarantine with the great homemade video for Only one with backgrounds like on Zoom. I should have done one right now.
Yes, you should haha! Yeah, Alex took the lead on that one, he was like, « I got an idea », and we were like « alright », and then came back like two days later and he done the all thing, ah ah! We were like « Oh my god it looks amazing! ». But yeah, he worked with his friend on that a little bit to get some colour correction. It looks great and he have done all of it with cut clip that he found online. That’s what it is now, you have to get really creative. I think someone like Alex really responds to quarantine, you know. He loves being in the studio more than most people I know. Some people embance to play live, tour and travel and some guys really enjoy the studio process. I am not saying it’s actually exclusive, you can do both, but I think he is definitely like a studio rat. He wants to be in the studio and makes sounds and songs all the time. And so, quarantine hit, and his brain just exploded, he was like « alright guys, let’s go! I got this! ».
It’s maybe a difficult question but do you know when you will play on stage in the future?
As of now, we were supposed to play this month and that had been moved to next year I think, and I think that should be okay. It would be probably enough time to figure it out what is happening, but we don’t know. It’s a kind of thing where you just sort of put the dates out there and when it gets closer you figure it out, you know. We will be trying to do some lives (Ed: Facebook Live Q&A, Chat, Performances, Monday, June 22nd, 12:00PM PST), online stream shows at some point. We are definitely gonna to do that. We are determining and setting up socially safe distances to each other. It will look like a club but with no fans and then stream it. That kind of stuff will definitely happen, cause we need to do that.
I think it will be great!
We will make it cool as we can make it! We will do our best!
Do you have something to add maybe?
Well we got a new record coming out next month, in like two weeks and I hope everyone likes it. If you can wait it out, we will be somewhere near you sometime soon, to play. We will get to you next year!
Do you want to tell something for the French audience? Also, have you ever played in France?
We’ve been to Paris as a band. We did some radio stuff, but I can’t remember if we played. It’s been a long time, at least ten or twelve years. To the French fans, thank you for not giving up on us. We are back with a new album and doing good. We will do our best to get over there and please come see us, come watch us live online. Say hello anytime, we are on Instagram all the time so, you know, send any messages as you want. We will try to respond.
Thank you, a lot, for this interview.
Of course! Thank you very much, I appreciate it. Keep spread the love and take care!