Phantom Planet is named after the theme song of a 1961 B-movie called The Phantom Planet. They decided on the name in 1994 in a Pizza Hut. They played their first show in 1994 at The Troubadour in Hollywood, California. Most of their friends could not attend because they were still in high school.
Phantom Planet released their debut album, Phantom Planet is Missing in 1998. A straightforward pop record, with influences ranging from The Beach Boys to Electric Light Orchestra, the album didn't catch on. It was after the band's second album, The Guest in 2002 that the band found success. It produced the popular song, "California". The Guest continued the pop-rock sound the band introduced in their debut.
The band's eponymous third album in 2004 marked a change in both the band's sound and lineup. Ditching their radio-friendly pop-rock, the band moved towards a garage rock sound. Lead singer Alex Greenwald stated that he wants the band to continue to change its sound. "I love rock 'n' roll music," Greenwald said. "I especially loved bands, like The Beatles, that changed with every single record they made. That's been our plan from the get-go. We want our records to be like experiments. We want to have fun with the music. People can hear when you're not having fun. They discover you're bored and you're boring." However, in the middle of recording the album, founding member and drummer Jason Schwartzman abruptly left the band to focus on his acting career. He was replaced by Jeff Conrad, who helped record the remainder of the album. Phantom Planet was released to mixed reviews from critics. Shortly after the album's release, guitarist Jacques Brautbar left the band to pursue a career in photography
Raise the Dead:
Early on in the recording process Phantom Planet's contract with Epic Records expired, which left them searching for a new record label. Soon after this, they signed to Fueled by Ramen, which produces bands such as Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic at the Disco, The Hush Sound and The Academy Is....
On January 20, 2008, Phantom Planet posted a bulletin on their Myspace page to announce that the official release date would be April 15, 2008. Fueled By Ramen re-released a teaser trailer and stated that the first single from the album will be a reworking of "Do the Panic".
In an interview with RaggedMag, Alex stated that "all bands are kind of their own cult, you know, but we want to take it to a new level. We really like the show Lost, and even though it’s totally fiction, there’s this air of mystery that’s lacking in a lot entertainment these days. I really like mystery in things, and what a little bit of enigma brings out of people and their imaginations...a band is about community, and within itself it is a brotherhood; it’s companionship. But a band can’t be anything without the people to love it. Our goal will be to recruit and befriend as many people as possible with our message."
When describing the new record, Alex said that "the next record is a concept record. If the Beatles had Sgt. Pepper's and the Rolling Stones had Their Satanic Majesties Request, we have our “Leader.” We’re concocting it, but at the same time we’re following it."
In the same interview bassist Sam Farrar described the new logo, which is a circular graphic of piano keys that seem to morph into a shirt sleeve with a hand emerging from the cuff. He said, "The idea is that we’re going to sell a lot of these sweatshirts and all the kids will show up in them so the entire audience looks just like us." Alex followed this up by saying that "'The Leader' is the hand. He is the hand that plays the notes we sing to. It’s in the beginning stages still; we’re just chipping away at the stone."
The new song "Leader", is about Alex's fictional or metaphorical experience with a cult. For the definitive recording of the song, Phantom Planet brought in children from Kenter Canyon Elementary School to sing the chorus, the video for which can be seen on their YouTube site.
The album, titled Raise the Dead, was released as scheduled on April 15, 2008.
On November 25, 2008, the band announced in a blog entry on their website that they are going on "hiatus, and will not be playing any more live shows or making any new records, indefinitely." They played their last show on December 12, 2008, in Los Angeles. Alex mentioned numerous times during their last show that the band was, in fact, going on a hiatus, not breaking up.
Former drummer Jason Schwartzman makes a cheeky reference to this hiatus in his song "Drummer" from the Coconut Records album Davy (released January 2009). The lyrics state "I was a drummer in a band that you've heard of / I was a drummer in a band that just broke up / Isn't that the way it goes?"
Guitarist Darren Robinson posted this message on his personal Myspace page telling fans that they are not broken up: "We have NOT broken up. We are on an indefinite hiatus. That means we don't know when we'll regroup. But we are NOT broken up. I swear to you it's not just a polite way of saying we have broken up. Got it?"