How do the partners in synth-rock duo Phantogram — vocalist Sarah Barthel and multi-instrumentalist Josh Carter — spend their offstage hours? “We sit in dark basements and cry,” Barthel deadpans, with Carter chiming in, “And we drink the blood of virgins!” “And non-virgins,” his chum adds. They’re actually pretty lighthearted folks. “It’s just that the way we create music and art taps into a different side of ourselves.” It’s the case on “Three,” the group’s third recording (following “Big Grams,” a 2015 collaboration with OutKast’s Big Boi), whose stark cover art only hints at the dirges (“Destroyer,” “Cruel World,” “Funeral Pyre”) inside.
What were you two going through before “Three”?
Josh Carter: We were going through a pretty dark time. And we were both writing lyrics, and going through the same experiences together, and that’s just kind of how things poured out. Sometimes with certain songs, I’ll write 90 percent of the lyrics, sometimes we’ll both trade off lines and we’ll write the entire content together. And in some songs, Sarah will write more of the lyrics, and I’ll write only a small portion. So we do trade off.
Sarah Barthel: All of our lyrics, since day one, have been just as dark. That’s just the kind of music that we like. It’s cathartic, in a way. We release whatever we’re going through our music, and we like to leave it open for the audience. So we’d rather not discuss it right now, to be honest. But it’s for you to perceive, I guess, through whatever you’re going through. So you, too, can connect to the lyrics, hopefully.
They’re not exactly easy on, say, “Cruel World,” with lines like “I’m putting you out of your misery/ ‘Cause darling you’re dragging me down.”
Carter: Sarah and I have been best friends for a long time. We grew up together, and recently we went through a very personal tragedy that occurred during the writing of this album. And a lot of that went into the songwriting. There’s a lot of sadness, there’s a bit of anger, and there are also moments of hope in there, as well. And it was a cathartic experience for us. But that’s always been the case with our music, whether it’s cathartic in a joyful way or a sorrowful way.
In recent photos, Sarah has a whole new Barbarella look.
Carter: I think it’s almost this triumphant look, like she’s overcoming a tragedy with this post-apocalyptic background, and we’re prevailing through it. And a lot of the album has to do with that — knowing that the world is a really tough place, but getting through a hard time anyway.
IF YOU GO
Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 5