Falling somewhere between a band and a performance troupe, Toronto-based Fritz Helder & the Phantoms fuse witty dance tunes with striking imagery for a haute electro vibe that's as comfortable on the runway as it is in the nightclubs. The fashion friendly band, who recently collaborated with designers Jeremy Laing and Greta Constantine on t-shirt designs for the Fashion Cares project, celebrates the release of its debut album Greatest Hits: Platinum Edition through Nelly Furtado's Nelstar Records tonight at Cinespace.
We caught up with leader Fritz Helder by phone before an LA photo shoot.
Fritz Helder & the Phantoms Live in Toronto
How did the Fashion Cares collaborations come about?
We've known Jeremy and the boys at Greta for a while now. We're mutual fans of each other's work and we had the right opportunity with our album coming out to collaborate on the fundraiser.
How much input did you have on the shirts?
The thing was that we basically just told them to “Do your thing.” We were definitely their muses in terms of our style of music and the way we dressed and our lifestyle. Whenever we collaborate, we like to give the designers carte blanche to let them do what they do best and then we rock it.
Have you collaborated with designers before?
Not on that level. A lot of our friends are designers locally. We're used to that concept. This was our first time working with established designers.
There are a lot of fashion references in your music too. How influential has fashion been to the group overall?
Well, we started out as a performance art group, a fashion performance art group, doing a lot of runway/installation type of shows. In the beginning, the costuming was part of the storytelling. So when we moved into producing our music and writing our music, it stuck around. We're still inspired by the process of making clothing, just from knowing so many designers and how they work. It's an ode to the industry and that whole facet of design.
Did you have a set style that you wanted to convey or did it evolve over time?
It definitely has evolved. When we started, we were fresh out of high school and we had all moved to the big city. It was during that time, that first wave of electro that came through with Fischerspooner and Felix da Housecat and all that, so we were all into neon pink and black. As we've gotten older, we've learned more about fashion and our style has evolved as well.
What inspires the look of the show?
We build our show around the venue where we're performing. Our theater backgrounds lets us do that. If we're playing a big, outdoor festival sort of thing, we won't go too crazy with the outfits because a lot of that detail is lost on a bigger crowd. If it's something more intimate, like in a club, we'll pull it all out and do something crazy because people are close and they can see it. We're really flexible.
Fritz Helder & The Phantoms “You Ain't Vogue/All Night Long in My Louis Vuitton”
What's the most outrageous thing you've done for a show?
We've done a lot of shows randomly in street intersections [in Toronto], stopping traffic. We like to drop in anywhere and do shows.
We basically set up shop right in the middle of a busy street and people have to deal with it and try to get around us.
Does your dancing background affect the music you make?
Most definitely. I feel that studying ballet, modern and jazz– I even did Scottish dancing for a couple years– in the studio, music is such an integral how you learn to dance. Being exposed to so many different styles of music and being able to count and deconstruct music in a physical way is really important. Whenever we're in the studio, we end up making dance music, even if we start off wanting to do rock or something ballad-y, there's always a dance element to it.
Our album, most of the songs are in a 4/4, but with a dance background, you can explore other rhythms too, being conscious with other rhythms within a 4/4 rhythm, which not a lot of people can do. Our stage choreography doesn't necessarily stick to the four-on-the-floor thing. We can do more contemporary styled performances, which always kind of shocks people because they're expecting us to be step-touching the whole time.
How did you hook up with Nelly Furtado?
It was one of those weird, serendipitous moments at the time professionally. I was in a show and a good friend that I was dancing with grew up with her and brought her to the show. We met, at the time I think she was pregnant with her daughter and I didn't recognize her. She said, “You're a really good dancer. I'd love to work with you sometime.”
Flash forward two years, she came back, we were playing a big show and she came backstage and said, “Remember me?” She said, “I'm writing a new album, can you do a demo for me for choreography?” I sent it in and waited. Didn't hear anything, so I had kind of forgotten about it and then that January, I got a call “You're going to LA in two weeks to do a music video.” It kind of blew up from there. We became friends as well as colleagues.