When the lockdown rushed across the United States, live music came to a halt. Tours were canceled, and band members sat alone, unable to rehearse or record together. This is exactly where Matt Sklar and Federica Tassano of Phantom Handshakes found themselves. Neither of them knew the other, but both were isolated from their bands, eager to continue creating.
Matt is the bassist for Parrot Dream, a Brooklyn shoegaze band. Meanwhile, Federica is in a Brooklyn shoegaze band, called Sooner. Both bands were actively playing shows when everything shut down. (Prior to living in the United States, Federica was in an Italian post-rock band called Monêtre. Her home city is Genoa, Italy.)
Phantom Handshakes: “a natural, instinctive collaboration.”
“It turned out the last show I had played with Parrot Dream before the pandemic was on a bill with Federica’s band Sooner, so we did know of each other’s bands but we never met,” Matt shared with Puddlegum.
I asked Phantom Handshakes about their formation, seeing that neither knew each other. They elaborated on how the collaboration developed.
“I started recording instrumental demos at home when the quarantine started, and I thought they sounded good and I wanted to share them,” explained Matt. “I’m not a singer so I asked the internet if anyone was interested in collaborating with the vocals. I posted them on Craigslist and Federica listened to them, and that’s how the collaboration started. I never expect to find any collaborators on there but it worked out!”
How quickly did Matt and Federica know that they would work well together? “For me almost immediately when I heard the songs honestly. They sounded great and fresh,” Federica shared.
Matt agreed that he knew right away. “I think I had 5 or 6 instrumental tracks when I posted them online. And I thought even if I found a collaborator I would need to provide a vocal scratch track or something to let them know the sound or vibe I was going for. But Federica came back with these songs that were amazing… like we had been writing these songs together for months. It’s a very natural, instinctive collaboration.”
Songwriting as a cathartic process
Anyone who has written with another artist knows that it’s not usual for a collaboration to flow so easily, especially if you haven’t met the person.
“I really enjoy playing with ‘full’ bands but making music as a duo is somehow easier and more instinctive,” Federica shared. “Especially if you are collaborating with a person that has very similar music taste. The result is inevitably more intimate and personal.”
Phantom Handshakes quickly began writing songs, bouncing takes and dropping them in a Dropbox. They released a seven-track LP, Be Estranged, via Z Tapes in July, songs they had recorded between April and May, in 2020. In December they released a single called Winter Is Blue. And on April 30, 2021 they’re dropping an impressive eleven-track LP, called No More Summer Songs.
The prolific nature of this project has been helpful for both Matt and Federica, as they process these times. “Writing these songs was definitely a cathartic process for me. It helped me so much during the lockdown especially the first month when I lost my job,” Federica reflected. “I am glad I have music in my life. [It has] always helped me so much. If I could only help one person with my music I would be the happiest person on earth. It means so much to me.”
As for their writing and recording process, Matt and Federica were gracious to share. The songs begin with Matt. “We record everything in our own homes. Usually I would start with a basic instrumental track that I record on my own and we would share audio files and build and shape the songs together. Some songs come together very quickly. I would record an instrumental track and send it to Federica and she would add her vocals and more instrumentation and really shape it into a song. Other times we might build the song together and work out the parts. We’re very much a ‘Postal Service’ type band,” Matt joked.
Phantom Handshakes released a new single called Skin, and a music video that they produced together. Matt is a graphic artist by trade, but animation is something he’s wanted to learn. And as as Phantom Handshakes has been a way for both artists to grow during a time of isolation, Matt has taken the opportunity to expand his knowledge. “That was just one other thing I wanted to teach myself how to do during quarantine. I’ve always been interested in animation and video effects so I’ve been basically teaching myself how to animate these videos.”
Since Phantom Handshakes isn’t what either Matt or Federica are accustomed to, they found that the project took a different tone than the full shoegaze band environment. “I love playing loud shoegaze with a live, full band, but since Phantom Handshakes was really started as a home recording project, it’s a bit hard for those sonic textures to come through,” said Matt. “So I was really influenced by more direct, simple lo-fi pop… although we both love shoegaze and it’s very much in our DNA.”
As far as influences are concerned, Federica listed: “The Smiths, Stereolab, Camera Obscura, The Cure, C86 (The Pastels, Heavenly, The Field Mice). In general Dream pop mixed to new wave mixed to shoegaze.”
Matt: “I think my main influence in anything I write is The Radio Dept’s ‘Pulling Our Weight’. It’s the ideal perfect song, in my opinion.”
Phantom Handshakes links:
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