IN A pub off Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street, while the first black president of America makes history on TV, the Phantom Band are arguing about the most successful duo in the annals of pop, an act who sometimes sound black but are actually white.
Damo Tonner is taking issue with Andy Wake, who has superimposed the heads of Darryl Hall and John Oates on to the six Phantoms on their MySpace page. Tonner has been made an Oates, the short one, but reckons he's much more of a Hall, tall and blond and debonair – even though he's even smaller than Oates and follicly challenged.
In a way, his conviction sums up the Phantom Band's conviction. "Friendships in this group go right the way back to school," he says. "We're all big, big music fans so we weren't interested in putting out a record that wasn't good enough. So we went away and got better."
"There were hundreds of CDs that we never released," adds Wake. Sounds like Prince and his limitless vault, I say. "Aye," quips Gerry Hart, the call centre manager who plays bass. "Paisley Park is actually in Paisley."
We'll come later to the music the Phantoms make because it's difficult to categorise, but their comedy is more clear cut. There's a serious absurdist element to the band, exemplified by a yarn that's fast becoming legend about the night they dragged a Stairmaster fitness machine on to the stage and urged the audience to queue up for workouts.
Hart tries to play down its significance in the scheme of things by pointing out that the contraption had got mixed up with the tour gear in Wake's van. But then Rick Anthony lists the rest of the vehicle's contents on any given day: "Cutlasses, bear masks, it was like Narnia in there."
All the Phantoms, 30 or thereabouts, have proper jobs. Wake and Duncan Marquiss, who's not here today, are both artists, Anthony is a librarian, Greg Sinclair is a social worker – and Tonner is a personal injuries lawyer who's wondering how he's going to get the time off to tour the debut album Checkmate Savage now that it's finally here, after all those jamming sessions, all those name-changes – and all those games of "Darryl Hall vs John Oates".
Before they were the Phantom Band, the sextet experimented with Tower of Girls, the National Rifle Association, Robert Redford, Los Crazy Boys and, for four seconds and one sound limit-busting chord, Wooden Trees. How many fans did they confuse and lose? "Not many," says Hart. "Really, we weren't very good back then."
With some songs clocking in just under nine minutes, Checkmate Savage doesn't sound much like Prince and even less like Hall and Oates. But it does sound like lots of other things – most of the acclaimed reviews rave about its melding of krautrock and folk – and this reflects the different enthusiasms each Phantom brings to the party.
As more beers arrive at the table, they offer up the private obsessions which drive the rest mad. "I love Pavement," says Gerry. "I hate Pavement but I love techno right up to gabba," counters Wake. Greg opts for bluegrass, Tonner nominates AC/DC – and then they all turn on Anthony, the singer: "This is our power ballads specialist, especially those by Heart."
The mix shouldn't work but it does. The result is not a million miles from early Beta Band. Then Wake reveals that he grew up in Tayport, Fife next door to the Betas' John Maclean. "There must have been something in the water," he says with a smile.
There are more smiles as the Phantoms reflect on their time together as drinking buddies and apprentice musos, and how their contemporaries on the Glasgow scene have altered their style with the wind. "First everyone looked like the Strokes then Franz Ferdinand," says Tonner. "Long hair with short jackets then the other way around. It's quite incestuous in this city but nobody liked us so we just stuck together. We've tried to get other people in. We've tried to kick Gerry out. I've tried to kick me out!"
He's joking, I think. The Phantom Band claim never to have pestered record labels with demos, but now the industry has caught up with them. "Maybe this is our time," says Wake. "People who still buy albums might be interested in us because we're not cool. It's good that we get called old-fashioned. If my dad likes us then I'm happy." Hart: "And does your dad like us?" "Nah, cannae stand us."
In an era of reality show wannabes – complete strangers – being bullied by reality TV svengalis into forming groups, this lot seem like a quaint throwback to a bygone age with the way they instinctively know what each other is going to say next. In fact, a Phantom doesn't just finish off a fellow band member's joke, he starts it.
"Being friends first, the group grew organically and drunkenly," adds Sinclair. "Every Friday night we'd leave our other mates in the pub and play until midnight. The instrumental track on the album, 'Crocodile', goes all the way back to those muckabouts."
The friendships here obviously run deep and you'd hate to see them messed up by nasty old rockbiz commerce. Sinclair says this won't happen just as long as Wake realises his place in the group; he only got in because he had a van and, just as important, a beard. But while the Phantoms may come across like a sitcom about a band rather than a band, a west of Scotland version of Flight Of The Conchords, Tonner insists they've always had ambition. "First it was to meet up for a jam the next Friday. Then it was to release just one single – on a label run from some German dude's kitchen, we didn't care. Now we've got a complete album and when I played it to my girlfriend the other night, I don't mind telling you guys that I had a wee greet." The others look like they might be about to burst into tears as well, but – phew, that was close – decide instead to point at their drummer and laugh at his drippiness.
"But who knows," adds Hart, "maybe one day Hall and Oates will be fighting over which member of the Phantom Band they'd like to be." v
Checkmate Savage (Chemikal Underground) is out tomorrow www.myspace.com/thephantombandpage