Showing complete disregard for conventions of gender and genre, Maz & The Phantasms smashed onto our radar with a string of anarchic gigs last year. I met Maz (aka Mariam El Sadr) in Glasgow’s sunny Southside as they release their second single, ‘Something in the Sun’.
Do you think songs about summertime always feel nostalgic?
I think to some extent they do, yeah. I think summer is very romantic. How do you feel about it?
Yes, I think there’s always this ideal summer that you remember or that maybe never really happened.
Yeah, maybe just one weekend. I remember very well writing ‘Something in the Sun’ with Jamie [Sparkles, guitarist and co-writer]. I guess I was going through a breakup at the time, and I was thinking about this end-of-summer nostalgia, when it’s late August/September and you feel a bit like, ‘Oh, so that was the vibe’. So that’s why it’s a bit whimsical.
When I write a song, I try to go with an emotion or a feeling, and sometimes I leave it for quite a long time, and then I come back to it and it suddenly morphed into something else I want to say. Then I end up putting these two things together and it just had a completely different energy in the end, like a juxtaposing film montage.
You’ve called Maz & The Phantasms a ‘postlockdown project’. How did it all come about?
I had written most of the songs that we play live already. They existed in their original form before lockdown. When we were ready to make this into a band and play gigs, Covid happened. So that whole project suddenly got cancelled.
Maz & the Phantasms existed conceptually for a long time in my head, but I didn’t really come to be until after lockdown because I had two years where I didn’t make music with anyone. I was living by myself and I started going to Queen’s Park a lot with a guitar in the summer and I met the drummer, just jamming in the park.
Then we started jamming together and with other musicians that I met in the park when we weren’t allowed to hang out with anyone. The whole project feels a bit criminal in that way. I was so depressed and overwhelmed with Covid. I felt that lots of musicians were doing stuff online; online gigs and doing that kind of thing. I just felt that’s really not for me.
There were a lot of ‘sad bedroom albums’ about a year ago.
Maz & The Phantasms is not a bedroom recording band. It’s a big band for like, a big festival party. Lots of people making out, whatever. It’s not made for isolation.
What prompted you to make the decision to be in control of your own gigs?
Previously I was in cover bands and it’s a completely different league. You get paid quite generously. I discovered that when you play your own music, there’s a venue, but then there’s a promoter, and then there’s a booker, and then there’s all these middlemen doing stuff. In the end, you get a worse cut.
Sometimes you encounter these business graduates, people who want to make a quick buck, and they start a promotions company and they really want to exploit musicians by getting them to sell tickets. My friends and I were putting on raves – I’m not going to tell you where – and we were getting all the equipment hired. And it was so cheap, to be honest. It was like, okay, so you can get a whole sound system, all the equipment and mix and desk. And we’re doing that with electronic music. And I thought that I could do the same with my band; I just need to find a space.
We wanted to do things our way and not deal with middlemen. We hired all the equipment, all the lights. I got a friend to run the lights desk and a friend to do the sound desk. It came from the spirit of the free party situation where we had a space to make our own for an evening.
The great thing about GAS [Glasgow Autonomous Space] is that it was this really chilled grassroots environment where no one’s being a dick and everyone is having a good time. It just felt like a big house party and it was lovely. It came from this need to throw a party for your neighbourhood and make everyone feel welcome.
With PHANTASMAGASM 2, money is going to LGBT Unity. Is it important for you to make these events about something bigger than the band?
Yeah, of course. We don’t make money anyway from playing gigs. So if we throw a big party, we might as well donate it to a charity that we care about.
I just love that you can have bands, and then you can have DJs and everyone’s having a good time. And there’s also a charity involved. I think it’s so fun and it’s so freeing. We wanted to put on a queer-oriented event. And at the same time, bring the matters of race and migration and queerness together. I felt like that was something that I value a lot.
Maz & The Phantasms played PHANTASMAGASM 2 at Bonjour, Glasgow 8th July
All photo credits: Harrison Reid