An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.
I got to talk to the members of Phantom Phunk over several weeks, speaking to them in their studio and in my office. They are nearly finished with their first full length LP and are about to embark on their first music video. Not too shabby for a band that has been playing together for less than a year. Yet, their paths have been crossing since early childhood. Hector and Alex were childhood friends and drifted apart when they went to schools in different parts of town. Nick and Juan went to the same elementary school, but were in different classes and lost touch after that. Alex and Nick met in middle school and got together occasionally to jam, but went to different high-schools. Hector and Juan met at a sandwich shop where they were both working. Alex and Hector re-acquainted when Hector helped Alex record a song for a musical theatre audition. The rest, as they say, is history.
Marushka: So how did Phantom Phunk come together?
Hector: Alex and I were working on a project and realized that our love for music and our complimentary skills melded well together. From there we started a partnership and moved towards song writing. We quickly realized that it was becoming more challenging without a full band.
Nick: Alex and I ran into each other one day and he took me to check out the studio where he was working. I met Hector and we started jamming together.
Juan: Yeah, I walked into an open mike one night and there was Nick. Of all the places we could have ended up, we all ended up here.
Hector: It just clicked.
Marushka: What instrument did you start on?
Nick: When I was in fourth or fifth grade my parents bought me a First Act Guitar for my birthday and I taught myself to play.
Alex: I started playing the violin in fourth grade.
Hector: I started out playing the flute when I was a kid.
Juan: I started playing guitar.
Marushka: Each of your play more than one instrument; which one is your main focus?
Hector: I usually play lead guitar and keyboards, but also sometimes the bass or the drums.
Juan: I like playing guitar, but mainly I get some grooviness going on the bass.
Nick: The drums are my main focus, but sometimes I play guitar.
Alex: I usually play rhythm guitar and the electronic drums.
Marushka: Alex, clearly you enjoy playing instruments. When did you find your voice?
Alex: When we started recording. No, I’m only kidding. I joined the chorus when I was in middle school so I could meet girls. My singing became more important to me when I attended a Performing Arts High School and majored in musical theatre.
Marushka: Talk to me about how you guys collaborate on your music.
Juan: There are no egos here. We collaborate. When we come together it’s for the same mission – to create kick ass music.
Nick: Someone comes up with an idea and then we start experimenting and the song progresses from there.
Alex: We are really similar in our styles and we really bounce off of each other, I think. We are honest with each other . . . it’s like musician language we are able to understand.
Hector: The early stages of our collaborations are very undisciplined and comes at our own pace, but when it comes to production we assign ourselves a timetable and we are quite structured.
Marushka: Speaking of being disciplined or undisciplined, you guys are the resident artists at Harmonic Factory and Hector, you are also the Executive Producer at the studio. Is there a difference in the pressure you feel to create a finished product for other bands as opposed to your own?
Hector: Definitely I have an easier time stamping a project complete when it is someone else’s project. For me you know, I want to chase down things that don’t know are there but I want to discover, and I am also much more critical when it comes to my own music, so it postpones the process.
Marushka: Can you tell me a little about the differences between recording for other musicians and recording your own band?
Hector: Yeah, recording with other people is in some ways a little; well it’s more their project and I am trying to assist them in achieving what they want, so it doesn’t require the same investment of thought and criticism as with my own music. But also, the other side of the coin is constantly having to remind myself of my role so when I record for other bands, I have to remind myself not to intervene too much ‘cause working with different people sparks different ideas and I always want to chase those things down different avenues; [ where] the other guys might be more straightforward…so it’s mostly just helping them get what they want and keeping myself from kidnapping their music.
Marushka: Do you think recording in your own studio allows you more freedom or less freedom?
Hector: That’s a good question. It’s a bit of both really. Working sort of on your own gives you the autonomy to pursue ideas that, you know, may not have the most prospect, sort of satisfy your curiosity without having to waste other people’s time. The disadvantage though of doing it that way is that a lot of times you are in the dark. Where if you work with someone with more experience in that domain, they can expedite the process and help you make decisions and come to your destination more quickly.
Nick: I love recording in our own studio, we get to do things the way we want to.
Marushka: Which brings up the point that you guys have quite an eclectic sound. Can you talk about that for a minute?
Hector: We don’t formulate sounds or styles for the sake of doing so. . . We pursue the quality of the songs that should be embellished. We paint the song in the light we see it. All the elements and sounds are done to do each song justice…even with having a diverse repertoire there are still threads of consistency I am finding in our songs [ kind of scrappy and rough around the edges]. In some ways, I think that it’s comforting, and in some ways, it gives us the incentive to keep exploring.
