There are quite a few ways to interpret the title of Phantom Planet’s fourth full-length and Fueled By Ramen debut, Raise The Dead. You can interpret it as the band poking fun at themselves for spending four years between this album and their self-titled disc; you can view it as a reference to the fact that psychedelic rock songs like “Geronimo” are infectious enough to convince the deceased to crawl out of their graves; or, better yet, you don’t analyze it at all and let the twelve extremely diverse and dynamic songs on Raise The Dead wash over you and reaffirm why Phantom Planet are one of today’s most exciting rock n’ roll bands.
That said, instead of falling back on familiar lyrical themes for their latest disc, the band’s frontman Alex Greenwald found inspiration in the histories of cult leaders. “I studied a lot of the twentieth century cults and their music - from Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Jim Jones to Ti and Do of Heaven’s Gate, Shoko Asahara of Aum Shinrikyo, and Father Yod of Ya Ho Wa 13. What I realized was that if you listen to the songs apart from the circumstances that surrounded their eventually horrific outcomes, their music takes on a completely different, and actually hopeful, joyful meaning,” Greenwald muses. “In writing the lyrics for this album, I tried to force the listener to interpret them as saccharine on one listen and sinister the next.”
Achieving this artistic vision wasn’t easy and in order to get into the proper mindset, Greenwald moved into the band’s studio on top floor of the Hollywood Athletic Club in California, which was founded by Charlie Chaplin and Cecil B. DeMille and was the tallest building in Los Angeles when it was built in 1924. “The electricity was bad, it was freezing cold, I didn’t have a car and I didn’t have way to get from place to place,” he explains with a laugh. “I was convinced it was haunted, but I think this must happen when you’re in solitary confinement. One invents things that don’t exist to make up for the things that truly do not,” he continues. “I think ultimately I came up with a way of
battling of my imposed helplessness in my room with faith and hope - and a lot of the songs have these as the theme.”
The band—which also features bassist Sam Farrar, guitarist Darren Robinson and drummer Jeff Conrad and has been around in some incarnation since 1995 while they were still in high school—started production on the disc eighteen months ago, however they kept scrapping the songs they were about to record in favor of new tracks. “Picking the twelve [final songs] for me was hard, but at a certain point I decided not to think of my songs as children that I was systematically executing, but rather I guess choosing the kids that deserve to leave home and the ones that could stay back on farm and work,” the notoriously prolific songwriter explains, adding that the band initially picked from 120 songs and recorded thirty of them before shaving down the final number.
The result is an album that is heavily influenced by Phantom Planet’s former tour mates the Zombies and effortlessly mixes the band’s sixties pop influence with a modern slant that’s particularly refreshing in today’s increasingly homogenous musical landscape. For example, the opening title track sees Greenwald channeling Jeff Buckley over a bed of jangly guitars and handclaps, while “Do The Panic” features an iconic guitar riff, doowoop vocals and a vibe that evokes David Bowie circa Ziggy Stardust; acoustically driven tracks like “Confess” and the orchestrally tinged ballad “I Don’t Mind” sound like a better-produced version of something off Love’s classic pop album Forever Changes. While these artists may not be reference points for most people who grew up on modern
rock radio during the last two decades, Phantom Planet are still able to recontextualize these influences into something completely their own. “If the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or the Who still sounded like their first breakout singles over the course of their records, it might get a little tiresome, but those bands changed so much,” Greenwald responds when asked what other artists he took inspiration from while writing Raise The Dead. “I mean, they were a different band practically with each record,” he continues.” I like being taken to a new place every time I hear a song or a record.” It may sound like a lofty goal, but it’s one that Phantom Planet have achieved with Raise
The Dead—and whether you decide to explore the cult-influenced iconography or just want to listen to the songs on a purely visceral level, it’s hard to deny that it was worth the four year wait, the perilous living conditions and constant reshaping of the songs that the band endured. “I think music is based around the relationship between the listener and the writer,” Greenwald summarizes what he ultimately wants to achieve with this collection of songs. “If even one listener can hear