Formed back in 2008, Phosphene are a Portland based band, built around the duo of vocalist and guitarist Rachel Frankel and drummer Matt Hemmerich. The band released their self-titled debut album back in 2014, followed by an EP, Breaker in 2016. Four years on the band have just released their brand-new album, Lotus Eaters. Written around the time of the 2016 US election, the album title is lifted from the Greek mythological tale of a person existing in a peaceful but apathetic haze from continually eating lotus fruit. The band saw the similarities in the desire for escapism in the face of political upheaval, as they explain, “it took a great deal of focus and fortitude to resist that inertia and move forward as a band”, moving forward though is exactly what Lotus Eaters achieves.
In many ways, Lotus Eaters finds Phosphene re-discovering the power of music, revelling in its ability to be cathartic, offering an outlet for darkest emotions and distracting us from the world around us. Much of the inspiration for the record was lifted from Rachel’s other project, She Can Really Lay It Down, a musical anthology celebrating fifty influential womxn musicians from the past century, with the likes of Kim Gordon, Neko Case, and Janet Weiss cited as key influences. The resultant record is one that seems to fluctuate between moods, at times it’s distinctly dark, an intense rumbling, that engulfs the listener into its world, at others it seems to reach for dreamy, blissful escapism. It’s a record that reflects on the world it arrives into, at times confronting the darker sides and at others acknowledging the need to look away and remember to see the light. Phosphene’s most creative, ambitious and exciting release to date, Lotus Eaters is a record very much of its time, a perfect album for an imperfect world.
FTR: For those who don’t know: who are Phosphene?
It’s a shoegazey, post-punk band composed of me (vocals/guitar), Matt (drums/guitar) and Kevin (bass/guitar) that formed in the Bay Area seven years ago. Matt and I met in college at San Francisco back in 2008, but we didn’t start playing music together until 2011. We randomly met Kevin at a neat songwriting Q&A event featuring The National in 2013, and invited him to jam with us soon after. Since then, we’ve written and released three records together. Our latest effort, Lotus Eaters, was just released this month!
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
Our first show was at a dive bar in San Francisco called El Rio, and it was a cocktail of anxiety and excitement. The three of us are introverts, so the idea of baring our souls to strangers isn’t something we seek outright. Some friends and family came out for support. My mom—who lives in Southern California—actually flew up that night as a surprise! It was an incredible moment.
In classic fashion, Matt went to the loo right when we were supposed to play so he had to haul ass to get on stage. The heat of bright spotlights and gaze of onlooking strangers made us feel pretty vulnerable. There was a quick and heavy pounding in my chest, but once we launched into our first tune, it was like a shot in the arm.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
We’re all polymaths, so music is just one of the avenues we creatively express ourselves. I’m also a graphic designer and illustrator, Matt’s a poet and video editor, and Kevin’s a game designer.
However, music is special in the way it reveals a Venn diagram of influences between the three of us. There’s something inherently beautiful about creating and communicating in a shared sonic language. It’s all based on feel. Chemistry is essential, and to be honest, you cannot control it or manufacture it. We got real lucky in that department.
FTR: What can people expect from the Phosphene live show?
A collective catharsis. We dig into the emotion of each song, and harness that energy on stage. We tailor each set list so there’s a fine flow between the noisier, propulsive songs and our gentler, poppier ones. If I need to tune, Matt often plays the opening beat for “Come Out and Play” by The Offspring, much to my chagrin. As long as you don’t walk in expecting synchronized headbangs or rehearsed banter, I think you’ll fancy us.
FTR: What’s next for Phosphene?
We’ve got four songs in the can, so we hope to record a follow-up EP this winter. Continued support for Lotus Eaters will help us fund this next effort! Until the pandemic quells, we’ll exist in a songwriting mode to scratch the creative itch.
They Listen To…
Interpol – PDA
Sleater Kinney – Entertain
Alvvays – Saved by a Waif
Slowdive – When The Sun Hits
Death Cab For Cutie – The New Year
Lotus Eaters is out now. Click HERE for more information on Phosphene.