Phantom Planet, a group that takes its name from a 1960s horror movie, is a post-grunge indie outfit whose members mostly hail from Los Angeles. The band members united during adolescence, and several of them are the offspring of well-known and affluent families. In addition to their musical pursuits, these members have raised the group's profile by making individual film and modeling appearances throughout the group's career. However, unlike most teen bands whose popularity tends to wane once the members grow up, Phantom Planet has grown into a credible rock outfit that by 2004 had been in existence for more than ten years.
Phantom Planet was formed by five friends in Los Angeles, California, in 1994. Singer and guitarist Alex Greenwald started playing the piano as a toddler, and at age ten was taught by his mother to play the guitar. The youngster took a liking to the Beach Boys, and soon music became a larger priority than playing on his skateboard. Greenwald later became a recognizable face in the popular Gap clothing commercials of the early 2000s and had a role in the movie Donnie Darko. Jason Schwartzman, son of actress Talia Shire and nephew of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, was given a drum set for his tenth birthday. Despite his
later participation in Phantom Planet, Schwartzman eventually became better known for starring in such films such as Rushmore in 1998 and Slackers in 2002. However, at age ten, music was a pressing interest for the boy. Schwartzman was introduced to guitarist Darren Robinson through a cousin, and the two made a musical racket in the garage until they began to get serious about performing and decided to form a "real" band. Schwartzman and Robinson were then joined by Greenwald, as well as by guitarist Jacques Brautbar and bassist Sam Farrar. Farrar is the son of notable songwriter/producer John Farrar, who wrote the hits "You're the One That I Want" and "Hopelessly Devoted To You" from the Broadway musical Grease. In 1994 the newly formed group was dubbed Phantom Planet when Greenwald confused the theme song of a 1960s film called Phantom Planet with that of the movie Godzilla, and thought it would be the perfect name for the band.
While still in their teens, the group played frequently in and around the Hollywood area, finally catching the eye of Geffen Records executives. Phantom Planet signed with Geffen in 1997 and released their first effort, Phantom Planet is Missing, in 1998. Phantom Planet is Missing showed musical similarities to the popular band Weezer, but the album failed to gain any significant ground with either critics or fans. However, as some group members started to make appearances on both the small and large screen and the group pressed on, Phantom Planet gradually built momentum.
Shortly thereafter Geffen Records folded into Universal as part of a major record industry merger, and within a few years Phantom Planet had signed with Epic Records. Charlotte Froom, the daughter of famed producer Mitchell Froom—who had worked with Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney—caught the band's show just at the time when the group was looking for a producer to record their second effort. Excited by the group's music, the young Froom approached her father to produce the group, and after meeting with Phantom Planet, he agreed. Froom also brought in engineer Tchad Blake, who had worked with Pearl Jam and Sheryl Crow, to work on the record.
The Guest was released in 2002 and showcased a solid dose of poppy vocals, solid melodies, and sing-along choruses, which helped anchor Phantom Planet as a formidable indie outfit. The group's presence was also solidified by its commitment to touring. The group toured for almost 18 months both as a headliner and an opening act, and in late 2002 the band got the opportunity to open for one of their collective idols, the legendary Elvis Costello. The Guest got an extra boost when the record's notable power ballad "California" was chosen as the theme song for the Fox Network's breakout hit The O.C. As a result, the record was reissued in late 2003 with bonus tracks and a new cover, giving Phantom Planet a whole new round of exposure.
In 2003 the band went back into the studio to record a self-titled third album with producer David Friedman, who had worked with The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. In the midst of recording, drummer Jason Schwartzman decided to leave the group in order to pursue an acting career. As Greenwald explained to Entertainment Weekly, "He thought we could be a better band without him and he thought he could be a better actor without us." Undeterred, the group replaced Schwartzman with longtime friend and drummer Jeff Conrad and completed the record. Released in 2004, Phantom Planet proved to be a dramatically different record from the band's past efforts. According to Entertainment Weekly, the album "sounds like the work of a different group of musicians … The songs on this jarring disc are scrappier and more slurred and discordant than those on The Guest; winsome romanticism has been replaced with cynical jabs. … The guitars are skuzzier. For an L.A. band, Phantom Planet sound as if they haven't seen the sun in months."
For the Record …
Members include Jacques Brautbar , guitar, vocals; Jeff Conrad (joined group, 2003), drums; Alex Greenwald , lead vocals, guitar; Sam Farrar , bass, vocals; Darren Robinson , guitar, vocals; Jason Schwartzman (group member, 1994-2003), drums.
Group formed in Los Angeles, CA, 1994; signed to Geffen Records, 1997; released debut, Phantom Planet is Missing, 1998; released The Guest, Epic Records, 2002; "California," a track from the album, was used as theme for breakout TV show The O.C., 2003; released Phantom Planet, Epic, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Epic Records/Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. Website—Phantom Planet Official Website: http://www.phantomplanet.com.
Greenwald saw things differently. As he explained to Rolling Stone, "For The Guest, we needed to make a happy, fun album that was universal in its concept and lyric. … We then decided that if we were not harder, better, faster and stronger with each show, we were not living up to our potential as a band. Out of that idea came these songs, which are literally harder, better and more concise."
Phantom Planet is Missing, Geffen, 1998.
The Guest, Epic, 2002; reissued, 2003.
Phantom Planet, Epic, 2004.
Alternative Press, March 2004.
CMJ New Music Report, January 12, 2004; June 7, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, December 19, 2003; January 9, 2004.
Nylon, March 2004.
Rolling Stone, December 3, 2003; January 22, 2004; February 5, 2004.
Spin, February 2004.
USA Today, January 6, 2004.
"Phantom Planet," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 21, 2004).
"Phantom Planet," ASCAP Playback, http://www.ascap.com/playback/2004/spring/phantomplanet.html (April 21, 2004).
"Phantom Planet," Movie Thing, http://www.moviething.com (April 21, 2004).
Additional information was obtained from press and promotional materials provided by Sony Music, 2004.
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