Phantom Planet

Interviewers: Jennifer F. and Jesica Fowler | 

HV: So you just recorded a new CD, right? 
Alex: Yes. We’re all done with it. We’re just working on the artwork. 

HV: What’s your recording process like? 
Alex: This one was… we did 18 months of touring. And over that period of 18 months during sound check and at shows we worked on the songs that we just finished recording. I guess, tightening them up, making them as exciting as they can be. Shortening them, editing them, arranging them, changing lyrics, etc, etc. And because we had such a long time to work with these songs, we went in the studio, we were there for like four weeks or something. Pretty short for a record. And we worked with one of our favorite producers, Dave Fridmann, whose done The Flaming Lips, Mogwai, Longwave. Worked on Weezer’s, Pinkerton record, Mercury Rev, did something with Jack White. But anyway, he’s one of my favorites and he took all of his experience and know-how and turned us up a notch in the best way possible. 
Darren: We kind of just tell him what we want and he just makes it happen. 
Alex: And I think We’re really proud of it and the only thing we’ve been arguing about is the artwork and the name. The artwork’s coming together and for now we’ve just been calling the record, “We Win Again, Mother Fuckers,” exclamation point. But I don’t think we’re going to keep it. That’s about all I can say about that. 

HV: What’s your favorite part of the music business… touring, recording, writing? 
Alex: Each serve their own specific purpose. Writing is sort of like designing clothing and then recording is sort of actually making the clothing and then playing live is wearing it in battle. Does that make sense, I can say it better. (laughs) Ok, it’s like, it’s like, ok… Writing songs is like hitting a hammer on metal, right. Hitting a hammer on metal. And then recording is turning that metal into armor and then playing live is wearing that armor into battle. 
Darren: I like touring the best. That’s just me. 
Alex: I like that analogy. It took me a second to get it, but I got it. 
Darren: It took me a second to understand it. 

HV: What CDs or artists are you currently listening to? 
Alex: (to Darren) Um, I’ll do three, you do three, how about that? 
Darren: Sure. 
Alex: Ok, A Certain Ratio, which is a very good band from the late 70s until today actually, they’re still around, a CD called Earlier, which is a compilation of their earlier stuff from 1978 to 2001. Uh, I’m listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, which is a very beautiful record. And… 
Darren: That’s three. 
Alex: What? That’s only two. 
Darren: That’s three. 
Alex: No. You gotta stop getting high so early in the day. 
Darren: I’m not stoned at all right now. 
Alex: I’m kidding, but why’d you get so defensive about it? 
Darren: Cause I really did get high. (laughs) I’m just kidding. 
Alex: (laughs) And uh, let’s say Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs
Darren: You do the older stuff, I usually do the more contemporary. That’s the way that always works. Uh… I’ve been listening to Blond Redhead a lot. The new Outkast record I think is really good, Andre 3000, the CD. What else, Alex? Oh, Radiohead. The new Radiohead record is great. 

HV:If you could be a CD which would it be and why? 
Darren: If we could be a CD? Like a CD in human form or something? Uh, some Beatles record, I guess. A Beatles’ album… I think That’s the safest answer. 
Alex: Yeah. Or you be the Beatles, I’d be probably Elvis Presley’s [30] #1 Hits, cause that shit lasts forever. 

HV: What’s been your favorite band to tour with thus far? 
Alex: I have my most fond memories from Guided By Voices. 
Darren: Those guys are really cool. 
Alex: But also when we were on the festival tours in Europe, that was a good time too, but that doesn’t really count as a tour, I guess, cause we were playing with so many different bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or the Donnas, and The Vines. But that doesn’t count, does it? That’s not really a tour. But that was great cause we’d just hang out with those guys on the bus. 
Darren: Incubus was cool too. 
Alex: Incubus was fun, those are nice guys. 

HV: If you were to choose any band to tour with who would it be? 
Darren: Radiohead. So I could watch them play every night. 
Alex: I… would… like… to… play… with… well, for the sake of seeing what they did live, I would try a band called Melt-Banana from Japan. They’re crazy. 
Darren: Or Lightening Bolt. 
Alex: Oh, Lightening Bolt would be so much fun. That’s a good one, I gotta remember that one. 

HV: Do you have any interesting tour stories or crazy fan stories? 
Darren: (to Alex) Tell them the one about Indianapolis. The one, what you did to the tray, what happened after the show. 
Alex: Oh. I had to piss really bad in this little hell hole of a bar and there was no bathroom. So to get my revenge, I peed in the ice bucket that holds the sodas. But there weren’t any sodas in there anymore, so it was safe, no one was going to put anything in there anymore. Uh, we come off the stage after the show, and Darren didn’t see me piss in the — 
Darren: No, I did see you piss into it. 
Alex: Oh, you did. But he’d totally forgotten and was like, “I’m so sweaty”, and he just starts splashing it over his face and like, “Ah, oh, it’s so refreshing.” And I told him and he stops and looks at me, and I said, “Listen man, I’m sorry, I pissed in there.” And he’s like {pause}, “I’m so fucking hot, I’m so fucking hot,” and just keeps doing it, which was so funny. 
Darren: It’s good for the skin.
Alex: It was good for the skin. 
Darren: The ammonia and the… Anyway, next question! (laughs) 

HV: How and when did the band get started? 
Alex: Uh, the band officially formed in 1994. And we’ve had all the same members except for one, the drummer, Jason. So we’ve been together as friends for 10 years now, but since the new guy’s been here, who’s really awesome, he’s one of my favorite drummers of all time. 
Darren: One of my favorite people of all time, such a great guy. 
Alex: We’re a new band, so I’d say we’ve been a band for six months. Which is kind of cool, gives us a new lease on life. 

