❉ Eoghan Lyng speaks to Phantoms Vs Fire, discussing how their brand of music is made.
Electronic music artist Phantoms vs Fire recently presented his debut album ‘Swim’ (reviewed here). Phantoms vs Fire is the solo project of Italy-based Brazilian multi-disciplinary artist Thiago C. Desant. Both a composer and graphic artist, Desant focuses on melodies that incorporate traditional musical instruments, synthesizers and orchestral arrangements. While Desant says that the artists who most strongly influenced his composition are Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Max Richter, Trent Reznor, and Gustavo Santaolalla, Phantoms vs Fire’s output is very distinct from any one of them. We Are Cult‘s Eoghan Lyng spoke to Phantoms Vs Fire about his influences and how he creates his work.
How would you classify your work, in terms of genre?
It’s difficult for me to categorize my work. Not because I think it’s very different from anything else or something like that, but because I’ve always found it hard to categorize other people’s work as well.
I like to think of my music as a hybrid of neoclassical and electronica, soundtracks for sci-fi/fantasy films. One of my career goals is to compose for film, TV, video games etc. So I guess it’s only natural for me to think of my music as soundtracks.
Who do you draw from on your influences?
Radiohead, Trent Reznor, Ennio Morricone, Gustavo Santaolalla, Max Richter.
With music, I’m always willing to try something I’m not comfortable doing. Every time I reach a familiar point in a track – like, “I know where to go from here” I force myself to ignore the familiar path to follow the scary, unknown road. I’m not always successful though, and sometimes, for some songs, I think the familiar, the expected solutions are the ones that work best (like Starfish and The Gloaming Swell, for instance).
So I guess Radiohead is the one to blame for that. I’m not comparing myself to them by the way. What I mean is that everyone learns from someone. I could’ve learned that from someone else, but listening to Radiohead, especially Kid A and In Rainbows, really taught me to keep my mind opened to any form of music and to try different stuff.
Even though I’m not a big fan of Nine Inch Nails, I do like Trent Reznor’s soundtracks, the minimalism, the continuous, velvet-like background sounds. I like to use that in my music as well, but I’m still far away from mastering it. The day I manage to make those kinds of sounds as well as Reznor and Atticus Ross I’ll be a very happy man.
From Ennio Morricone, I believe I try to learn a different type of minimalism, a more analogue, orchestral sounding minimalism. And his music also taught me to love choirs as musical instruments. I made use of female voices in one of the tracks from Swim, VHS Hypnosis. The track itself sounds nothing like Ennio Morricone though.
After listening to the music from The Motorcycle Diaries and The Last Of Us video game soundtracks, both by Gustavo Santaolalla, my love for acoustic guitars grew exponentially, and that also shows up in my music.
And Max Richter’s music made me love the sound of “moving” strings, arpeggiating, dancing around your head. Obviously, you can hear that in classical music too, but, like I mentioned earlier, everyone learns from someone. His music made me pay more attention to string arrangements swimming through reverb.
Is it fair to say that your record is a time capsule, musically flowing a cognitive plot in the periphery of the mind? And if it is fair, what is your interpretation of the plot?
It is. Swim was initially going to be called Your Life As A Movie, then I changed it to Your Life As You Think It Should Be, a theme that eventually led to the story I came up with to use as I guide while I was writing the music.
I wanted this album not exactly to tell a story but to inspire each listener to come up with their own stories. I wanted everyone to think of their daily routines as movie scenes whilst listening to ‘Swim’.
To me, music is about immersion. Take The Beach House, for example, the song starts with a happy, relaxed mood, but then the strings come in and build a lot of tension until the relaxing part returns. I call it “the migraine moment”. Everything is good, life is nice and then, out of nowhere, a big problem falls on your lap and you find yourself thinking “what am I going to do?” That’s life, isn’t it? No one is happy all the time. Problems knock on your door and you have to deal with them.
Happiness is made of happy moments and life is made of happiness, fear, pain, love. With this album I want the listeners to experience a chapter of their lives, a time capsule like you said, containing memories and emotions of a particular time of their lives.
So my own interpretation is that each moment has its meaning and is charged with emotions. You’ll feel breathless, you’ll dive into the unknown, you’ll find a good place in your life until something happens and damages or destroys that place. Every little thing matters in your own story.
How do you go about recording the various instruments?
I don’t have a big recording studio. It’s actually a laptop, microphone, classical guitar, steel-string acoustic guitar, drumsticks, violin bow, and a very old toy harp that used to belong to my wife (it’s mine now).
Most of the strings that you hear in my album are virtual ones. Unfortunately, I don’t have the resources to record with an orchestra yet, so I have to improvise. What I do to try to make them sound more authentic is I play the virtual strings (with my keyboard) and then I double some parts with the acoustic guitar, which, in that case, I play with the violin bow. In some places, I put short pieces of my voice as well, which I record and then manipulate digitally.
The harp sounds, especially on The Beach House, I made mixing a virtual harp and my old classical guitar. On Nightmares And Dreams, you can hear me playing the toy harp mixed with a steel-string acoustic guitar. The bass on Cinematik is actually a hybrid of a synth bass and a bit of classical guitar with a bunch of paper stuffed in the sound hole.
So I basically play parts of the songs many times with different instruments and then mix them. The synths are all keyboard and computer, the other instruments are mixes of real/real instruments or real/virtual instruments.
I make the drums that way too. I program the loops with the computer and then record myself hitting the drumsticks against each other or hitting pieces of wood, plastic water bottles, a box of Cheerios etc. I record the real instruments with a Shure SM57 microphone and the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It probably sounds like a lot of work, but to me, it’s a lot of fun actually.
What future projects have you got planned, either in concert or in the studio?
I’m currently working on a new album, which I hope to complete until late April / early May. This one will sound even more like the soundtrack for a film, will have a darker sound. It’ll probably be shorter than Swim.
Also, Swim is going to be released on cassette via the amazing Burning Witches Records (burningwitchesrecords.com) this year.
Plus, like I said before, I’m looking to compose music for film, TV etc. Maybe it will finally happen this year.
Film directors out there, I’m ready. Just give me a call 🙂
❉ Phantoms vs Fire – ‘Swim’ was released by Hypersoma Records, 26 January 2018. Click here to read our review.
❉ Phantoms vs Fire has also announced a new expanded version of ‘Swim’. This special edition, available exclusively on Bandcamp, is called ‘Deeper Swim’ and includes two additional tracks not available on the original version.
❉ Eoghan Lyng is a writer, part-time English teacher and full-time lover of life.