Phantom Planet: Well Aged

The proclamations of love from throngs of female admirers have come much fewer and further between, over the last few years, for Alex Greenwald and Phantom Planet.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not that. It has absolutely nothing to do with Max Fisher, aka drummer Jason Schwartzman, leaving the band to concentrate solely on acting. The four guys who remained behind to stick with the music are of California pedigree and model caliber. Greenwald, as a matter of fact—though he hates when it comes up—had been a print model in the band’s early days. He also has the movie star draw going for him, having played the dickhead, Seth Devlin, in 2001 cult classic Donnie Darko.

Greenwald, who said he doesn’t really mind the lessened lady frenzy, has a hypothesis.

“I think when we first started, we were all the same age as our fans—15 and 16 years old. It was all high school love and high school crushes,” he said. “These days, they’re either being less obvious about their crushes or they have their sights set on more realistic people.”

But it’s more than an age thing. There’s nothing that stops me from thinking that Raquel Welch, even at the wrinkly old age of 112 or whatever she is, couldn’t very well melt titanium just standing in front of it. And I would be smitten before her, ready to make her a mommy again. Age isn’t it.

For Phantom Planet, the decreased fawning and pawing from the fairer sex is owed to last year’s self-titled third album. Up to that point, an argument could still be made that the band wrote for the ladies. 1998’s Phantom Planet Is Missing and 2003’s The Guest were largely the works of players. Not every song, but most were different butters, catering to the tender portions of girls everywhere. There was a ballad—albeit a memorable power-pop ballad of the highest degree—for every occasion and enough energetic rock to show that there was a lot of good time to be had with these heartthrobs.

The new Phantom Planet, however, has stopped playing for girls. It plays for the bros now. It writes songs that have frayed edges and infrequently get sentimental. Love and romance still fuse with the new garage sound, but they do so in camouflage, owing more to a seasoned maturity and possibly a firmer grasp of nuance. It went from writing for the all-ages crowd to writing to impress Joe Strummer, Robert Smith, and Robert Pollard.

“There have never been any significant moments when we decided to change our sound,” Greenwald said. “I would probably liken it to just growing up. You probably never really know how much you’ve grown up until you look back on it. I think maybe we’ve just accrued experience like dirt on our jeans.”

Phantom Planet got rough and dirty. Greenwald said that the jeans he wears to perform in—regularly slashed out in the knees—have been with him since he got them off the rack. The look, much like the sound, was not a conscious change.

“I’ve had these clothes forever; there’s no time to do any shopping. I haven’t bought any new clothes in a long time,” he said. “Things feel more comfortable when they’re worn in and maybe a little dirty. I don’t shower very often.”

It’s still questionable how spring road mate Sting is going to take to drummer Jeff Conrad wearing the same unwashed Steve Martin/Wild and Crazy Guys T-shirt every night on stage, as he did on the group’s last tour.

“Jeff wore that shirt for four weeks. Though he did take it off after we got done playing, he never gave it a chance to dry out. It was in a constant state of bacterial growth. He had it salt-caked and crusty,” Greenwald said. “I’ve never met [Sting]. I have no idea what kind of person he really is. It will be fun to learn different yoga positions. I’m going to leave the tantric sex stuff aside.”

Greenwald was amazed when he got the call about the Sting support slot.

“Maybe he got bored of that world music stuff he’s been doing for the last few years,” Greenwald said. “It’s cool that he’s only going to do Police songs and that it’s a tour of colleges.”

Most of the stops—like the one in Columbia—are taking place in the university’s basketball arena as opposed to the medium-sized club just down the street that the band played last fall on its final 2004 leg.

“I’m bound to find many a familiar face,” Greenwald anticipates.

For much of the winter, the band—the trendsetters who made it the in thing to appear on or have a song playing in the background of an episode of The O.C.—has been writing and demoing tracks for the next album. It’s a record that Greenwald, despite his better efforts, could only describe the lyrical content as being a by-product of his recent interest in “Native Americans, fantasy, castles, growing scepters, and stuff.”

“We’ll probably finish when we get back,” he said of the new record. “It’s every boy’s dream to have a summer record, but maybe the songs are more suited for the winter.”

Good. Sounds like another one for the bros.

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