Phantogram Unveils the ‘Mystery’ of Their Newest Single

X Announce Final Album And Tour
X Announce Final Album And Tour

“All a Mystery,” the first single from Phantogram in two years, has been out for a week when the duo’s Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter Zoom in to speak to SPIN. Speaking from Los Angeles, where they live, Barthel is outside in the bright sunshine of Laurel Canyon. She wears a white with black ring T-shirt. In contrast, Carter is indoors, in a darkened, acoustic panel-walled studio. He has on a black baseball cap with “L.A.” emblazoned on it in white, an unintentional match to Barthel’s clothing color scheme.

This kind of synchronicity is commonplace for Barthel and Carter. They finish each other’s sentences and verbalize each other’s thoughts. Their synergy reached a pinnacle during the creation of “All a Mystery,” which they completed with Grammy-winning producer, John Hill.

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Phantogram debuted “All a Mystery” at Just Like Heaven to an enthusiastic response from the festival goers. “It feels great to perform new material,” Carter says. The festival was an early gig in their packed summer of touring. As Phantogram ramps up to, dare we say, a new album, fans can expect more new music from the duo on their upcoming dates.

“All a Mystery” is a taste of Phantogram returning to their experimental early days. Says Carter, “The energy and the curiosity is back.”

Ending Credits

JOSH CARTER: The song originally started in Sarah’s studio. We had been listening to a lot of old soul music and some doo-wop and stuff like that. That’s why it has the nature of a real classic song with futuristic elements to it. I came up with that piano hook, which sounded very simple, but hooky. The idea was to put more of a modern twist on this older sound, with the hazy, fuzzy synths, the drone-y guitar and the real distorted drum machine.

SARAH BARTHEL: We wanted to experiment again. We used to do this a lot along the beginning of Phantogram, different time signatures, not just 4/4. It makes you move differently. It can make you feel differently. I always find the rhythm of a song with a head bob. But this song makes me want to sway, which is a new thing, and I like it. We saw it as a beautiful, heartbreaking, bittersweet, ending credit song that wanted to reintroduce us post-pandemic.

Bare Bones

Carter: When we know we’re going to go into a different studio, we’ll write things a bit more bare bones, but knowing how we want it to sound. John Hill has a lot of cool vintage drum machines and amps and a plethora of crazy synthesizers. We had this idea of wanting it to be real thick and hazy with those. We had the idea, but he had all the gear we wanted to use. That’s how it took its shape, sonically.

Doing the Damn Thing

Barthel: The title came from 14, 15 years ago when Josh and I first started making music together. It was this line we would harmonize: “It’s all a mystery in my head, Lord.” We grew up together, and now we’re writing songs, creating art, and touring. We’re doing the damn thing. It was this idea we had for a song forever. We just never found a space for it. This song touches on memories and moments and asking yourself questions like, “How did I get here? Why am I here? Why did this good thing happen to me? Why did this bad thing happen to me?”

BottleRock at Napa Valley Expo, May 26, 2023. (Credit: Jim Bennett/Getty Images)
BottleRock at Napa Valley Expo, May 26, 2023. (Credit: Jim Bennett/Getty Images)

Breaking Your Own Heart

Barthel: The chorus has the hopeful side, but it also is very bittersweet. There are a lot of instances when you can witness yourself or a friend of yours going back over again and again to something really bad for them and you just don’t understand. Why does this person keep going back to something that’s clearly causing them pain? Why do we do the things we do?

Carter: And repeat the same mistake over and over again.

Barthel: But not necessarily regretting it, because you would do anything to have that experience, or relive that memory, that one moment of something in your life that was so beautiful. There are ways your memories can play tricks on you. Maybe you’re just addicted to love.

Carter. Or addicted to breaking your own heart.

Again and Again

Carter: Usually when we’re done with our albums, I can’t stand to listen to any of it. The process of making a record can be very draining. I also know we’re going to have to perform it so I save it for that. This is the first time I’m really stoked at the end of the process.

Barthel: I usually don’t want to listen to our songs after the fact. But Josh was telling me I should. He said, “I’ve been listening to it on repeat. I think it’s great.” I thought, “I guess I’ll put it on since today is the release day.” After I finished the first time, I was like, “I want to feel that again and again.” I played it on repeat for an hour. Again and again, into the guitar part, I wept with joy/sadness, joy/bittersweet. That’s never happened to me. That’s why I feel this song is such an ending credit song to one’s life, to a movie, to an experience. Whatever you’re feeling, it pulls it out of you. I’m so proud of the song for that.

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