HV: So you guys were just friends then started a band? 
Alex: We actually started as just randomly high school kids that liked the same music. I guess That’s how it usually starts. And then we became friends after the fact. Some of us haven’t even, like Darren and I haven’t even become friends yet. We don’t like each other very much. (laughs) 

HV: Where was this? 
Alex: Los Angeles, California. The new guy’s from Minneapolis, brings a new little twist to it. 

HV: Accent? 
Alex: No, he’s lived in LA for 5 years now, so that sort of knocked it out of him. 

HV: What was your worst job? 
Alex: Worst job? Uh, I was really unhappy, I made… ok, I’ll start at the beginning. At twelve years old, my mom says that I have to do something exciting with my life. Forces me to read Catcher in the Rye and then says, “Ok, now, you’re going to Japan but you have to earn the money yourself”. I don’t know whose parents give their 12-year-old children assignments of going to Japan? So my mother says, “You’re going to Japan and you’re going to have to earn the money yourself. The tickets are $2000”. This is in 1991. “The tickets are $2000, make the money, you have three months.” Little did I know she had found this program that did exchange student stuff, but you still had to pay, whatever. I must have mowed a thousand lawns, blown leaves, raked leaves, watered things, changed diapers of babies, dogs, etc, for this Japan trip. That was the worst experience of my life and then going to Japan was the best, by comparison. (to Darren) Did you have a bad job or anything? 
Darren: Well the worst experience that I ever had working that I can think of is when I was with my ex-girlfriend when I was 15 or 16 years old. And one of her friends was having a wedding and she and I had to be waiters and waitresses to wait on these people that were the most obnoxious people I’ve ever met in my entire life. 
Alex: Like drunk family people or what? 
Darren: Oh my god, yeah. It was awful. Some guy kept asking me to get him drinks and it got to a point where like the owner of the club was yelling at me. I was like, “I’m just serving”, I mean I was like a young little dude, but it’s the worst experience I can think of. 
Alex: It always sucks getting yelled at. I forgot, one of the chores I had to do… I was helping my neighborhood, by the way, I didn’t explain myself. I went door to door asking people if they needed jobs. I had so many jobs that I had forgotten one of them, and it was a very important one. I forgot to feed my neighbor two streets over’s cat for two weeks while she was on vacation. She came back and the cat was like… still alive but totally lost all his weight, like shed the fur off of its tail. And I got yelled at pretty bad. 
Darren: Awful, That’s awful. 

HV: So what would you be doing now if not for music? Did you go to school for anything? 
Alex: I mean, I went to school for music too. Like music theory and computer programming. 
Darren: Check this out, what note am I doing right now? {sings a note, long pause} It’s not supposed to take this long! (laughs) 
Alex: Uh, sounds like A. 
Darren: I was just hoping you’d say a note and I’d say “That’s right”. 
Alex: I don’t even know if that is an A, that doesn’t sound like an A after awhile. It’s the humming of this engine… Uh, so I’d probably either be an engineer or a record producer anyway, which is involved in music. 

HV: (to Darren) What about you? 
Darren: I’d probably try to be in a band. Cause I really enjoy being in a band. 

HV: No backups? 
Darren: Um, I don’t know, I’m the kind of person where if I’m doing something, I like to dedicate all my time and all my energy into it. So if I wasn’t in a band, the first thing that comes to mind is maybe being a writer. I used to want to do that. But I would put all my time and energy into it. 

HV: Do you have any favorite places to play? Or least favorite? 
Alex: Favorite and least favorite? Uh, my favorite places to play, especially on this tour… no, in any tour… is usually the smaller clubs where you can really see people’s reactions and see people’s faces and there’s that relationship between the two. People in the audience and me, or me and say, the guy in the front row who’s like singing along or not to happy with the tempo of the song or something. Where I can actually gage how someone’s reacting to the music we’re playing or the music I’ve written or whatever. Uh, and least favorite are usually the huge, huge, huge shows, where like maybe a festival where no one knows who you are and people are there waiting for you to get off so that they can see the next band that they were there to see. Where it’s totally impersonal. And festivals are all about promoters making money anyway, so like, fuck that. (to Darren) Do you have a least favorite or favorite? 
Darren: Not really, but as long as a place sounds good and sounds good on stage while you’re playing it, that’s the most important thing. Cause it’s hard to have a good show if you can’t really hear what’s going on. And there’s times when it’s like that. 

