Phantom Planet has been out of sight for the better part of 11 years, since touring to promote its 2008 album Raise The Dead. But following a private surprise show Jan. 19 in Los Angeles, the quartet is back in action and working on a new album — whose first single, “Balisong,” is premiering exclusively below.
“It’s exciting and it is a bit unexpected — especially just how quickly this snowballed,” frontman Alex Greenwald tells Billboard. “It’s cool people remember us and want to hear more from us. I have friends who when I brought up that we were gonna make a record they were like, ‘Oh! F***in’ finally!’ They didn’t want to bring it up before, but obviously they were hoping for it.”
Greenwald and bassist Sam Farrar in particular haven’t been idle during Phantom Planet’s hiatus. Farrar has been playing with Maroon 5 since 2012, while Greenwald has been working with Mark Ronson & the Business as well as the all-star Phases (previously JJAMZ) and scored 2013’s Fashion Film. “We never officially broke up,” Greenwald says of Phantom Planet. “We just sort of went our separate directions for awhile, and paths didn’t cross for a bit.” The group members, including guitarist Darren Robinson and drummer Jeff Conrad, started talking about reuniting close to three years ago but things didn’t get serious until late 2018, when the band got a new manager and a “tryout rehearsal” led to the January show, which in turn led to the decision to do a fifth studio album with Raise the Dead producer Tony Berg.
“All of the circumstances just kind of piled on,” Greenwald says. “It’s crazy — after all that time, all this stuff happened in the span of, like, a week and a half or two weeks.”
Greenwald says Phantom Planet is “50 to 75 percent” finished with the album, with “maybe a couple more songs” to be added to the mix and no particular timeline in mind. “We kind of have a carte blanche or laissez faire attitude towards recording right now. We do it when we’re free, when we’re inspired, instead of being behind a deadline, which all our other records had been. This one’s more free-form, and because of that the songs have a lot more room to breathe.”
“Balisong,” Greenwald says, was inspired by an obsession with the butterfly knife; “It’s something that is really easily concealed but with the right know-how can be easily pulled out and is sharp as hell,” he explains. “I just went down the rabbit hole with that and the band loved the song and it was one of the first ones we did.”
The reunion comes as Phantom Planet is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its formation, which Greenwald calls “baffling.” Nevertheless, he adds, “Our hairstyles were different and our mode of dress and we were, like, 15 and 16 year old people, so in that sense yes, time has passed. But when the band played, even the first day in our drummer’s basement, it just felt like that thing, and it still feels like that same thing.”
Phantom Planet has three more shows lined up — May 7 in San Diego, May 10 in Los Angeles, May 11 in Santa Ana, Calif. and May 19 at Hanson’s Hop Jam Festival in Tulsa, Okla. — and Greenwald predicts that more dates, and even possibly a full tour, will surface “in the relatively near future.” “None of us knew exactly what to expect, but it’s definitely like riding a bike,” he notes. “We’ve surprised ourselves with how easy and how much fun and exciting it is to play together, still. I’m very excited about what the future holds for this.”