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No illusion to Phantogram’s success

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With Teen

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: Riviera Theatre,
4746 N. Racine

Tickets: Sold out

Watch: "Fall in Love" by Phantogram

Updated: April 16, 2014 10:38AM

Hearing Phantogram’s experimental pop — a blend of gritty beats and ethereal melodies — you would imagine the duo working in a living room in Brooklyn, thinking deep, sad thoughts. But they found their sound in a barn-turned-pseudo-studio near Saratoga Springs in upstate New York.

“We were able to craft our music untroubled by outside interference,” says Josh Carter.

Carter and Sarah Barthel, both 31, met in middle school and remained friends through high school. Then Barthel went off to study visual arts at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., and Carter joined his brother’s band, Grand Habit, in New York City.

The pals picked up right where they left off when both returned home. “I’d play my stuff for her, and it turns out she was super-good at singing and playing piano,” Carter says. “It was like magic.”

Their single “Fall In Love” climbed to No. 3 on Billboard’s alternative songs chart. They’re set to perform at the Sasquatch! and Firefly festivals after a Riviera Theatre concert Thursday. Phantogram also contributed a track (“Lights”) to the deluxe version of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” soundtrack.

In the early days they had to juggle day jobs. “We both waited tables” in touristy Saratoga Springs, says Barthel. “He worked at a restaurant, I worked at a jazz bistro pub. We’d meet up after work, drive to the country where Josh’s family has a farm and work on our music.”

The duo officially became Phantogram (an optical illusion that makes a two-dimensional image look three-dimensional) in 2007. “We’ve accomplished a lot since then,” says Carter. “We’ve released two albums. We’ve played for crowds of 50 and now we’re playing Hollywood Palladium.”

The way the pair approach music reflects their relationship: always evolving. “ ‘Fall In Love’ was a beat I made five years ago and Sarah dug it out and wrote a very cool melody to it,” says Carter. “She breathed new life into it.”

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