Interview: Adam Jessamine of PHNTMS


When I last checked in with PHNTMS, the pop-rock band had just released their single called “Paper Flowers” and was preparing for a few upcoming shows. I’m pleased to announce that the band is back with another great single called “Body Language.” The song rallies around a great riff from lead guitarist Adam Jessamine that builds to an anthemic chorus courtesy of vocalist Alyssa Gambino, who channels her soul influences to make for an excellent-sounding hook. The single’s lyrical material is largely based on the complexities of relationships and the longer we’ve been with a person, the easier it can be to tell when something is wrong. Bassist Mikal Smith keeps the song grooving along with veteran ease, and the tail end of the track features a well thought out guitar solo from Jessamine.

After hearing this great new song, I knew I needed to connect with lead guitarist Adam Jessamine to hear about the background between this songwriting session that led to this single. In the interview below, I asked Jessamine about how he directed the music videos for the band, how the band has been doing the majority of their songwriting during the pandemic, as well as what the band is most looking forward to with getting back on a regular touring schedule. Jessamine also shared the reasons behind scrapping a full-length record that was ready to be released, as well as other interesting details about what keeps the band inspired.

All right, so thank you so much for connecting with me today, Adam. Let’s discuss your new single called, “Body Language,” out everywhere on February 25. How did the song come about, and why are you so excited for it to be finally released?

The song came about where we knew we wanted to record with Courtney Ballard. And we knew we’re gonna do an EP with five songs. So “Body Language” I think, was the last song we wrote for it. And it was maybe like, 10 to 15 songs, and we got it narrowed down. But this idea popped into my head. And Alyssa (vocalist) lives in Philadelphia and I live in Los Angeles. So we wrote it over zoom, and just sent Logic files back and forth. And just writing the vocal melodies together and the guitar parts and all the drums and everything, it just came together like insanely quick and it was just like one of those ones where you didn’t even have to think about it because you knew it just flowed.

It has a great sound to it. It sounds incredible!

Thank you! Yeah, we both knew right there we were like, “Oh, this is gonna be it’s gonna be great!”

Yeah, and I understand you directed the music video for this one as well as “Paper Flowers,” but I can’t remember any other ones along the way that you directed…

I did them all, which is great. In the old ones we had people operate the camera and then I kind of directed it. Basically just told everybody what to do. I had this one, where I did all the camera work myself. Alyssa & Mikal flew to LA and we shot it Saturday morning, and did it in like four or five hours and hung out at night. And then they flew back the next day. And then I spent a day or two editing it. I just wanted it to be different because “Paper Flowers” was in a white room. And I was like, What’s the opposite that we could do?

The music video looks great and colorful! Cool, so can you describe how your band does most of its songwriting? And has that changed over time?

Yes. So when I lived in Philly, me and Mikal wrote the bulk of everything before Alyssa joined the band. We had time booked at Vudu Studio with a different singer And a week before we went to record, we were saying, “I just can’t vibe with the singer.” And my roommate at the time was like, “My cousin can sing!” And we were all like, “Yeah, sure…” <Laughter> Yeah, and it turned out to be Alyssa. So we asked her to join the band. And then she joined a week before we recorded this full length record that never came out. We released like a couple songs off of it. But it was so heavy and we had some major label interest and there were managers, and all this bad stuff happened. So we just never released it. And then this time,  we just really want to write the music we enjoy. Alyssa loves Amy Winehouse, and I love big, arena-rock bands and British bands with chiming guitars. this one we wrote during the pandemic, over Zoom, really the entire record was written over zoom, and you would never know because I feel like they are such stronger songs than what we’ve done in the past. And I think we just really upped our songwriting game. A lot of people just watched Netflix, but we wrote during the pandemic and recorded… I mean, I watched a lot of Netflix, too! <Laughter>

I think we all gravitate to that at some point to kind of decompress and stuff like that. So what did you guys learn about your band during this time period during the pandemic?

Honestly, it was just like the day we released this song “Backburner,” I think it was on March 22nd…I want to say 2020 at this point, because it’s been like two years. But we played a sold out show at the Fillmore in Philadelphia. Four days later, it was like, “Oh, what’s this COVID thing?” And then on the 27th it was like, “Hey, this is our new song!” But then the pandemic hit and we were just like, “Oh, God!”

Yeah, everything just really shut down.

Yeah. So, it was the song where no one cared this time. I guess it was just seriously pure determination. And it was just, we can’t let anything stop us. And that’s one thing we’ve always done as all the three of us have just always stuck together. And like no matter what, through the pandemic, bad management, or people trying to sue us because they were bad managers, and just us trying to just push through and I think we could just do anything at this point. And a lot of people think, “Oh, well, you’re in California and Philly, how does that work?” We’ve done more than we’ve ever done. And it’s just so much easier now. Because you just have to plan it all in advance and it all works. We just planned a show at Milkboy in Philly and sold it out. And it was like our first show back in two years. And it was a very, very good feeling.

