Discovering The Phantom Dance Department: A Conversation with FV

FV © Cody Cardilla
FV © Cody Cardilla
Meet FV, Philadelphia’s newest pop offering, and discover the truth about their debut EP Phantom Dance Department.

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“If you can’t tell we sit here for a long time sometimes and talk about shit like that,” says guitarist Sean McCall when, 20 minutes into our interview, bassist Evan King reveals the band has denominated which members are Fs and which members are Vs (McCall and lead singer Tim Waldron are Fs, King and drummer Chris Kitchen are Vs). The letter you’re assigned to is chosen arbitrarily, and doesn’t really mean much. Except when you put the Fs and the Vs together, and in a basement of a shared house in Philadelphia, they work together to create dark pop tunes with hooks that won’t leave your head for days.

Phantom Dance Department - FV
Phantom Dance Department – FV

FV was born out of a desire to create something different. Each member had a deep love for pop music, being fans of The 1975 and LANY, while playing in punk bands. But you never would have guessed where they came from before if you listen to their songs.

FV’s debut EP, Phantom Dance Department, which Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering today, is the band’s first stab at making the songs they have always wanted to make. It’s their statement of authenticity, the pop product they feel truly represents them today and lays the groundwork for where they want to head towards. All while also giving the listener a taste of what life in Philadelphia sounds like. Meet FV, Philadelphia’s newest pop offering.

Listen: ‘Phantom Dance Department’ – FV
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Atwood Magazine: How did you start as a band?

Tim Waldron: I recorded a bunch of demos and one of them was “Fake Love.” I didn’t have a band or anything, and after that came out I met Sean and me and Sean were just looking to complete the band. We stalked Evan’s Spotify playlist, because basically we were all in punk bands but wanted to play pop music, so we went through his playlist and were like “Oh, I see what he’s listening to actually.” And then yeah we pretty much showed up at his house one day and asked if he wanted to be in a band, and he accepted it. Literally that week we started recording demos the three of us. I met Chris, the drummer, at a The Japanese House concert. I went alone, he went alone, it was like fate.

Evan King: They ended up holding hands at the end of the night.

Tim: I kind of knew Chris and I was like “Why are you here?” and he was like “Why are you here?”

Evan: Chris was like “I really like The 1975” and I was like “You really like The 1975? I just watched you play metal for 30 minutes, you like them?” and he was like “Yeah, I love them so much.”

Tim: Chris was in the biggest metal band in our scene. There’s a picture of him playing this really huge metal fest and I’m wearing his band’s t-shirt in the mosh pit and I’m looking like some hardcore kid with the shaved sides, it was bad.

Did you know each other before?

Evan: Out of all the band members, Sean and I knew each other earliest but didn’t start playing music or anything. Sean played in a band called Breaking Tradition. I played in a band called Weatherhead and we had played shows growing up in our local scenes so we knew each other as acquaintances through that. We started talking a little bit, hanging out after shows, and Sean sent me a message on Facebook asking if I wanted to do this thing with him and Tim, and they came over to my apartment and decided we were a band forever now.

Sean McCall: I saw Evan play The Barbary with his old band with WATERMEDOWN, who we ended up going on tour with for our only tour.

Evan: We were the local support for the WATERMEDOWN show at The Barbary, and Sean just came, he wasn’t playing, and WATERMEDOWN happened to be the band we would later tour with.

Tim: Before we even touched an instrument, we basically decided we would be a band, said “This is going to be great, we’re going to take over the world” and went on a trip to see The 1975 in Pittsburgh on Halloween, we told everyone we were in a band and they believed us.

Evan: And now we had to make it true.

Tim: We basically just took very weird, cryptic photos and posted them on this Instagram and made them look nice, and then told everyone we’d been a band for a while and they all believed us.

Evan: We came home and were like “Shit, we have to learn how to be a band.”

Sean: I was actually playing drums before and then I was like “Wait, I’m not that good at drums.” And then we were like, Chris!

Tim: Chris was the final puzzle piece.

So the letters FV don’t really stand for anything, but if they had to stand for something today, what would they stand for?

Sean: Fuck vacuums because we don’t have one.

Evans: French vanilla, flow volume.

FV © Connor Rothstein
FV © Connor Rothstein

You talked about The 1975 a lot, but who else are your musical inspirations?

Sean: I’ll chime in real quick and say my go-to for my Lyft passengers when they ask what we sound like. I say The Killers meet The Cure during INXS’ time period.

Tim: I don’t know if that makes any sense.

Evan: It would if The Cure and INXS didn’t exist simultaneously.

Sean: Yeah I said that wrong. The Killers and The Cure had a baby with INXS.

So three bands had a baby together?

Sean: It’s the future. It’s 2018. We’re getting there.

