Interview: Phantom/Ghost

Phantom/Ghost - Photo courtesy of Phantom/Ghost

Phantom/Ghost - Photo courtesy of Phantom/Ghost

Phantom/Ghost may be a band, but the members – Thies Mynther (who plays in the bands Stella, Superpunk and Das Bierbeben) and Dirk von Lowtzow (who is the singer of Tocotronic) – sometimes consider themselves to fulfill roles similar to athletes.

“[Music can be] challenging and…difficult [and] very advanced,” von Lowtzow said, sharing that he sees it as something like playing sports, in that he can only improve at, and eventually hope to master, music.

“I think it’s one of the highest developed musical things, like, these kind of…early Broadway compositions, because they seem very light and very easy and it’s all very…laissez-faire, if you know what I mean,” he said. “But in fact, [they’re] very very complicated and difficult to play, and very advanced.”

In particular, von Lowtzow is referring to Phantom/Ghost’s current approach to music, which is pushing themselves to experiment with complex genres.

As an example, the first three Phantom/Ghost albums were electro-centric, with an emphasis on beats and synths. However, for the fourth and most recent album, 2009’s “Thrown Out of Drama School,” the duo wanted to push upon the confines of genre.

Trading in electronic instruments for a grand piano, the two drew upon their fascination with Broadway musicals and and applied it to a stripped down format, something which von Lowtzow described as “very simple and very basic,” and far removed from what both of them were accustomed to playing.

Recently, the two have recorded four new songs, which they hope to release on their current label, Dial Records, by the end of the year.

According to von Lowtzow, the proposed 12-inch record goes a step beyond the last album, while still retaining some of the same musical principles.

“I think it’s like a further development from the last album, which was very, you know, like, very very basic…piano and vocals,” he said. “And this time, like, the basics [are] still piano and vocals, but we add some other things. So, it’s still in the development, but let’s see what comes out.”

Because von Lowtzow is based in Berlin, whereas Mynther resides in Hamburg, the two write separately, each contributing close to 50 percent of the rough song material.

“The sheer, like, process of songwriting, everybody does at home,” von Lowtzow said, before continuing with laugh. “And then we combine these songs together, and then we criticize each other, and we try to, you know, improve the songs, and help each other with the songwriting.”

Speaking to his own songwriting process, he shared that his favourite time to write is when he is half-conscious, either early in the morning or late at night.

“I like it best when it’s a dreamlike…thing,” he said of the onset of inspiration. “Like, you wake up and you have an idea in mind and it comes all of a sudden…as if it would come to you more than you would come to the song.”

As for rehearsing, von Lowtzow said the distance between the two makes it so that their rehearsing is somewhat unconventional, in that it only occurs prior to live performances.

Instead, the two will play shows every six-to-eight weeks, either flying or taking the train to the locations. During soundcheck is when they take the time to rehearse, running through the songs and working out kinks.

“I think that’s a very nice way of working,” von Lowtzow said. “It’s civilized.”

And in regards to transporting the piano, he said the venues provide it for them.

“It’s the best possible way to play live…we don’t have to bring anything,” he said laughing. “So we travel very light.”

Phantom/Ghost plays tonight with special guest Michaela Meise at ://about blank in Berlin. The show begins at 20.00 and is part of an anti-nationalistic protest against Tag der Deutschen Einheit, or German Unity Day.

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