(photo by Kristopher Kirk)
The Phantoms are a “Rock n’ Roll” band, originally based out of Olympia, WA, and fronted by the elusive Isaac Rother. Active for a little over a year, the PAC-NW line-up of The Phantoms has recently disbanded and Isaac has since migrated southward to Los Angeles, where he has been holding auditions, drinking cheap beer in roof-top jacuzzis, and gently tenting his fingertips beneath a low, sinister laugh, plotting his break into the notoriously over-saturated LA music scene. I caught up with the Caped Crusader over some digital cocktails to talk about his new album, his new line-up and the prophetic return to his hometown.
Tell me about yourself.
Isaac Rother: My name is Isaac Rother. Some folks call me The Phantom. I’m a Rock n Roll singer.
Los Angeles is a big, evil city that tends to suck the promise out of young, eager and original bands. Why did you move down from Olympia and how was the transition?
IR: Olympia is a cool town but it’s small and everyone has a weird haircut. It made more sense to move back to my hometown, Los Angeles. It’s taken a while to get the Los Angeles incarnation of The Phantoms off the ground but we’ve got a great band now. LA’s finest are playing in The Phantoms.
I’ve listened to your album maybe 20 times now. Production wise, I think it’s a great blues album and there are some really catchy, almost doo-wop type songs in there, including “The Phantom”. Do you enjoy singing about yourself? (Ziggy played guitar…). Also, who plays piano on that album? You don’t have a piano player in your performing line-up.
IR: The album sounds good ’cause we recorded it on analog gear and it never touched a computer. Recording music on a computer is good if you’re recording “computer” music, but trying to record rock n’ roll or blues on a computer is like trying to make an Italian dinner using Easy Mac. It can easily be done but it’s not going to be the real deal. A cat named The Moose Man is playing piano and organ on the record. He’s the best and plays on everything I do.
What is it that makes your approach to the blues more listenable than say that old guy who comes into the pizza restaurant I work at to dig through the garbage and collect old pizza crust so that he can go out and feed the seagulls every morning? He has a plastic-wrapped CD and everything, with a freeze frame of him on the cover holding a slice of pizza to the open sky looking over the Berkeley Marina, literally thousands of seagulls swooping down everywhere around him, as if there getting ready to pick him up and carry him off to a far off land full of lavender candles and shit-stained overalls. The genre label on the back of the CD says “blues”, but his music sounds nothing like yours.
IR: With all due disrespect to the seagull feeding pizza crust guy, most people who play blues follow a formula that’s been done a million times by everyone’s dad in every dumpy bar in America. The Phantoms are built on a foundation of blues but we play rock n’ roll. We don’t sound like anybody else. Come and see The Phantoms play and we’re going to give you a show.
(photo by Isabella Cassini)
Who are your favorite Jewish blues guitar players?
IR: Jewish blues guitar started with Mike Bloomfield in the 60′s. Since then the only ones that are worth a damn have played with me haha. Mike Liebman who played on the album and Matthew Zuk who’s playing with us now. All the rest are shanda imitators who’ve been ripping off the same Elmore James licks for the last 30 years. l’chaim!
That album is with the Olympia line-up right? What’s new with your LA line-up? Working on new material or more so gearing in for shows?
IR: Yeah the Oly line-up is on the record. We recorded at Dub Narcotic studios in Olympia which is sorta famous ’cause it’s owned by K records. But new city, new line-up. Both bands were great. Right now we’re focused more on playing shows than on new material. Most people haven’t heard our old stuff yet.
I heard you played to an audience of babies once…
IR: That’s true. We played at a place called the Well Baby Center in Venice to a buncha babies. We’re great with children. Next I hope to play for an audience of dogs.
Do you still consider yourself a punk singer?
IR: I’ll sing anything if it’s good. Punk, rhythm and blues, country and western, don’t matter to me. I’ll sing it if it’s a good song.
Touring anytime soon? I’ve seen your van it’s very fly.
IR: We’re just starting to play shows in LA so we’re not making plans to tour yet. But we will. I wanna play everywhere where there’s people who’ll listen. I think a lot of people have been waiting for a band like ours to come around. And yeah my van is pretty fly. It’s sorta like if the Mystery Machine was red and instead of solving mysteries we had guitars.
Rooting for anyone in particular to win the Super Bowl this year?
IR: I follow sports like an owl follows the sunshine. That is to say I don’t.
CATCH ISAAC ROTHER AND THE PHANTOMS tomorrow, JANUARY 10th at the R-BAR in DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES–THEIR FIRST “OFFICIAL” SHOW FEATURING THEIR NEW LINE-UP–AND JANUARY 31st AT THE REDWOOD.