Evan: For me, on the new stuff, my biggest influences are Bloc Party and BROCKHAMPTON and The Cure, always.

Tim: Evan does all the production.

Sean: I’d say a big influence for mine would be Death Cab. The guitar parts are kind of similar. I write like what I’m listening to subconsciously.

Tim: Well basically Michael Hutchence from INXS, if you watch anything he does, I’m just ripping him off. So hair, style. Everyone wants to be him, he was the best at it! We went to Arizona to record and this guy was really pushing this band called The Horrors, so I got really into them, and I never really got into David Bowie until recently.

Evan: I grew up on David Bowie, I’m also a huge Bowie fan.

Tim: There’s a band called from the 90s called Ride, a smaller shoegaze band and they have the biggest influence on the more rock songs we have. “Fake Love” is pretty much a Ride song. We all grew up playing punk music, and that probably doesn’t shine through in this music but the whole ethos, our values are the same as they were back then. Now we’re taking those values and taking them into the indie pop world.

Evan: Being DIY teaches you so much about your artistry and staying authentic and stuff, but our scene being DIY keeps you in this bubble like “Right, be authentic and do your thing but you can only sound like this” so we were like “What if we took that mindset and used it to write pop music, and music we wanted to make, writing stuff that’s alternative instead of pop, punk or emo.”

Sean: A lot of being in bands before this showed us the dos and don’ts. This was the perfect time for us to collaborate as artists and as people, I feel like this is the best product I’ve made musically with other people.

Tim: I think punk shouldn’t be a genre in music, it should be an idea. I read this book on The Smiths and there’s one thing Johnny Marr said in it: “What we’re doing is more punk than what the rest of the punks in Manchester were” because when The Smiths came out they were playing this really melancholic songs, it wasn’t rowdy, which is just dumb and annoying. If everyone around us is a punk band, it’s not punk to play punk music, it’s punk to play pop music. It’s kind of reverse.

So, what is the Phantom Dance Department?

Evan: I’m going to hop on the mic. The Phantom Dance Department is a concept we came up with when we just started writing this and were messing around with things we hadn’t done before. It’s kind of like the personification of every performer’s drive to create art. It’s a positive thing, my whole life is devoted to making art and making music, but it’s also the most painful thing I’d ever had to go through. So the Phantom Dance Department is kind of, on the record and in our videos, we’re making it very personified, but its meaning to me is the double-edged sword of being an artist.

Tim: It shows in the visuals we’re putting out too, the Phantom is supposed to be the fifth member of the band. In a sense it’s like “This is great! We’re having a great time!” and the other edge that is like “Why am I doing this? I’m in way too deep now, there’s no going back, this is the only thing I can do.”

Sean: And essentially the band are the workers, the Phantom Dance Department – we work for them, they tell us what to do.

Evan: Like we were kidnapped by the Phantom Dance Department and now we have to write songs.

Sean: They all get lunch and we get saltines.

Tim: It’s not a real thing, it’s the drive, the concept.

Well it will be a real thing when the EP is out.

Tim: It will be a real thing!

Evan: We found an actual place in Oslo, Norway called the Phantom Dance Department. That’s how we found the name, Tim found it.

Tim: I was up one night, and I was like “I want to make some ambient side project music and put it up under the name Phantom something”. I made some remix of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and I was going to make it Phantom something, went into the Instagram location finder and found Phantom Dance Department in Norway, and I clicked on it and nothing was there. Nothing came up, no posts and thought “well, that’s awesome”. So basically all the posts of us doing the record and promoting the record, all are tagged there, so if you go to that location you will see everything.

Evan: It looks like we spend a lot of time in Norway.

Sean: Realistically, we can’t even leave Philadelphia. Financially, no. But I am allowed to. We also made the Wi-Fi password Phantom Dance Department.

FV © Connor Rothstein
FV © Connor Rothstein

How do you feel the EP represents FV as a band, and what is each of your favourite songs on it?

Sean: I think that the Phantom Dance Department portrays our sound and our growth perfectly over the span of 22 minutes or so. Obviously we are newer artists. We put out four singles and we have done so many things together and written so many songs it’s disgusting. We probably have 50-100+ ideas that are just somewhere and I think these six songs portray us perfectly to where we are right now. I think it shows a really good growth. I have to say, my favourite song, it kinda varies by the week but that’s because right now “Steal it Now” and “You Need it” I have heard so much. I think my favorite song is “Perfect” because it’s the first song on the record. It covers all of the EP in one song, in my opinion. I think it covers all the elements we incorporate into the record in the first song and the dynamic energy is perfect.

