Phantom Booth | Interview

phantom booth band 2021

Phantom Booth discuss the formation of the band, musical inspirations and what we can look forward to!

Phantom Booth are a completely-diy four-piece band from Reading who all met at school. They consist of frontman and guitarist Louis Upton-Wheeler, guitarist Olly West, bassist Lewis Cowper and drummer Henry Morley. Louis and Olly sat down over Zoom with Tara Davies for a good old chat about all things Phantom Booth. 

The band have been going since 2013, with various name changes and members coming and going over the years. The first group of members were scouted and put together by their school’s singing teacher, Marilyn Groves. Olly smiled fondly; “I was really reluctant at first. I remember my sister coming home one day from school and she was like Mrs. Groves wants you in a rock band,” he said. “I hadn’t listened to any rock at all, I didn’t care for it. I liked dubstep at that point!”

Phantom Booth, who were called one of their numerous other previous band names at this point, played a few school concerts before Henry and Louis joined by 2014. Louis added, “I got asked by Lewis to join because Lewis wanted to do soul, where he played acoustic guitar and needed me to play bass. I said okay cool, because I had my own band which was really bad and I was really keen to be in a better one.”

Olly laughed before interjecting, “And then you slowly indoctrinated us and took over.” Despite being the frontman of Phantom Booth, Louis hasn’t always been the lead singer. Lewis and past member Beatrice sang together and were at the forefront. Louis mentioned that to begin with, the band weren’t really as involved as they are now. Soon they became close mates and with a push from Louis continued the band going despite members, one after the other, started leaving school and packing up for uni. 

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The combination of members studying around the country and the world being slap bang in the middle of a pandemic has proven to be a struggle for Phantom Booth. Olly and Louis have only recently moved in together, whilst Olly completes his placement year for his Business degree and Louis embarks on a Production and Sound Engineering course at Abbey Road. But Olly stressed they “really are a band of friends,” which keeps them together.

Louis briefly talked about studying at Abbey Road and said, “As soon as lockdown’s over, I’m allowed to go into the studios and use them. The whole plan is that we will record our material for the next year and a half. So that’s really useful and even having all these other producers around.” It’s safe to say the opportunity to record at Abbey Road is one any artist would jump at. All Phantom Booth needs to do now is work out which of their songs they want to record there.

The band have also worked out the most ingenious way to continue songwriting throughout lockdowns –– having two group chats. One for general conversations and the other dedicated to creating new songs. The pair smiled away, playing me the odd voice note from their chat. Olly explained, “It all generally starts with riffs, which we send to each other, and then it gets put into structures.” 

“Over Coronavirus,” Louis said, rolling the Rs, “It’s been the best system to write our songs. Olly sends chords, I have a listen at home and work out how to play it. Once I’ve worked out how to play it I kind of put it into a structure, add lyrics and then I send it back to the chat. Then Lewis comes up with a part…and then, Henry, if we’re lucky adds to it,” with that, they both started laughing.

It may sound silly to say considering they are a band, but Phantom Booth feels like a group who really know how to play and put together music. Each of them have been musically coached in some sort of way. Louis gave the slowdown on who’s done what: “We’re all classically trained. All of us, not one of us isn’t. Henry’s classically trained on the trumpet, me on the trombone, Olly did classical guitar and Lewis did his singing and cello briefly.” 

In terms of their musical inspirations, they look up to artists with big personalities. Louis said wholeheartedly, “I want Phantom Booth to be an event. I don’t want to be ordinary. I really like David Bowie, he’s a massive inspiration from the sense that he was a persona. He was Ziggy Stardust.”

When talking about being ‘an event’ Olly added, “But no one tells you how to carve that out. You eventually realise it’s something you need to do and work out for yourself. We want to give people an experience. We want things to be associated with Phantom Booth. But those things will soon come into place.” 

The band have really bonded over their love for The Strokes, “I’d say they’ve probably been the biggest inspiration over the last year. Especially because they released such good music in 2020 which, as you know, not a lot of people have released music during Covid,” Louis explained. 

Their recently released EP, The Bath Sessions, was heavily influenced by The Strokes in particular. The EP’s title was inspired by the fact the songs were written in Olly’s university accommodation in Bath. Olly disappeared off the Zoom screen and returned with his guitar, proudly announcing he wrote the chords for Phantom Booth’s Blind Emotion. He played a 15 second taster with Louis drumming along on his lap. “And that’s a lot like The Strokes’ You Only Live Once,” confirmed Louis.

Phantom Booth have written a plethora of music over the years which caused a panic in the pair when I asked what their favourite song of theirs is. After a lot of whispering and discussing between them, Olly excitedly said his favourite was Peace and Quiet from The Bath Sessions whilst Louis was still umm-ing and ahh-ing. 

Louis spoke nonchalantly, “I really like Deep Desires. It was the first song we knew like the back of our hand so when we performed it we could start to play around with it.” (Deep Desires is available to listen under their old band name, Nearly Unsociable for anybody curious.)

They started to show me one of their band posters designed by Spanish artist Lucia Olano, pointing to the witch in the upper right hand corner. Suddenly Louis had a revelation, “Lots of my songs are about witches… Hammer Of The Witches, I’m sorry that’s my favorite. It’s really cool…” 

Louis excitedly grabbed his guitar and started playing the song, explaining its progression.

Phantom Booth have a number of exciting things in the pipeline, some of which they couldn’t tell me about. When talking about what the future holds for the band, Louis said, “We like being good at what we do and we like really thinking about things, and I think it is a big deal for us. Going forward to like we want to be recording stuff that isn’t easy to listen to, something interesting. We’re intellectuals at heart. We like being clever.” 

To finish, Olly reflected on the band’s previous name, Nearly Unsociable, “I think with Nearly Unsociable, people struggled to understand who we were because we hadn’t really understood ourselves yet. We were in this band, we had our sort of little community from St. Joe’s [the band’s secondary school] and we want to nurture that as much as possible.” 

Olly continued with, “But having lockdown to reflect, we now know what we want to be. We want to just do it. We don’t just want to be a little school band anymore.”

You can check Phantom Booth out on Spotify and if you really want to have a good nose, have a look at some of their older music under the name Nearly Unsociable.

Words by Tara Davies

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