Tomorrow night (Saturday, March 1) marks the first-ever show from Phantom Ships, a new four-piece whose members include Steve Turner (Mudhoney) on 12-string guitar and vocals, Evan Railton (Swords, Blue Giant) on drums, James Adair (Dolorean) on bass, and Matt Brown playing six-string guitar and singing lead. Brown, of course, is one of the dudes behind the Bunk Sandwiches empire as well as Bladen County Records. He also for many years played in North Carolina band Ashley Stove, who released some albums on Merge Records.
I spoke with Brown about Phantom Ships, and how he managed to assemble such a group of local all-stars. "I was drinking one night with Steve Turner, and I said, 'Hey man, I got some songs that I think it would be really cool if we played 12-string guitars and harmonized together,'" he says. "And he said that sounds really fun. So then I had to do the dreadful thing of like sitting down in front of him with an acoustic guitar and being like, here’s my song." Around the same time, Brown was jamming with Railton, and the band formed quickly from there, adding Adair on bass.
Phantom Ships' first show materialized when Matt Drenik of Battleme asked them to play the album release show for his new record, Future Runs Magnetic (read more about Battleme in our story here). As Brown says, Drenik told him, "'You need a date in your future that makes your band get your songs together. So why don’t you open for us?' Matt gave us the excuse to book a show and make it happen."
Originally both Turner and Brown were playing 12-string guitars. "That was the original idea," says Brown. "And then once we got in a room with drones and we started playing two 12-string electric guitars together, we realized why no one does that. That doesn’t need to happen. I brought it up again the other night for the first time in a while, and everyone in the room kind of shook their head. I think everyone’s decided that it’s a little too much."
So it's just Turner on 12-string for now—a noteworthy difference from his six-string work with Mudhoney. "In Mudhoney, one of his main guitars is this ’60s Guild hollowbody, and he got a friend that’s a guitar whiz to track down a 12-string version," says Brown. "That’s all he’s playing in the band. It’s so rad. He’s doing a lot of lead guitar on it." I ask if Turner's doing a chimes-y, Byrds-y kind of sound. "Would you think the guitar player from Mudhoney would play a chimes-y, Byrds-y kind of sound? Nope, it ain’t. I think maybe that was the idea, originally, but I describe it now as 'garage-y Laurel Canyon.' So if you took Laurel Canyon and gave it an overdrive pedal and simpler songs, but kept that songwriter spirit. God, I just said a mouthful of douchiness. 'Garage from Laurel Canyon,' how’s that? Steve’s playing the 12-string a little haphazardly perhaps than Roger McGuinn or Gene Clark did. There’s a distortion pedal involved."
Phantom Ships debuts tomorrow night opening for Battleme at Club 21—that's a free show. They're hoping to record 10 songs or so in the next couple months, although nothing's set in stone. "Momentum, right? Momentum is the key to any relationship," says Brown. "The tough part is that I have to be the guy in the band who creates the momentum—never a fun guy to be." Phantom Ships will also perform at Bunk Bar on Tuesday, March 11.