Sarah Barthel, one half of the electro-pop duo, Phantogram, may look like a tough, badass chick on stage — with her razor-sharp, sleek, asymmetrical ‘do and all-black attire (which typically includes a black leather jacket) — whose vocals are flawless, always. But there’s a side of this outrageously talented woman you’ve likely never seen before.
She has a huge heart and gives back — not only supporting music festivals that benefit great causes, but also recently spending time in Mexico, interactin with young girls involved in human trafficking. Barthel shares the story with us, as well as revealing the biggest female influence in her life and what she’d tell her younger self as part of the #DearMe movement.
SheKnows: One of your upcoming shows includes the McDowell Mountain Music Festival. One thing about this festival that is really special is that 100 percent of the proceeds go to the area’s children’s hospital. How important is it to take part in these types of events and give back?
Sarah Barthel: It’s a wonderful feeling, especially when it is involving music, because it’s an art and people connect, and art is a language in a way. So to be able to do that and give back feels good.
SK: Are there any charities you have your sights set on that you’re interested in supporting?
SB: We went to Mexico and we were lucky enough to meet a bunch of really cool girls that were big fans of us that were involved in human trafficking — and they definitely touched my heart in so many ways. It would be something like that — to work with young girls that have struggled in the past and are looking for someone to look up to — is something I think would be great for us.
There was one other time that we were trying to get to the St. Jude’s hospital to visit with the kids and stop by and show them that we love them, but we didn’t get to do that, so this time was awesome.
SK: How do you feel about being a role model for young girls?
SB: It’s a thing I never thought I would ever be when it comes to our success and us growing as a band. I always look to be a role model to any person that’s interested in following in our steps.
SK: Is there a message that you hope to send?
SB: Yeah, you can make something huge and you can make everything out of nothing — and that’s the biggest message that we would like to give out. Because we came from the middle of nowhere with not a lot of money and not any push from someone who already had a name. We didn’t have a lot of equipment. We made music because we love to make it, and we made it from the resources that we had and it worked out. So that’s the biggest message that we have.
SK: There’s this online movement going on called #DearMe, where women record messages, whether it be advice or tips, to their younger self. What kind of advice would you tell your younger self?
SB: We don’t have any regrets. It’s never, “Oh, I should have done that or I should have done this.” I guess spend more time making sure that the people around you, you stay connected to them. Once you become busy, you lose touch with a lot of people that used to be important to you.
SK: Who is the biggest female influence on your life and what would you tell her?
SB: I would say Missy Elliott is an influencer on me, just us in general musically, and her just being the raddest producer, songwriter, artist of our time. It would probably be her, and I would tell her, “Come back and make more music.”
SK: If you were to put together an entire playlist of female artists who have influenced your work, who would you put on it?
SB: Definitely Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Joni Mitchell, Beyoncé, Kim Gordon, Portishead, Selena just because I’ve been living in Mexico for the past week and I’ve been channeling her.
SK: What made you decide to jump into the electro-rock genre? What is it about it that sets it apart and that you love so much about it?
SB: I think electronic in general is such a big genre now. And even back then for us, we just kind of used electronic — it’s one element, only one element of our music. We decided to use those elements because we’re huge fans of dirty bass and interesting textures that you wouldn’t be able to get from a guitar and rock bands. We’re huge fans of indie music and rock bands and all sorts of stuff. It’s fun. Electronic can be fun — it can be dark, it can be super-dark. Radiohead electronic elements can be super-dark.
SK: Visuals, too, have a huge influence on your music and your live shows. Where do you get that inspiration from? Where do you go for that type of inspiration?
SB: Usually it’s just daydreams. I don’t know — we love all kinds of art, we watch movies — I think movies are probably the biggest influence in that way. It’s just so vast and there’s so much emotion in the whole of the art — the colors and the story line and everything that comes along.
We’re big fans of David Lynch and Wes Anderson and Lars von Trier. Very surreal kind of movies.
SK: What are you working on now?
SB: We’re working on an EP, though it might be a full-length with Big Boi. It’s been the past few months we’ve been collaborating with him and it’s been great. That’s going to come out and we’re going to be working on Phantogram stuff after that. And then we’re going to write and play shows for the rest of our lives.
— PHANTOGRAM (@Phantogram) March 2, 2015
SK: When is the EP going to come out?
SB: We don’t know, it’s still super up in the air, but sometime this year, maybe the summertime.