Bluesbreakers: Isaac Rother & The Phantoms

From an early age, Isaac Rother knew he was different. It first occurred to him when his primary school teacher asked each pupil to bring in an example of their favourite music.

“I brought in Wipe Out by The Surfaris. I was thinking everyone would bring in some cool rock’n’roll song – and nobody did.”

Two decades later, he’s wreaking a terrifying revenge on society as the frontman of Isaac Rother & The Phantoms, LA’s finest purveyors of B-movie fixated R&B. Well, possibly not terrifying, but certainly entertaining, as they summon the spirits of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, The Sonics and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown as well as the cheap, nasty but irresistible delinquent blues-punk practised by the original garage and psych bands of the 60s.

“Music performers just seem so casual to me these days,” Rother explains. “I wanted to really put on a show and make my music an experience. I wanted back-up singers, outfits – the whole package, but something that was also a lot of fun.”

The Phantoms have got the songs to back up the bluster, as proved on their debut album The Unspeakable Horror Of Isaac Rother & The Phantoms. The tacky yellow sleeve, Rother’s voodoo skull cane and shamanic robe immediately alert you to the fact that you’re not about to hear an indie-rock band on their gap year, and it takes considerable musicianship to pull off the retro stylings of their sound convincingly, as they do on the neat surf guitar lines of Night Of The Phantom, The Fall-meets-Stooges garage rush of I’m A Ghost and the neatly-turned soul croon of My Cryin’ Eyes. Rother himself growls, bellows and howls like a deranged circus showman, and the whole thing has the grubby, gritty groove that seems custom made to blast fuzzily from a cheap record deck.

That’s the result, according to Rother, of the album’s creation “in a forsaken synagogue on equipment from a forgotten time.”

“I tried recording digitally, but it really wasn’t the sound I was looking for. But then we found Dub Narcotic Studios in Olympia, which is actually in the basement of a synagogue, with analogue spring reverb, two-inch tape, valve amps, and I was like, ‘okay, this is it’ – all the cats I was influenced by recorded on this stuff, and that was when we really got the sound we wanted.”

The Phantoms are set to visit Europe in the autumn, but while fancy dress would be welcome at their shows, don’t feel obliged.

“All types of people of all ages come to our shows, and that’s the way I like it,” says Rother. “I want to make music anyone can enjoy – you don’t have to be a punk or a rocker or an aficionado. It’s just a super fun rock’n’roll show.”

The Unspeakable Horror Of Isaac Rother & The Phantoms is out now via Rock N Rhythm.


“As a kid, my favourite songs were the classic rock’n’roll songs – Johnny B Goode, Good Golly Miss Molly. As a teenager I got into The Stooges and Ramones, then went back to blues guys like Muddy Waters. But above all I always loved great performers, from Elvis to Little Richard.”

Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock