I just want to make songs that make people connect to something that’s bigger than them.
What is in the water in Nashville? Sure, we all know that it’s a music mecca and hub of inspiration, but nowadays it seems as though Nashville is producing more up-and-coming acts than New York and Los Angeles combined. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. The artistry evolving from within Nashville is something to be admired and certainly not ignored, as acts of all – or no – genres find their way to the fore. Case in point: PHANGS.
Haven’t heard of PHANGS? Unless you’ve been circling the social media sphere for the last month, it’s not likely that you would. PHANGS, the newest solo endeavor and dream-pop brainchild from Nashville-based musician Jake Germany (Cardboard Kids, Poema, The Secret Handshake), didn’t even publicly exist until mid-July. With no music, a few cryptic – albeit aesthetically pleasing – Instagram posts, and a far-off promise of “soon,” Germany and PHANGS undoubtedly cultivated curiosity, to the point of near-obsession.
So let us, Atwood Magazine, formally introduce you to PHANGS. He epitomizes cool in every sense of the word: The tailored aesthetic, equable attitude, and intoxicating music certainly incite intrigue. Not only is Atwood proud to be exclusively premiering PHANGS’ debut track, “Cul De Sac,” but we also had the opportunity to chat with Germany about this passion project: from the origin story, to the unanticipated internet hype, and the love and happiness attached to it all.
Listen: “Cul De Sac” – PHANGS
A CONVERSATION WITH PHANGS
ATWOOD MAGAZINE: What inspired you to start working on this?
PHANGS: I really wanted to do something that was like more representative of me as a person. I was in Cardboard Kids before this, and that’s such a cool entity–very rock and roll, and it kind of had its own voice that was kind of us as a unit. So I wanted to do something that was specifically my voice. I grew up having young parents, and I grew up in the early 90s, so my parents were still watching MTV. I grew up watching MTV as a toddler. So for PHANGS, as far as making these songs, this vivid memory for me was when my mom would vacuum the house [on the weekend], and when she would do it, we had this huge boombox–very 90s–and she would blast Mariah Carey or Janet Jackson or Michael Jackson or Boyz II Men, and she would dance around the living room singing these songs. So I remember being a kid and thinking, “These are the coolest things in the world! My mom’s so cool! She likes cool music!” I was a kid who didn’t know any better, but just the happiness of 90s pop has always kind of been who I am as a person, so I kind of just wanted to dig into that
That’s awesome! So do you think that your previous musical endeavors will help you with your solo project, with PHANGS?
PHANGS: Oh yeah. You learn from everything you do. I mean, I’ve played in a lot of other things; I played in a band called The Secret Handshake back in the day, and we did Warped Tour and that whole world of stuff. I played in a band called Poema for a while, and then I did Cardboard Kids. But with each of those things, [I would] just learn new stuff, and I think no matter what you do, you learn new stuff, but each time I did something, I learned something new that contributed to what I wanted to do next. So this is just the culmination of me finally being like, alright, I want to do my own thing that represents all these things that I’ve learned, and just put it to use for something that’s specifically my thing that I just own for myself.
I don’t know that I’m chasing a particular sound, but more so a feeling.
It’s all just stepping stones.
PHANGS: Yeah, totally. I feel like it’s all been there for a reason, and I’ve learned all these crazy things and been on all of these ridiculous tours; all to know what I do and don’t like and what I’m good and not good at. So, you know, it’s all just to sharpen-slash-eliminate things out of my life.
Learning from experience! How, then, would you best describe your sound? Do you even want to be defined by a genre?
PHANGS: I don’t know; it’s such a funny thing. Genres, now, are like, “sound like these three bands.” I don’t know, but I think that’s the special thing about it. That’s been the only bar for me — do I feel like that kid who was watching my mom vacuum while singing TLC? Or not? If I do, then it’s cool and it feels important; if it doesn’t, then I either want to take the song and make it better, or I just want to put it away because it’s not meeting the bar that I’ve set. So I don’t know that I’m chasing a particular sound, but more so a feeling. I just want it to feel special.
It’s just exciting that people care about anything.
Totally. I feel like, like you were saying, genres now are kind of dying out in their “traditional” sense, and everyone is now open to experimentation or transcending genres or whatever.
PHANGS: Yeah […] and in Nashville, it’s so frustrating, because it’s either rock, or it’s country, or it’s pop. And if people don’t understand, then they’re just like, “Oh, that’s just pop” or whatever it is.
That is frustrating.
PHANGS: It’s fine; I don’t care what people call it, honestly. As long as people feel good when they hear it, that’s all I really care about.
It’s all about the feeling! But, okay, there’s already been so much hype surrounding PHANGS on social media, before you even put the single out! What’s been the most exciting part?
PHANGS: It’s just exciting that people care about anything. I don’t know; it’s so funny, when I first started doing music, it was the Myspace world. My first tour that I ever did was with The Secret Handshake. Luis [Dubuc] hit me up and was like, “Hey, you just graduated high school. Want to go on tour?” And it was just so funny, like, he cared about something [I was doing]. That was the first time where I was like, man, I wonder if anyone will just give a crap about what I’m doing. But that was before Twitter was a thing, and now that Twitter’s a thing, everyone just wants to care about something. Everyone is looking for someone to gravitate to. I’m not asking to be gravitated to, or for people to count on me for their happiness, but it’s so cool that kids can have something like that. They can be associated to this account on Instagram that hasn’t posted any music, it’s just all these pink and blue pictures, but for some reason they feel it necessary to leave all these comments and likes, and it fulfills them. I don’t know, I think it’s special. There’s no music yet; it’s just people who care about other people and what they’re doing. They want to be a part of stuff, and there’s a community aspect to it that I just love.