Tim: I think the Phantom Dance Department describes us best as it was done with no questions asked. We are going to go down into the basement, we are going to write an EP in a week and we are not going to care what comes out of it. Before writing this song, everything was “Is this going to get to radio” and “Can this get us signed”, “Will this label like this”, “Will this management group like this”, we were really overthinking everything and writing everything to be our big break. This was let’s just write what comes out and throw it out there. I’m so scared to release this because I have no idea what people will think about it but also at the same time, it is so foreign to me that it is really exciting. I back this, I feel the most authentic on it. The most genuine work we have. “The Things You Don’t Want to Know” is my favourite song. I wrote the demo of that before we went to do the EP and that was the first song we recorded together. There was a vibe in the room, during that moment especially at the end at this chorus part. The effect that the song gave to us made us all sit back and think, “Oh shit, there is something here”.

Evan: There are no other songs on the record which sound like that one. But that was the one where, “Okay this is the sound”.

Tim: I think that song saved us as a band on personal levels because of that night and down in the basement. Everything felt like there was a higher purpose to everything we were doing.

Sean: Pretty instantaneously when we started recording, we did gang vocals together and there was a lot of fun and it felt genuine.

Tim: What that song is about, it actually worked. The emotion I wanted to get across, it actually affected all of us recording it.

Evan: I think the biggest thing which sticks out sonically on this one for me, what I can hear, is that we got to spend more time playing our instruments together on stage than ever before. We would play a show every couple of months or something, and practice the day before, so we were not organized enough to give ourselves a shot at getting tight, on sounding organically good as a band until tour. So we were playing every single night and we came back way tighter, but we were jaded so the record didn’t happen until a few weeks later. We were all working a lot, trying to get our funds back in order after tour. We were jaded from coming home and not being on the road anymore and we were just tired. But once it started happening, it was more authentic and more real than anything we had done before. We didn’t care about anybody but us. My favorite song is “Steal It Now”.

Sean: Also, BROCKHAMPTON was probably that artist.

Tim: We watched a documentary and were like “let’s get to work on this tomorrow” and said “why don’t we just fucking go right now?” and we wrote a song.

Evan: We watched the Saturation documentary and that same night, “let’s work on new music”.

Tim: When we first started the band, it was our own recordings and everything and then we thought that we were passed that. That we needed a song with where it was produced by someone who has credibility. We need to see someone else and spend a lot of money. Then thought “No, fuck all that, just go do that in our basement.” I think that’s one thing we are really supporting too. Some people say you cannot play this music unless you have the money, unless you have the higher end studios to go to. No, you can be a pop band and you can record in your basement and it can be on radio.

Evan: The recording budget for this was zero dollars.

Tim: We borrowed the mic from a friend, the one mic that we used for the entire record.

The lyrics to “Steal It Now” are very cinematic and there is a strong story behind the song. I want to know, if you could choose any two people in the world to play the two characters in the song, who would it be?

Tim: My girlfriend and I, when FV was not doing so well. We planned out this whole trip, how much money we needed, how long it would take, how we would disappear from everybody and we were going to go to LA and live there. We got pretty deep into it. We thought “this is gonna be great” and “we are going to tell no-one” and “we are going to get married in Vegas”. We ended up just getting matching tattoos, we settled for that. Good thing we didn’t, because now we have this really cool record.

Evan: Instead, you wrote a great song about it.

Tim: Who would I want to play me?

Sean: Who is that guy….

Tim: Joseph Gordon-Levitt! Joseph Gordon-Levitt is playing me!

Sean: The one where they’re in the tunnel and he’s opening his arms

Perks of Being a Wallflower?

Sean: Ezra Miller!

(conversation ensues about how Tim resembles Timothée Chalamet, who is then added as a contender for casting)

Tim: Who is playing my girlfriend?

Evan: Who’s the girl from Stranger Things? Natalia Dyer?

Tim: That is a great choice. I back that.

Evan: So Timothée Chalamet and Natalia Dyer, that’s our final answer.

FV © Connor Rothstein
FV © Connor Rothstein

“The Things You Don’t Want to Know” is very different to all the other songs on the EP. What is the sonic inspiration behind the song?

Tim: For the piano part? I’d say a lot of Coldplay.

Evan: Snow Patrol, Coldplay.

Tim: But it didn’t really come from that. We just learned later that it sounds like that. I’d definitely say Coldplay, like Parachutes, that record in general. When I wrote “Soho” it started out sounding something like that, but when we recorded it it turned out completely different. So that was me touching back on that. But when all synths came in and everything…

Evan: Jamie xx was probably my biggest influence on the soundscape for that.

Sean: We gotta throw in “Ribs” by Lorde.

Evan: Our friend Johnny from WATERMEDOWN does this sweet autotune riffing on it, that was a very spur of the moment thing. One take and we kept it.

Tim: We wanted it to start out as a synth and piano song and then just grow the palate so big that when the EP gets released, people are like “Okay there’s a huge gap between what “Perfect” sounds like and what that sounds like” and maybe they can fill it in with songs in that spectrum. I think the key is just to make good soundtrack music.

Okay so, what movie would you like to soundtrack?

Evan: The next Tarzan reboot. Not that I think we could follow up Phil, but just to be given the opportunity.

Sean: I would do the new Lion King with Morgan Freeman. But actually for a real answer, I’d choose Donnie Darko, I’d love to score Donnie Darko, I feel that it’s moody and eerie like that.

Evan: If we’d want to score a movie that’s already out, we’d have to not like the soundtrack.

Tim: We scored The Breakfast Club.

Evan: For one of Sean’s projects, he had to re-score The Breakfast Club. But Happy Feet! We’d love to score Happy Feet.

You have a very defined aesthetic, where does it come from and how do you think it contributes to your music?

Evan: I wear black every day in real life, so…

Tim: In the genre of music we play everything is kind of one lane, everything is super poppy and super colourful, in your face, it has this glamourized look. And we tried that, we said that’s what’s going to be FV. We always went back to the darker, mundane kind of look. This is what we dress like onstage. Then, we used to be like “Alright guys, we need to get our FV clothes on.” I think it adds some depth to the music having that darker tone underlying through the happy songs.

Sean: We stopped overthinking aesthetic, in a sense, we just let it happen and it worked so much better.

Evan: A big part of our aesthetic is FV’s secret fifth member Connor Rothstein, who is the wizard behind the lens who has done our last music video, every picture since November, he’s a content creator with us now. We all work very collaboratively with him on the aesthetic, all of our visuals, that’s a big part of it.

Sean: As for clothes, I just don’t buy new clothes too often.

FV © Connor Rothstein
FV © Connor Rothstein

Philly is a city that is like a breeding ground for art. Living here is somewhat inspirational. Do you think being from here, living here, inspired you or contributed to the band in any way?

Evan: The scene, I’ve never been inspired by. The city is fucking beautiful and artsy and awesome.

Sean: I think us having the thought of “Lets go to this fucking new place”

Tim: And lets make it our own.

Evan: The record sounds like South Philly, we want you to be able to hear Philly, and you actually can. We recorded ambiance throughout the city, subway sounds.

Tim: The record starts with a sound from the bar that we work at, as the record goes on you hear glimpses of walking outside, Broad Street, cars, and then the record ends with a SEPTA train leaving, the key card.

Evan: I recorded the Market-Frankford line from Girard to Spring Garden and at the end you can actually hear someone going through the turnstile, because the sound that happens when you do that can be heard on the record.

Tim: The record is just one coming home from work, the time and everything.

Evan: It’s like being at work, getting drunk at work, a sad walk through the L. It’s a lonely subway ride home, it’s a walk through Broad Street. It takes you from Kensington to South Philly.

What are your dream acts to tour with?

 Evan: BROCKHAMPTON. BROCKHAMPTON take us on tour please. Bloc Party is doing an anniversary tour of Silent Alarm, that’d be a dream tour for me.

Tim: The Killers. Pale Waves. I want to open that Aly & AJ show! Lorde! Lorde is number one on the list.

Sean: Oh my God, and Bleachers! 

Evan: Post Malone.

Sean: We’ll play 10 minutes, and not even on the main stage.

Evan: I feel like Basement would be a cool group of guys.

Tim: So Basement, FV, Bleachers, Post Malone, and Lorde. That’s the order from opener to headliner.

Evan: We’ll play in the parking lot.

Tim: The tour is…

Evan: Lorde, Post Malone, Bleachers, Basement…

Sean: Basement for the UK dates.

Tim: In the States we have BROCKHAMPTON.

So you’re releasing your EP now, but what do you have planned next?

Sean: We’d like to tour, get this music heard.

Tim: Get to keep doing this. We’ll release another EP, if not a couple more, just keep exploring. Do what we did with the Phantom Dance Department again and see what comes out. Really test the boundaries before we make a record. We’re still figuring ourselves out.

Evan: We have plenty of time and all of the resources to make an LP if we want to, but we need to keep growing.

Tim: Right now we’re writing songs that are about surface-level stuff, very accessible. I think we want to do that before we tackle big ideas in song.

Evan: We’re young, we don’t know anything. We can’t give opinions on things we don’t know.

Tim: We also want to help a lot of other bands that are growing right now get more developed and use the resources that we’ve gathered in this house to start pumping out other bands. A lot of kids now don’t think they can do something like this, but we’re starting to figure this out and build the scene, build the bands with so many genres.

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Phantom Dance Department - FV

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