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Phantom Planet basks in glow of 'The O.C.'
September 10, 2004
It was a good thing the power pop career of Phantom Planet didn't break a decade earlier.
As the band behind the sunny 2002 pop tune California -- an orchestral, piano-driven confection adopted as the theme song to Fox TV's soap The O.C. -- the Los Angeles band suddenly found itself in the living rooms of unsuspecting households around the country. Even today, fans of the show likely have a bigger connection to the song than to the band behind it.
"If this were the early '90s, anything like this which was considered 'selling out' would have meant death to a band's credibility," said Phantom Planet singer-frontman-guitarist Alexander Greenwald. "That kind of thinking doesn't exist so much now. Radio is so messed up, and MTV doesn't even play videos anymore. So a band has to find whatever way it can to make sure people hear their music.
"For us, California was a song we wrote about six years ago that we liked. But not many people heard it before it reached this really broad audience. It's a song that got its chance."
Though California was not the band's first TV tie-in tune (its 1998 pop-rocker So I Fall Again was on the soundtrack to Sabrina the Teenage Witch), it catapulted a career already on the rise through incessant touring. Phantom's recent self-titled album, in fact, was cut quickly after 18 months of nearly non-stop roadwork.

But the stylistic difference between Phantom Planet and its more pop-based predecessors is huge. The newer record toughens the band's sound as well as Greenwald's singing to the point where comparisons to the post-punk pop of the Strokes and the murkier musings of the Cure come into play.

"I love rock 'n' roll music," Greenwald said. "I especially loved bands, like the Beatles, that changed with every single record they made. That's been our plan from the get-go. We want our records to be like experiments. We want to have fun with the music. People can hear when you're not having fun. They discover you're bored and you're boring."
The only bump in designing the album's crankier sound was a personnel shift. Drummer Jason Schwartzman, star of the 1998 film Rushmore, left the band during recording sessions to work full-time on an acting career. Longtime Phantom pal Jeff Conrad was then recruited to finish the album.
"All of us were a little worried," Greenwald said about changing drummers before the record's completion. "Adding a new element to a chemical equation like a band could throw the whole thing off and totally change the music. But we've known Jeff for years and he knows what we've been about for an even longer time. We played him what we had already recorded and asked 'Do you like this?' and 'Are you up for the job?' He responded yes to both questions, so the change was pretty easy."

Mostly, though, the album's more immediate stride reflects a passion for music Greenwald has grown up with: "Music has just always been part of my life. My mom is a guitar teacher and an abstract painter -- an all-around artist and a wonderful woman. I would listen to records with her and take guitar lessons from her.

"Music has been an appendage almost. It speaks my language."




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