Yeah, exactly! It feels like a family already.
PHANGS: I feel like I’m just talking in circles around it because I really can’t comprehend why people care. It’s so cool.
I get it! It’s so neat to see, just as an outsider, watching it evolve even from when we first connected!
PHANGS: I think I’ve only been around like, a month! It’s so crazy.
It’s awesome! And I feel like it’s just going to get bigger.
PHANGS: If it’s supposed to be, I would love for it to! I would love for people to care, for sure.
So speaking of the first single - it’s awesome. I love it. Everything about it is like dream-pop perfection, and the lyrics are very evocative and tell more of a story. Where do you typically draw your lyrical influences from?
PHANGS: Honestly, for that particular song, I was thinking about being a kid, because that’s where all of the inspiration for this stuff is coming from. So I had the track for the song, with no vocals on it, and I was just listening to the track over and over again while I was driving around Nashville, and I took a wrong turn by accident and ended up in this cul de sac. And I always wished that I lived in a cul de sac as a kid, and so I [thought] it would be cool to write this song about a cul de sac. For the most part, that whole song is an honest thing about my life, except just placed in a cul de sac.
I just want to be happy, and I want to make music that makes me happy.
Do you think that being in Nashville, in such a creative and musical environment, has been a good motivator for you?
PHANGS: Absolutely. I mean, I’m surrounded by the best people all the time. My friend group here is all people who are trying to do something important. Everyone has been so supportive. Being in Nashville is just the best; it’s like L.A., but laid-back.
Would you ever want to leave Nashville?
PHANGS: No way. Never. I’m from Texas originally, so the south is [home]. [Nashville] is my favorite place in the world. And there’s such a cool pop scene that’s happening right now, and I’m really excited to contribute to it.
So then do you think success can be measured at all?
PHANGS: I think that success can be measured, but I think that it’s just a matter of what your definition of success looks like. If it’s success to wake up in the morning, or if it’s success to be happy, or if it’s a success to sell a million records, then sure. I don’t know.
It is so subjective. I’m always just curious to see what musicians feel about it.
PHANGS: I’m not trying to be famous. I just want to make good music.
Do what makes you happy!
PHANGS: Yeah, I just want to be happy, and I want to make music that makes me happy. And if that makes other people happy, then that’s awesome and that’s all I can wish for. I’m not trying to be a millionaire.
That’s a great mindset to have! What do you think it the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
PHANGS: My very first tour ever was with The Secret Handshake, and Luis told me one time when I was really bummed out about something–I don’t even remember what it was–and I was trying to do my solo thing at the time, and it was way too premature. I was not good at playing music yet. But he told me one time in a green room in Oklahoma City that in anything that I do, I’m only going to get out what I put into it, and I can only ever expect that. And I think that was like this weird click-moment in my brain, like, okay, I’m going to hustle and I’m going to be great at whatever I do — and if it’s not great, I’m not going to do it. If it’s not great, I need to decide either one: am I not going to do it, or am I going to become great it? Am I going to work hard?
I just want to make songs that make people connect to something that’s bigger than them.
So why does music matter to you?
PHANGS: It matters to me because I don’t know how it could not matter to me. I lose sleep over music; it’s all I think about all the time. I just don’t know anything else. I don’t know what else I would do with my life is I wasn’t doing music, or listening to music, or just being within this world of music. I think it’s everything.
Well if you’re passionate about something, that’s admirable, and it’s something that you should keep pursuing!
PHANGS: Yeah, I literally have no idea what else I would do. There’s not another option for me, and that’s why I think it’s important.
What is one thing you want people to know about you, or what is the message that you’re trying to convey with yourself and your music?
PHANGS: I’m not trying to be this profound genius necessarily, but I just want to make songs that make people connect to something that’s bigger than them. If they can feel like they’re a part of something, whether it’s the people that are just on social media, or people who hear a song and it hits [them], or anything — if they can in any way connect to it, then that’s all I care about.
PHANGS is here. Doesn’t it feel so good to have it out in the open now? And, as a thanks to the devoted – essentially die-hard – fans (phans?) who have so faithfully followed along on the journey with Germany and PHANGS, “Cul De Sac” is completely free to download via Noisetrade. So, not only do you get to introduce yourself to infectiously good new music, but you also get to do it at no cost whatsoever!
PHANGS may be brand-new, yes; but Germany himself is not. There is something to be said about his passion, his knowledge, and his undeniable talent. Dream-pop can too oft become saturated with regurgitated sounds, and sounding fresh while grabbing interest can be difficult. Germany and PHANGS have already successfully managed to do both, with the latter part escalating beyond measure long before the former was even a twinkle in the social media sphere’s eye. Phamiliarize yourself with PHANGS – exclusively on Atwood Magazine.