Steel Phantoms

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Steel Phantoms

Steel Phantoms has been around in various forms and commitment levels for a few years now, but if this is the first time you’re getting to know the duo, Aaron Harris wouldn’t be surprised. The Brooklyn rock duo of Harris and Jesse Newkirk used to be a trio as well as a side project. Now? They’re hoping their new self-titled EP brings them front and center.

Fans of Montreal rock band Islands will remember Harris as the band’s drummer. He maintains that position with Steel Phantoms while also serving as the lead vocalist. It’s a different mix, but Harris says he’s over any adjustment period. It’s one of several changes he’s had to roll with and now his resolve is as strong as the band’s name.

SSv: You’re in New York now, but you’ve been in Canada. Now you’re in Steel Phantoms but you were in Islands. Do those go together?

Aaron Harris: Yeah, more or less. I was still in Islands when I lived in New York. I had already been in New York for already a year or year-and-a-half when Islands disbanded. So I couldn’t live in Canada anymore and I knew I didn’t want to stay there. Nick was already down here and a bunch of friends and family were here in New York, too, so I thought it would be the most logical next step to be here.

SSv: How far back does Steel Phantoms go back for you? Or a collaboration with Jesse?

It might be weird at first but it's also a breath of fresh air that's something different. We're also a duo that's not noise rock or blues rock like so many duos. We really try to make atmospheric punk music or try to write our songs as if they were being played by a trio or quartet.

It might be weird at first but it's also a breath of fresh air that's something different. We're also a duo that's not noise rock or blues rock like so many duos. We really try to make atmospheric punk music or try to write our songs as if they were being played by a trio or quartet.

Aaron: I was, of course, always happy to be in Islands and to play drums with Islands, but I also always kind of knew that I wanted to do my own thing and I couldn’t do thing while still playing in Islands at the same time. Leaving Islands was a really good time to start Steel Phantoms, so I guess it goes back to when I was still in the band.

Steel Phantoms originally was a three-piece and it started by me and a really good friend of mine who I went to high school and college with in Montreal. We actually lived in New York at the same time. We started Steel Phantoms together, and then Jesse came in after the band started. Then last summer, he left the band kind of suddenly and left us to figure out what we wanted to do.

Steel Phantoms had already been around for a couple of years before he left, so we had already established these plans. Jesse and I were scrambling to make things happen. Yet we actually found much more success and synergy writing as a duo than we ever did as a trio.

SSv: You’ve been in bigger bands and then the trio, so is there a freedom to having less cooks in the kitchen, so to speak?

Aaron: I think a trio can be really successful, but I think there’s this inevitability of being two against one in most cases, whether it’s a musical idea, an aesthetic idea or something as simple as deciding how many t-shirts we want to order. It’s definitely easier that way.

When we were a trio and I was sharing lead vocal duties and songwriting duties, it almost sounded like two bands a lot of the time. We never really locked up stylistically in our songwriting. With the duo, when it’s totally collaborative or even me writing most of the songs and Jesse adding his guitar parts or arrangement ideas, I think it’s way more cohesive and easier to get things done.

SSv: How is that for you to shift positions? Obviously you’re still drumming but now to have your songs out there. Do they go back for some time?

Aaron: Well, none of the songs on the EP are songs that were written by a three-piece. There are ideas there, but basically all of the songs on the EP are brand new. But I was singing when we were a three-piece and I am singing now. At first it was hard to be the lead vocalist on every single song, but I got over that really quickly, because I’m an attention whore. [Laughs]

SSv: [Laughs] How was that in the live dynamic?

Aaron: It was definitely nerve-wracking at first. I was so used to being the major support in Islands. I mean, I sang back-up vocals in Islands, but I was not nearly as involved as I am now playing drums and singing. I had to separate those things in my brain — drumming and singing — and even that was a challenge at first.

So it wasn’t something that necessarily came naturally to me at first, but I think that I had a pretty smooth adjustment overall. It’s just figuring out where to place the microphone and what I need in the monitors and where to place the drum set. That’s just something I had no idea how to do at first, but I caught on quickly.

SSv: Is there an adjustment in the live show for the listener?

Aaron: Yeah, I think so, but I think that people are impressed by a singing drummer. I’ve definitely had my doubts and concerns about being behind this instrument that produces so much noise and is integral to the feel of the music and also to be sitting down at the same time. But, you know, there’s plenty of famous musicians who sit down all of the time — Elton John at his piano, for instance.

So I think the people who come and see us, it might be weird at first but it’s also a breath of fresh air that’s something different. We’re also a duo that’s not noise rock or blues rock like so many duos. We really try to make atmospheric punk music or try to write our songs as if they were being played by a trio or quartet. I think that’s something interesting for viewers as well that there are these elements going on in a duo setting they don’t normally get to see.

SSv: You’re right upon release day. How are you feeling?

Aaron: It feels really good. When my friend left last summer, we were heading into the studio. We’d just made plans to play at a festival in Maine, which we still did. We were getting ready to start working with this PR company. Then he left. I doubted for a while whether or not we’d be able to continue as Steel Phantoms at all. Jesse was totally into the idea of the two of us trying to tackle the songs we’d already written and wanted to scramble to put together a set to play the festival in Maine.

So for me, this is definitely by far the most personal record to me and the record I worked the hardest on. I feel like we were under so much pressure to find a new sound and continue on with Steel Phantoms without having to change everything entirely. I think it’s the best material we’ve put out and the most cohesive material we’ve put out. I’m proud of it.

SSv: What about the business side? Proud of where you’re at?

Aaron: Yeah, we’ve gotten more attention and more press than we ever have before. We have more fans on Facebook and Twitter than ever. Things are falling into place and we’re talking with booking agents and we’re in talks with some labels and we work with a great PR company. So there’s finally some interest in the band. We’ve had some interest here and there, yet we’ve never had anything like it is now.

SSv: What’s in the schedule for you guys coming up?

Aaron: We have a remix in the works that will be released sometime in August and we’re trying to figure out some video performances that we’re filming. We want to shoot another music video this summer. Then in the fall, we have a tour underway but I can’t really talk about it.


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