Awesome! Obviously, the live performance is a powerful tool for bands like yourself, to gain a connection with their fans and expand their audience. So how would you describe your live shows, and what are you most looking forward to when you get back on the road more steadily?

Yeah, honestly, the way I love to describe the live show is like mainstage Glastonbury, with flags raised, waving high, and while the other day at Milkboy was in a room filled with like 300 people…but still, it feels like that big giant arena rock crowd and vibe. And that’s what we’re going for. And we just want to sound like a mainstage Glastonbury Festival band. And I think we can do it, and we’ve played rooms from anywhere from 50 people to opening up for The 1975, and Kings of Leon, and people were just like, “Oh, you guys blew them away!”

But if you’re opening for bands like that, it does expand your audience pretty quickly!

Oh, absolutely!

Yeah, so “Paper Flowers” was my first introduction to your band’s sound. What was the overall reaction to the success of that single from not only fan reactions at shows, but also just keeping a pulse on what people are talking about online?

I mean, “Paper Flowers” did so well, and people at Indie Nation really liked it. They put it on their YouTube channel and it did amazingly well. We always had three songs out and played these shows because everybody would be like, “You can’t release your record until you get a label,” and we listened and I wish we never listened because We just really want people to sing along. And when we recently played “Paper Flowers” and with the chanting parts, Alyssa stopped singing and the crowd was singing it back, and it was so awesome to hear, especially this song, because we played the whole new record, we spent a year during a terrible pandemic, making an amazing record, and then you see the enjoyment it brings people and that just is so cool.

That must be really rewarding too!

Yeah, like all of the BS, all the stuff we’ve ever gone through, just makes it so much worth it. And I can’t wait to do it more and I’m booking stuff right now with a couple bands. I’m very excited about playing more shows. It was just so much fun.

Are you keeping a “feeler” out on social media about how people are reacting to the material, too?

I mean, I shouldn’t read everything, but yeah, I read it all. I should take notes of that. But when the single comes out, I have to listen to it so much. I’ll read everything about it and then we’ll all send it to each other. And your review <of “Paper Flowers”> is amazing. So we loved that and the kind word, it just makes everything worth it. Fans need to know that even the tiniest, nicest compliment really keeps us going. So I’m excited about what people are gonna say about “Body language.” It’s my personal favorite. So we’re just got our fingers crossed as people start to listen to it.

I really enjoyed it! What are some artists, both past and present, that each of you admire and look to for inspiration in your own music?

So Mikal loves Kings of Leon. They are  his absolute favorite. And I really liked this band called Biffy Clyro, and they’re a Scottish band and they’re like the biggest band in the world minus America. And they really, really inspire me as well as this band called Deaf Havana. I really just love UK music. And Alyssa is very into soul singers like Etta James, and she loves Amy Winehouse.

Yeah, and not too many bands are really doing that type of complementing sound of alternative rock and pop guitars mixed with those soulful vocals. So it really makes you guys stand out, which is something I’m sure you’re appreciative of!

Yeah, absolutely! I love to hear that.

No problem. The last question that I have for you today is what did you learn about the recording process of the earlier material that you took into the process for the newer stuff?

If there’s an idea you don’t like, it’s cool to say no. It’s also ok if you don’t vibe with a producer. This time around when we really researched who we wanted to record with, Mikal said Courtney Ballard would be insane, and I think he would really get it. He did Peach Club by Emarosa which was incredible. So I just reached out to him through Instagram, and he was like, “Oh my god, yeah, I love your stuff.” I couldn’t believe that he wanted to record us and we set everything up and sent them the demos and we worked on the stuff before we even got there. So it was just a very cool process, and he’s just kind of like the extra band member. He’s just so cool. And the dude’s even going to come to my wedding! Yeah, so he just really vibed with the three of us. It was honestly the most fun I’ve ever had recording, and I can say the same for the other two guys.

That’s cool! Yeah, I’ve heard of other people who have reached out to a producer through Instagram, so it’s funny that you kind of mentioned that too. I guess some producers are more open about putting their “feelers” out there saying they’re looking for new artists.

And it all checked out!

I’m so thankful that you guys are getting those opportunities, because you guys definitely deserve it. 

Thank you so much!

Any last words for your fans?

We’re gonna drop another single after “Body Language,” and then we’re going to drop our EP, I want to say in April, and then we’re going to do a release show. Then there should be an East Coast run of shows.

Awesome! I’m based out of DC. And I look forward to connecting with you guys when the next single comes out.

Cool, thank you so much!