HV: Any locations? 
Darren: First place that comes to mind as far as favorite venue is the Glasshouse in Pomona, California. Everybody that works there is really nice and the sound is great there and the stage is huge. Worst place? Seriously, nothing comes to mind. 
Alex: Usually a least favorite place to play would be associated with a bad performance. And we haven’t really had any terrible, terrible performances recently, that’s why I can’t think of any.

HV: So how did you guys come up with the band name, Phantom Planet?
Alex: First of all, I want to go on record as saying I really hate the name of our band more than just about anything.
Darren: I think That’s also just because we’ve had it for 10 years.
Alex: Right, but we picked it when we were 13 years old, it sounded cool at the time. It was when Red Cross was out and I thought I could hear Jed the Fish, who’s this DJ on KROQ, I could hear him saying, “That was from Phantom Planet, next up, Red Cross”. And now it just sort of signifies our longevity. it’s a testament of the amount of time and effort we’ve put in to this band. Which is probably why I hate it so much.

HV: What about “The Guest”?
Alex: The name, how that came about? I had written this song that we had forgotten about and didn’t make in the record, The Guest, called “The Guest”. I forget who said it, I think it was Jason who said we should start playing it live again, and we started playing that. And we were like, The Guest sort of signifies this introduction to people or when you think of the word ‘guest” you think of being hospitable to a guest or inviting a guest over or the mystery of a guest. Because a guest doesn’t necessarily have to be a friend, it could be someone you’ve invited in. But it’s someone you’ve invited in… a guest. So we just wanted this record, this first record that people would be hearing on a wider scale, to be something inviting and for people to understand that it’s an entity and it’s a very classic sounding title and hopefully it would last a long time.
Darren: On the cover of that record too, it’s kind of hard to tell, but there’s someone running through the photo. Kind of just a foot, kind of out of frame. (to Alex) Should we disclose who it is?
Alex: Yeah, we have before. We’re on tour with him, it’s Ben Lee running through the cover. You know, I got to see some of the outtakes of that photo shoot.
Darren: With the dog?
Alex: Yeah, and by the way, him running through the frame was totally by accident, but it just sort of worked, things just come together that way. And some of the other things, some of the other people, because we were just sitting on a San Francisco street. Some of the other things that walked by, there was a woman with a baby carriage, there was a dog that was so hilarious. We should?ve done the dog, by the way. It was so good. And there was an old woman and a guy riding a bike. But the Ben Lee one just worked.

HV: How do you feel about your song being on “The O.C.”?
Alex: I feel pretty good about it. I mean, it doesn?t really matter too much to us. We were happy that they just asked to use a song of ours. Luckily that show isn’t too terrible. It’s sort of like the 2000 version of 90210, which I was a big fan of, back in the day. But, yeah, it’s cool. It’s fun.

HV: Do you have any favorite movies or shows?
Alex: On the bus, all we’ve been watching are Altman movies, The Family Guy… I have a feeling between Jacques, Sam, and Jeff, they’ve watched the Matrix Revolutions back there seven — er, the Matrix Reloaded — seven times or something. What else have we seen? Specifically, The Long Goodbye, we saw. Today we saw The Royal Tenenbaums. We’ve seen so many movies…
Darren: Movies we’re going to watch are: The GooniesFerris Bueller’s Day OffThe Breakfast Club we watched last night. Stand By Me… all the 80s, like John Cusack movies are good.
Alex: Yeah, those are good. And I brought a bunch of my haughty taughty French new wave films by Godard and Truffaut and Rohmer.

HV: What’s your earliest childhood memory?
Alex: (to Darren) You go first, I have to think.
Darren: Actually, this is kind of a weird one too. There’s a picture of me in my room at my parents’ place when I was like, less than a year old. And my dad was painting outside on a ladder and my parents showed me this picture a few years ago. I looked at it and it actually sparked the memory. I remember sitting in the crib looking at my dad while he was painting. I don’t know how the hell I remember that, but somehow I did. That’s very strange.
Alex: I think I just remembered too. When I was four in 1980 — whatever it was? Four? I did a painting… (to girl walking around) You want to make more noise? (laughs) I was just kidding. Just kidding, Suzanne… I did a pencil drawing of my mom that I thought I remember at the time being so proud of and thinking it looked just like her, I was four years old. So… actually, it could have been earlier, maybe I was two? Whatever it was, cause I’m trying to think, at four, I was a bit of an artist. Maybe I wasn’t two?
Darren: You were three.
Alex: Maybe I was three. And I drew this on a piece of paper, this picture of my mom and I ran outside, she was gardening, and I showed it to her and she was so proud of it. And I remember this very, very intensely. Then a few… like a year ago I went back to my house and saw the drawing that I did.
Darren: Does she still have that? That’s cool.
Alex: Yeah. Which sparked the memory again too. It looks like a crazy piece of shit. (laughs) It’s got two circles and like an X, and her eye’s drooping over half of her face and it was either that memory or I think maybe there was… I think I can remember my mom watching Nova on PBS and I still had diapers. And I ran through the hallway really fast and accidentally shit myself. (laughs) When I was supposed to have been potty trained and I felt really embarrassed. But I still had diapers on, I remember that.
Darren: That’s hilarious.
Alex: That’s all I got.

HV: That’s good, That’s all our questions.