The moody electronic rock quintet Phantom Caste released its debut EP, Hands to the Light, last summer to considerable praise from critics and fans. The band’s high-drama combination of runaway beats, angular guitars, dark watercolor synths, and lead singer/guitarist Paul Cooksey’s soaring vocals invariably placed the band within a contemporary spectrum of ’80s-influenced acts from The Killers to Black Tie Dynasty.
Cooksey speaks for the whole band –– guitarist Bryan Stamps, keyboardist Fabian Salas, and newcomers Trey Colmbre on bass and Alex Hughes on drums –– when he says they don’t want to be pigeonholed as ’80s revivalists.
“We like the ’80s because they were back in the ’80s,” said Cooksey. “We try to keep our sound organic and not focused on a particular era. Post-punk bands like Television, Depeche Mode, and Joy Division are touchstones for us, but we try not to sound too similar.”
Cooksey, 29, lives in Denton while the rest of the band resides in Fort Worth and Arlington. After graduating from high school in East Texas, he enrolled at the University of North Texas in 2001 to study Latin American literature. Throughout the ’00s he also played guitar with several bands, but eventually he wanted to expand the pool of musicians he was working with. He put ads on Craigslist and other online networking resources and met Stamps and Salas in October 2009. Phantom Caste played its first Fort Worth show at The Pour House in January 2010.
The band members produced, recorded, and engineered Hands to the Light themselves and were fairly confident that it would be received well, Cooksey said –– they had played the songs at live shows to get a sense of what worked and what didn’t. The fact that all the Phantom Caste members had songwriting experience with other bands helped enormously. Although writing Phantom Caste tunes is a collaborative process done in rehearsals, Cooksey does reserve one element for himself.
“I write all the lyrics,” he said. “That’s from a selfish standpoint, I know, but it’s hard for me to sing other people’s lyrics. I run the lyrics by everyone else for constructive criticism.”
Phantom Caste hopes to record its first album in March with an outside producer and release it in late spring. They’ll hit the North Texas club circuit again in late February to road-test the new songs and get fan reaction before entering the studio. They’ve also submitted an application to perform at this year’s 35 Conferette (formerly known as NX35), Denton’s music festival of national, regional, and local acts whose size and reputation have exploded in just two years of existence. Cooksey likes living in Denton –– he calls it “comfortable” –– and he appreciates the city’s vaunted music scene. But right now he sees excitement and creative ferment southwest of there.
“The camaraderie and energy that I felt when I first moved to Denton I feel now in Fort Worth,” he said. “Denton has changed a lot since I’ve been here. It used to be, people would drop into a club to see a band they’d never heard. I don’t think they come out to shows as much. When we play a show in Fort Worth, we always see new faces. I guess it’s cyclical, though.”