Enigmatic six-piece The Phantom Band are presently jaunting around the UK in support of their third album, Strange Friend, which was released on Chemikal Underground this past Monday. Ahead of their gig at the Tunnels tomorrow, we spoke to singer and guitarist Rick Anthony about his North East roots, the Glasgow School of Art and crowdfunding.
Strange Friend’s song titles hint at the eclectic nature of the music contained within, pulling in reference points such as Galapagos, the islands where Charles Darwin conducted his Origin of the Species research; Doom Patrol, a DC superhero comic that has included surrealist and Dada elements; and Atacama, a desert plateau on the Pacific coast of South America or, possibly, purveyors of award winning speaker stands (OK, probably not).
Strange Friend cements the Phannies (does anyone call them that? If not, why not?) place in Scottish indie music’s fine tradition of marring tuneful melodies and poppy hooks with wanton eclecticism and experimentation. When asked if this balancing act was a conscious effort, singer and guitarist Rick Anthony told us: “I guess there is a sort of built in bullshit filter. If something sounds insincere or fake then we tend to collectively try and steer clear. We wring our hands about some things but generally we end up coming round to reasonable endpoint. We don't make any 'conscious' effort to do anything. Things sound how they sound mainly because they came out like that. When things sound overworked they invariably cease to be interesting.”
Following the relatively quick turnaround between their 2009 debut Checkmate Savage and 2010’s sophomore effort The Wants, Strange Friend has had a lengthy gestation period. Rick said: “We wanted to go into the studio more prepared than the last time but I suppose three and half years might seem a bit long. Time just passes faster now. It genuinely doesn't seem that long to us and I think we ended up only being six months behind schedule.”
“Almost every musician I know has to work another job to some degree. It doesn't make their output any less good or worthwhile than it would be otherwise. It's just the way the music industry is now. If you want to be an independent musician you will most likely need to find another source of income now and again. The world doesn't owe you a living just because you can play the guitar.”
Anthony’s day job involves working part-time in the library of the Glasgow School of Art that was so tragically destroyed in a fire on 23rd May, just two weeks ago.
“The Mack building fire was pretty traumatic. I was actually there on the day and at one point it seemed like the whole thing was going to come down. The work of the fire service was just incredible. The fact that it didn't all tumble down and that no-one was hurt is quite astonishing when you see the extent of the damage. I can't really separate the me who works there and the me who's a musician because it's just me, but I know that many people who have no connection to the GSA at all have been quite affected by it. It's certainly one of the most important buildings in Glasgow so to see it ablaze would have been pretty horrible for anyone in the city. It's okay though; bruised but still beautiful. I just feel sorry for any students and staff who have lost work.”
Rick, along with guitarists Duncan Marquiss and Greg Sinclair, originally hails from the North East, having moved to Glasgow in 2002. “I love coming back to the North East. I consider myself very fortunate to have been brought up in Aberdeenshire; I think it's one of the most beautiful parts of the world. My folks still live up there and it's great to go visit. In terms of Aberdeen city haunts…it's changed so much. When I used to go drinking in Aberdeen it was changing by the week so I've no idea what it's like now. I'm woefully out of touch with new music as well I'm afraid. I did a show with Steven Milne (The Little Kicks) last year and he had a really nice voice - it was just him and an acoustic guitar.”
“I just moved because I was bored and it was something to do. Glasgow obviously has loads of small venues which is great for bands starting out and it has just a lot more people who want to go and see live music so your potential audience is that much bigger. In terms of national recognition or attention I don't think you 'need' to move or anything. It's not like there's a town called 'Success in the Music Industry' and the idea of basing where you live on some hope of future attention from the music industry seems to me a fairly insane thing to do. It's all pretty arbitrary really; how do you define attention anyway? There are so many ways of getting your music out there now; if it's good enough to find an audience it will find one. Worrying about whether that audience is big or small is a bit of waste of time.”
Rick, Greg and Duncan, alongside drummer Iain Stewart, bassist Gerry Hart and keyboardist Andy Wake play The Tunnels, Aberdeen this Friday 6th June. Support comes from Adam Stafford and side project of FOUND’s Kev Sim, River of Slime. Tickets are available here and cost £9 plus booking fee.
Strange Friend is available now from Chemikal Underground.