Losing a member to relocation can be the kiss of death for a band.
Not so for Phantom Tails, the “doom-funk” foursome that formed in Minneapolis in 2009. When MPC2000 player Logan Kerkhof moved to Duluth to open Lake Superior Bakehouse with his wife Katina and her brother Pauly, remaining band members Sergio Hernandez (vocals/synths/keyboards), Orion Treon (vocals/guitar), and Dave Dorman (bass) turned what could have been a formidable challenge into an opportunity to evolve.
The group found weekends to reunite, write, and record, resulting in the digital release of two EPs: Horizon, Check andRose of the Winds. Those will be joined with a new EP, Dead Reckoning, to form The Compass EPs, a full-length release of the aggressively foreboding sonic machinations familiar to Phantom Tails fans.
We spoke to Treon about the band’s trio of releases ahead of their show at the Entry on Saturday.
City Pages: Why did you do three EPs instead of a full album this time around?
Orion Treon: Logan moved up to Duluth, so we’re part Duluth band now. We go up to Duluth and we spend time writing and recording as much as we can. A “music bender,” which is what we call it. We’ll just hang out and write and record from scratch for two or three days. Other than that, just eat food, drink beer, and make all kinds of ideas. And at the end of it, we pick out what’s best, and that’s the new EP. When we were doing the last album that we did, Rise Battalion, it was a really different process because we lived together and just kind of got together a couple times a week and we were writing and practicing and playing shows. With those songs, we probably played and practiced 100 times before we even went into the studio.
CP: Has your live show changed at all with Logan’s move to Duluth?
OT: Definitely. It’s a much bigger occasion now for us to have a show. We kind of play equally in Minneapolis and Duluth. Instrumentally, two of us have samplers now that we use. Part of that is because of the recording process—we’re building the record in the studio, recording a ton of material and just picking out what’s good and tossing out what’s garbage and having a concise album at the end. But then we’re like, “Oh, how are we going to do this live?” It’s a different approach from what we used to do. But it’s been really fun to build the album from random ideas.
CP: What kind of a mood do these EPs represent?
OT: It’s kind of a dark mood overall. It’s all about environments and landscapes. It’s much more of a spacious mood than our previous work. It’s more about the negative space in the songs.
CP: You’ve been described as “deep-space doom-funk” in the past. Is that still what Phantom Tails sounds like to you?
OT: There’s still a little bit of that but we’ve developed into some new territories. I’d describe our first releases as “deep-space doom-funk” but at this point, there’s a lot more influence from electronic and film score and ambient music that creates a lot more spaciousness. But there are some high energy deep-space doom-funk moments as well.
CP: Can you pinpoint what prompted the shift in musical style?
OT: Yeah, I mean, all of us are always getting into new things. I work at a record store and I’m always getting into new music every day, so it’s hard to say what’s seeping into my influences on a day-to-day basis, but yeah, it’s definitely a constant evolution of new influences, of new genres.
CP: The vocals on Phantom Tails’ songs are distorted so you can’t quite make out the lyrics but once in a while, a few words will be discernible. Is that a conscious decision?
OT: Definitely, yeah. I run vocals through a guitar amp almost always when recording and through my guitar pedals as well. That’s definitely a conscious decision. I like people to be able to understand the words. If you can’t, that’s fine with me, too. For the most part, the lyrics for this album are pretty abstract. They’re consistent in that they’re all about landscapes and compass-related and travel-related.
We worked with Lizardman for all the artwork on the three EPs. They’re kind of travel-themed. The first one, Horizon, Check, it’s all images of nautical transportation, ships. Rose of the Winds is more aircraft and mid-1900s transportation. The last one, Dead Reckoning, is space-themed, space travel, in both the lyrical content and the artwork. So they kind of developed in these three different spheres of travel and landscape.
CP: Is travel something you’ve been embarking on a lot lately?
OT: Yes. Travel is a big part of it. We all very much enjoy traveling. At this point, we’re traveling whenever we get together. At least one of us is, so travel is a huge part of our lives. And the environment is a huge issue, global warming and such, and is constantly in the background of our minds and it all fits in with our theme.
CP: You and some of your band members have been in bands together before; what has made Phantom Tails endure?
OT: It’s just because we’re all so close. We’re such good friends. The four of us will keep making music as long as we’re allowed. We’ve been doing it for so long. It’s a lot slower process now because we’re partly Duluth and partly Minneapolis. It’s a different approach but it’s really worked out. It’s kind of changed how we work.
CP: What’s next for you guys?
OT: I think we’re going to keep working how we are working. We’re all kind of best friends so we’ll always be around and make a point to get together. It’s kind of whenever we can make time to all be in the same place and the same room together and make music. That’s what I foresee we will continue doing for…forever, probably.
With: Astronomique, C. Kostra, Electric Fetus All-Stars
Where: 7th S. Entry
When: 8 p.m. Sat. June 9
Tickets: $10; more info here