Interview: Rick 'Redbeard' Anthony of The Phantom Band
'When you actually step back and think about the reality of being in a band, it’s absurd. It’s fucking ridiculous'
‘We’ll be sitting there and I’ll say to everyone “this is so fucking weird, what we’re actually doing”,’ shares Phantom Band frontman Rick Anthony, recalling an existential pondering he’s prone to at rehearsals – the kind of dangerous realisation which could spark long queues of musicians outside job centres. ‘Most people our age will have mortgages and regular employment,’ he continues, ‘and we’re a bunch of guys here in a room together, playing music. And we’re in a thing called a band, and the band’s got a name. When you actually step back and think about the reality of that, it’s absurd. It’s fucking ridiculous. It’s no way for an adult to behave.’
And these the words of a musician who a few days prior was longlisted for the Scottish Album of the Year Award for his solo debut, No Selfish Heart, released under the pseudonym Rick Redbeard – an accolade that left Anthony ‘surprised and happy’. For the Phantoms, meanwhile, the last few years have brought their challenges. ‘An accidental hiatus’ followed touring commitments for 2010’s critically acclaimed The Wants, and a new drummer had to be recruited in Iain Stewart. But they remain on abundantly rich form. Just listen to strong future SAY Award candidate Strange Friend, the Phantoms’ largely self-produced third set, which strengthens this sextet’s reputation for making wild eclecticism seem as natural as the breeze.
‘The Wind That Cried The World’ starts with a gurgle of electronica, peaks with a rousing wordless chorus, progresses through a psychedelic opus breakdown, and ends in rustic majesty. Not even a diversion into bludgeoning sludge metal is off-limits on Strange Friend, as evidenced by the monolithic middle of ‘Doom Patrol’ (a Mogwai-esque song title if ever there was one). ‘Oh yeah,’ Anthony reacts when I bring that track up, sounding excited just to talk about it. ‘When Duncan hits that big riff, it sounds awesome. I’ve always kind of wanted to be in a metal band.’
Anything goes in Phantom land, between Anthony’s alt-folk instincts – as best framed by his spookily pretty solo material – or keys man Andy Wake’s boffin-like krauty vintage synth obsessions, or the big-riffing persuasions of guitarist Duncan Marquiss. ‘He’s actually one of the best heavy metal guitarists who doesn’t play heavy metal,’ says Anthony of his bandmate. ‘When there’s an excuse for him to slip a little riff in there, it’s worth taking it.’
It’ll come as a surprise to no one who witnessed their devastatingly good headline slot at the Aberfeldy Festival in 2012 – one of the Phantom Band’s first shows with new drummer Stewart – that this is a group who have fallen in love again with the simple essence of being six guys on a stage or in a room playing music together. It lends a very live-feeling, very human heart to Strange Friend, and bodes excitingly for shows in support of the record’s release, with a short UK tour set to precede appearances at the Howlin’ Fling festival on the Isle of Eigg and at least one other summer festival.
Anthony can’t confirm which, but a slot at one of their label Chemikal Underground’s East End Social events seems a good bet. ‘Stewart’s one of the good guys in music,’ he says of Stewart Henderson, their label manager at Chemikal, who celebrate 20 years in business in 2014 with the Phantoms as current captains for a roster which has featured the Delgados, Mogwai, Arab Strap and countless other Scottish luminaries across two decades. ‘For this record, he basically said “go and make the music you want.” He didn’t even listen to the demos – he just left us alone. To get on with our ridiculous work.’
The Phantom Band play the Art School, Glasgow, Tue 3 Jun.