Who is Alex Greenwald?
That's the question I asked myself as I perused a stray copy of the November/December issue of ELLEgirl Magazine,which proclaimed him the “hottest rocker known” to its readers.
Justin Timberlake and John Mayer looked longingly from their spots at No. 2 and No. 31.
I inspected Greenwald's generic scruff more closely but couldn't place him until I read the caption.
Oh yeah! He's the guy I'm supposed to interview in two days – the lead singer for rising California power pop outfit Phantom Planet.
Who makes these lists,anyway?
Greenwald wondered the same thing when he called from his band's tour bus in Cleveland. “I think there are 49 other people on that list that are more attractive than I am,” he said.
It's a good thing he didn't let his title go to his head because ELLEgirl's top 50,including three Strokes and two Conors (Ireland’s Conor Deasy at No. 34,and Nebraska's Conor Oberst at No. 3),are largely indistinguishable from each other. Greasy hair,a slender build and feigned sensitivity was enough to make the cut in most cases. Half of the predominantly white crew looks more stupid than sexy (No. 40 Ben Kweller,No. 5 Craig Nicholls of the Vines).
Like ELLEgirl,Greenwald wouldn't pick only obvious hotties when I asked him for his own list of the sexiest rock chicks: Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders,Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Meg White of the White Stripes.
“It's nice to be attracted to someone who is unique and maybe takes some time to become attractive. It's kind of boring if it's all attractive and laid out on the table. It's too easy to figure out,” he said.
After adding four more brunettes – the Bay Area ladies of Erase Errata – Greenwald,who himself has brown hair and eyes,swore the pattern “wasn't a conscious decision.”
Letting Fox co-opt his band's catchy “California” as “The OC” theme song probably helped Greenwald win a place in the hearts of ELLEgirls. Set in Orange County,Calif.,the show carries on in the soapy tradition of “Beverly Hills: 90210” and “Dawson's Creek.”
Before the “OC” debut in August,Phantom Planet was better known as a side project for its old drummer,“Rushmore” star Jason Schwartzman.
Although easier on the ears than other actor's bands (Keanu Reeve's Dogstar,Jared Leto's 30 Seconds to Mars or Russell Crowe's 30 Odd Foot of Grunts),Phantom Planet got only a lukewarm reception for its 2002 sophomore album,“The Guest.”
What buzz there was could be traced again to “California,” which appeared on the soundtrack to the movie “Orange County.” The film that featured Jack Black and Colin Hanks (spawn of Tom) as brothers was almost as good as the charming “California” video,in which Schwartzman brushes his teeth and rinses with Jack Daniel's.
Capitalizing on the new Orange County notoriety,Phantom Planet re-released “The Guest” this month. The new package includes four unreleased tracks,new artwork and – to the delight of ELLEgirls – lots of photographs.
The band's third,self-titled album is due out in February.
In classic rock ‘n' roll cliché,Greenwald declared the new stuff is “totally different from everything you've ever heard from us.”
Although rife with bright images – Greenwald refers to the sun in five of 11 songs – “The Guest” represents disillusionment with the golden state. “Symbolically,all of us humans follow light and heat and the sun. A lot of people wind up in California expecting their salvation. It's not always there. It's not always what it's cracked up to be,” he said.
Greenwald said the sun comes up rarely,if at all,on the new album,which employs a Daft Punk-inspired “harder,better,faster,stronger” approach. “The songs are more personal,and there's better,more exciting stories about either individuals or myself within the songs,” he said.
Three-fourths of “Phantom Planet” was written during an 18-month tour,before Schwartzman left the band to pursue film full time. The band,which now features Jeff Conrad on drums,Sam Farrar on bass and Jacques Brautbar and Darren Robinson on guitar,recorded the album at an isolated,Amish-built cabin in Fredonia,N.Y.
On the video for the first single,“Big Brat,” Greenwald trades his pretty face for an undead appearance. He said he's a fan of any movie with the word “dead” in the title and had wanted to do a zombie video since “California.”
Spike Jonze directed “Big Brat,” which is a faux documentary of the band making a homemade zombie movie. Greenwald's gang also got help from makeup artist Tony Gardner,who worked on that other zombie epic,“Thriller.”
Greenwald said Gardner offered guidance,but because of the video's premise,the band members created their own zombie effects. “We had to apply it with brushes and charcoal and pieces of toilet paper and fake blood,” he said.
Provided the monsters don't scare off fickle female fans,Greenwald could keep unwittingly devouring hearts for a while. He said he doesn't worry about the adoration of ELLEgirls everywhere contributing to his band's teenybopper reputation. “People are going to be attracted or unattracted to other people. Why harp on it? It's just a part of life. I'll take it as a compliment,” he said.
However he came by it,Greenwald appreciates his teen-idol status as only a former GAP model could. “How could it feel anything but good?” he cooed.