Nick: We record, we experiment.
Alex: Yeah, we make spooky music for ghosts and ghouls.
Juan: I like that all of our songs are unique. With us calling our genre Graveyard Pop, there are no constraints. . .
Marushka: OK, So Graveyard Pop. . . What exactly is it?
Hector: That has sparked much debate. I don’t think I can speak for everyone else, but I guess my interpretation is. . . for me it’s both chilling or kind of provokes the senses and brings the hair up on the back of your neck but also something that’s cool and appealing and relatable to. The kind of strange oxymoronic character of it is that . . . it’s not necessarily safe, but it’s something you want to listen to.
Juan: We’ve tried talking about this a lot. It’s almost a hidden nightmare . . .and I don’t mean nightmare in a bad way, it’s something in the back of everyone’s head and it’s only discovered when they dream about it. Graveyard Pop is our dream. It is a lot of different elements combined, rock. . . well, it’s very difficult to describe…everyone can interpret it in their own way.
Nick: We sort of have that Halloween sense, ghostly and spooky and some of our music is just funky.
Alex: I’d say it’s like a pet cemetery (laughs). The whole project is just eerie, spooky music not just for October, but for all year round. It’s something we thought about for a while because it is a little different but graspable.
Marushka: So any other bands you think would fit into the category of Graveyard Pop?
Hector: Yeah, I think a lot of our inspiration is drawn from guys like Interpol who capture that sort of eerie but urban sound.
Marushka: So if you were on tour and could choose any band to tour with, who would it be?
Hector: There are some bands you would want to tour with because you think there would be a lot of fun or you idolize them. If I had to take stab at it, Of Montreal ‘cause I think those guys really know how to get wild but remain philosophically sane, so I think they would be able to provide a stimulating experience.
Juan: Two right off the top of my head would have to be Thirty Seconds to Mars and Metric. Those are my favorite bands.
Nick: Probably Presidents of the United States of America or Mac DeMarco. I think they have both had a big influence in our music.
Alex: The two first bands are Dead Man’s Bones and Of Montreal. Because I feel like we really relate to Dead Man’s Bones because they are spooky, too, they are Spooky Do-Wop according to Ryan Gosling himself and Of Montreal is my favorite band and it is something I’d like to do someday, that would be amazing.
Marushka: Favorite song so far?
Juan: Would that be a song we have already completed or one we are working on now? (laughs). I’d say Spacey, and it’s not even over yet . . . over time it will change as we grow.
Hector: You sort of go through favorite phases . . . I don’t know, when we are [working on] a song, that [one] becomes my favorite at that time.
Nick: Snowy in Florida.
Alex: Tommy’s Brother, that’s one you haven’t heard yet.
Marushka: What was the most challenging song to record?
Hector: Looping had its own set of challenges. We were trying to explore its pallet of sounds and it was a process of trial and error, really.
Alex: Definitely Snowy in Florida.
Marushka: Well, you guys are almost finished with your first LP and about to start filming your first full-length video. What’s the next direction for the band?
Hector: Sometimes our direction is a game of play it by ear. (smiles) We usually try to have a game plan but when we round off one of our objectives we sort of hit a pocket of what it is we want to do and what we need to do. Right now we are juggling with the idea of playing more live shows and getting in that experience but at the same time we have the yearning to keep recording. Probably it will be a little bit of both.
Alex: I see our direction as moving forward.
Nick: Finish our album. I’d like to go on a small Florida tour, get a tour bus with the band; that would be fun.
Juan: We are finishing up two songs right now, then finishing our LP and sending it out into the universe. . . I see Phantom Phunk as becoming a part of people’s lives. . . I want to have someone see what we see.
Marushka: Thank you. That was really awesome.
Phantom Phunk hangin in their Home Town – Downtown Tampa on the River
As the interview came to a close I could not help but think about Graveyard Pop. Each of these guys describes it as something slightly different, from literal to figurative, but none of them compared Graveyard Pop to the music and theatrics of one of my favorite shows, “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Perhaps it’s a generation gap thing and that this interview has nearly coincided with the 40th Anniversary of the show but Rocky Horror is spooky, eerie, funky, and definitely “not only for Halloween.” It sure hasn’t escaped this writer’s notice that Phantom Phunk epitomizes the idea, “Don’t Dream it, Be It.” There’s a light over at the Frankenstein place, and Phantom Phunk is providing the flame for the candles.
-Marushka February 2016
If you would like to see the whole interview in its entirety, it will be soon available at HarmonicFactory.com