When you think about the live music scene in Fort Worth, you think of bands like Calhoun, Telegraph Canyon and Whiskey Folk Ramblers. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll think about Phantom Caste — a band that, since its first show ever in Jan. 2010, has gotten considerable praise and recognition. For a band this new, they’re surely making a name for themselves. They’ve already been nominated twice for Fort Worth Weekly’s annual music awards — in 2010 as Best New Artist and in 2011 as Best Live Band. Much like their debut EP Hands to the Light in 2010 garnered attention from such media outlets as Dallas Observer (who called the EP a “promising start”), their first full-length album, Phantom Caste, just released June, has the potential to attract new listeners and secure their position with current fans. Frontman Paul Cooksey spoke with us recently about the band’s latest album and the importance of a live show.
BIJLM: For those who aren’t familiar with your music, how would you describe what your sound and who are your musical influences?
Paul Cooksey: I would say I think it’s pretty straight forward indie rock. People have made some comparisons to — especially on our last album — The Killers and Block Party and stuff like this. On the newer record, it’s been a little more like The Cure and My Bloody Valentine. It’s all pretty straight forward indie rock. Influence-wise, for me, it’s a lot of The Cure, Joy Division…Radiohead would probably be another big one. And as far electronic, because we do have a bit of an electronic feel to our music, it’s a bit of New Order and Depeche Mode.
BIJLM: Between your debut EP and your most recent album, what changes has Phantom Caste gone through?
PC: There was some personnel turnover. Our guitar player left and before that we parted ways with our drummer and our bass player. On all our accounts, it was never anything personal. That was probably the biggest chance. Switching people around and bringing in new influences and new voices. I think maturing musically, just playing a lot together. We have not been together very long. This record was something we were working towards as opposed to something we were working on.
BIJLM: You produced your first album entirely by yourselves and for your latest album, you brought on an outside producer, is that right?
PC: Well we ended up doing the production on the new one on our own as well. When we had originally started the new record, we wanted to bring in a producer. But when our guitarist left the band, we started over from scratch. We figured we could do it ourselves again. After our guitar player left, we started over songwriting. We were very conversational about what we wanted to. It was a matter of songwriting. And as soon as we got the songs how we wanted them to sound, we started tracking them. And we worked on the arrangement…until we pretty much had everything recorded, then we recorded everything again [laughs]. We went back to check the sound and mix. For this record [Phantom Caste], from a time aspect, we were writing and recording and producing at the same time. Then we recorded again and made it exactly how we wanted.
BIJLM: So how did you get the funding for it?
PC: We paid for everything ourselves. We tried to get funding from Kickstarter [a funding platform for artists], but that didn’t work out. Thankfully we had some money saved up from playing shows and our last record. We were able to fund it all ourselves. At least we don’t owe anybody anything [laughs].
BIJLM: How are you getting the word out about your record?
PC: Really just word of mouth. Getting out there playing shows. We try to play pretty often, but we were trying to make sure our fans knew we were playing new songs. Where we are right now we don’t really have the means to have a lot of press on our album. Mark with the local Edge has been very very helpful. Fort Worth Weekly was of course very hopeful. We were nominated for an award this year for Best Live Band [as part of the FWW 2011 Music Awards].
BIJLM: So you’ve gotten some good press by major publications in North Texas. What do you think people see in Phantom Caste, especially considering that you’re such a new band, that makes you stand out above other bands?
PC: I think they see that…what I hope they’re getting is a new band that isn’t playing stuff that’s already out there. There’s a lot of bands out there that we sound good playing with, but there aren’t really any bands out there doing what we’re trying to do, and there isn’t anyone who can do it as well as we do live. There’s a freshness to our band, at least I hope there is. I’m proud of the fact that we don’t fall into [a musical category]. I don’t think there’s anybody in the area that sounds like us. I think there’s enough of a freshness that people are willing to give it a chance.
BIJLM: How important is the live show?
PC: To me, it’s everything. I personally hate recording. It’s long and tedious. And if you’re going to get in fights with your band mates, it’s while you’re recording. Especially for small bands, the live show is really important. Your expression and your sound is going to be heard through your live shows. That’s one thing that a lot of bands in DFW, it seems a lot of bands are okay with the crowd not getting into shows. I’m not really sure why. The crowd is so sedated in DFW. We really try to get people out of their seats and up close to the stage. For me, that’s everything, is getting people to have a good time when the come to see us.
BIJLM: What are some of the venues you enjoy playing in Fort Worth or elsewhere?
PC: Lola’s is always great to play. We love playing the Moon. Profit Bar in Dallas is pretty cool. And we played Hailey’s in Denton and that’s been pretty awesome. Really, everywhere we’ve played. We’ve never had bad experiences. That’s one good thing about the area. There’s plenty of diversity as far as what kind of venue you can play. The Where House is really cool as well.
BIJLM: Going back to your recent album, what were your inspirations as far as lyrics?
PC: I think there was a certain amount of tension that I wrote with on the first record. With this one, it was a lot more freeing. I felt like I could give a lot more of myself in the lyrics. I think there was a certain positivity reflecting from general happiness of life. I mean, we’re not a happy-go-lucky band, but it was kind of the first time I had written songs that had more of an autobiographical sense than ever before. It was kind of a reflection of having a good time and kind of expressing myself a little more.
BIJLM: What do you guys do when you’re not making music or playing shows?
PC: Everybody has jobs outside of the band. I envy people who don’t. I don’t understand how that’s even possible. But yeah, we hang out together a lot. We go see a lot of bands play, we see a lot of music in the area. Some of us go fishing. We all kind of have different interests, but we spend a lot of our time working together. None of us are doing solo stuff yet, but I’m sure it will happen sometime out of boredom.
Phantom Caste will be playing at Stay Wired in Fort Worth on July 16.