Visit Phantom Isle: An Interview With Josh Pullen
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Kooky glamour and New Wave go hand in hand, where cool cats can keep their air of mystery, but also rip-roaringly go for it on the dance floor. Hoping to keep the flames of that particular torch alight is London based Phantom Isle, who has already whipped up quite the storm with our friends over in Germany. Track MAR V is released on July 8th, and we found out from keys player Josh Pullen just why the rest of the world should get on board with them too.
Although the boys, Josh, Peter Marchant (Vocals/Guitar), Jonny Longland (Bass), and Sam Thorne (Drums), are a quartet now, this wasn’t always the case back in the beginning for the tight-knit group of friends. Josh begins, “We all grew up in and around Northampton, and the four of us all went to school together.” Relatively new to the scene, the band formed in early 2017 with half of living in Northampton and the other in London. As things were gathering momentum, life took a cruel and unexpected turn. “We used to be a five-piece with Pete’s brother Matt, but he tragically passed away from a brain tumour last year.” Leaving them more determined than ever to follow their musical hearts.
Phantom Isle is a classed as a new wave act, yes, but absorbs influences from many artists that bridge the gap between rock and electronic music. You can hear that New York-style coming through, where they wouldn’t be out of place, cutting their teeth at a grassroots gig back in the early 2000s. Pullen tends to agree, “For sure, we wanted to capture that early crossover of indie rock and house music. I was heavily borrowing from Soulwax and Simian Mobile Disco, and when you put guitars and live drums with it, you get that sound. We were definitely influenced by our recent tour in Germany, which opened us up to early Krautrock and the Dusseldorf music scene from the 70s.”
Josh attempted to complete the nearly impossible task in narrowing down their inspirations: “We can’t deny the LCD and possibly MGMT influence, but also late 70’s German electro-punk outfit DAF too. Their track Verschwende Deine Jugend is where we got the raw energy from.” Encompassing the knowledge that dancing gives great escapism to sunny, emotive, and freeing places, Phantom took a good, hard look at the direction of their work. “Previously, we were focusing on a standard song structure which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to danceability, so we wanted to flip it and try something different that builds and releases,” the keyboard maestro adds.
You are invited to cut lose to the hypnotic energy of single MAR V, but dig a little deeper, and you will hear lyrics that deal with worry and feeling dreadfully lonely. He tells us, “So Sam, our drummer, came up with the lyrics. He’s got a little black book of trials and tribulations which he dips into to get inspiration, and they’re very much about the anxiety of being alone, especially now. There is a wall of delayed vocal effects underneath the song, which gives you that sense of dread and anxiety. The song itself came from a remix Josh was working on, which turned into MAR V. It’s still called I Am Urs remix in his drum machine.”
Accompanying the track is some lush greyscale artwork featuring a whole spectrum of characters from all walks of life, and lucky enough, they don't have to look too far to find an artist who gets their vibe. “We have an in-house illustrator, Jonny, our bassist, who came up with the artwork. The concept was characters at a party all out to get each other dressed as different archetypes. It captures the song's fun yet dark undertones,” he thinks.
And of course, with Germany’s love of edgy street art and history of electronic music, it’s no wonder they welcomed this keen lot in with open arms. Josh reminisces, “When we played the first night of the MaNo Musikfestival festival, we’d just got off the plane, and we were taken to play the first stage; the reception was incredible. We didn’t know what to expect; to see the crowd going mad just set us on a high for the rest of the weekend. Also, Jonny got electrocuted from swinging from a light fitting, but that was just funny. It was our first time there, and we certainly made an impression.”
To end, Pullen longs to capture that raw, exciting, live feeling that we all crave, but even just some normality in these tough times would suffice. “We might be asking too much right now. We’re gunning for the UK festival circuit next year and get an album out. With the planned release of four singles over the next six months and being in lockdown for the last three months, we want to party.” Many, we can bet, will be eager to join you.
Article by Beverley Knight