Phantom Planet's Growing Up Hollywood

Phantom Planet's Growing Up Hollywood
"It makes no difference to me whether they like it or dislike it, I just want to make sure people hear it first before they make any decisions." It's clear that Phantom Planet's Alex Greenwald has adopted a bit of a mantra. Greenwald is an actor who's done some commercial work, and had a small role in indie horror flick Donnie Darko, but the band's drummer, Jason Schwartzman, has already attained iconic cult status for his starring role in Wes Anderson's brilliant film Rushmore. But don't dismiss Phantom Planet as rocker-come-latelys — they've been a band for eight years, and for five guys now only in their early 20s, that means since junior high, when Schwartzman pulled a stunt worthy of his Rushmore alter-ego. "One day he called me out of the blue," Greenwald explains, "and said that he had promised his school that he had a band to play homecoming. He didn't actually have one — he was totally bluffing and didn't think they'd actually call him on it. He remembered that I could sing [from their days at the same elementary school] and couldn't think of anyone else he knew or would be comfortable with."

They played that homecoming, and within weeks, the line-up (joined by Sam Farrar, Jacques Brautbar and Darren Robinson) was solid; within months the 14-year-olds had written a bunch of songs and reached their first goal as a band — to play the famous Whiskey on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. "We thought we'd made it when we had our first sticker." Their tastes to this day run decades older than they are — Elvis Costello is huge, as are the sunshine and surf bands of 1960s California. Even their more contemporary favs, like Weezer, run counter to the prevailing booty-hop and pubescent prefab that dominates the airwaves.

Signed to Geffen in 1996, Phantom Planet Is Missing was released in 1998 and was immediately lost in the muddle of the Seagrams/Universal Music Group merger. "It sounds like we don't know how to play our instruments very well," Greenwald admits of that early effort. "Records are like pictures — you are that way at the time, and you can't change anything about it. All the songs were written from the ages of 13 to 16 — we were young and pimply for that record. This one, we know how to comb our hair a little better and have applied pimple cream."

Phantom Planet has re-emerged with a remarkably accomplished slice of sunny California with The Guest. With assistance and guidance from a couple of personal heroes, producer Mitchell Froom and engineer Tchad Blake, Phantom Planet is finally moving outside its Hollywood backyard. On the road for the last half-year, they went through a little Almost Famous in reverse. "We learned more in the last six months than we had in the last six years about being in a band — living with one another, having to share living quarters, food, space in a tiny van. It really tightened us, and helped us in the evolution of our sound." In other words, these spoiled L.A. actor brats can rock. "If you think we're poseurs, come see us," Greenwald challenges. "We're not Dogstar."