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Phantogram's Sarah Barthel explains her guest spot on Miley Cyrus' surprise album

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When Miley Cyrus dropped her surprise album at the VMAs this weekend, its stacked roster of collaborators stood out. Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Pets includes significant production from Mike Will Made It and guest spots from Big Sean, Ariel Pink, and Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel. And, according to Barthel, the creative partnership between Coyne and Cyrus was a sight to behold.

“They’re two crazy-ass people, first of all,” Barthel tells EW by phone. “Wayne is a trip. He’s a pretty real guy—he doesn’t put the suit on, he is Wayne Coyne. And the same thing with Miley. She had a bunch of ideas and he had a bunch of ideas and Wayne is really good about allowing expression to just come out and see what happens.”

Barthel’s vocals are featured on one of the album’s standouts, “Slab of Butter (Scorpion),” which also displays Mike Will Made It’s production chops—but, unlike a lot of modern “collaborations,” she didn’t just get a call from a relative stranger and do the work remotely. Barthel says she has known the Flaming Lips through Phantogram for “about five years now,” and the band introduced her to Miley when she moved to L.A. after Phantogram’s most recent tour. The collaboration was a no-brainer for Coyne.

“I would hang out over there while they were working on music,” says Barthel. “Wayne would say, ‘We just need you to f–k around with something, write something on top of this.’ I would try some stuff and some of that stuff stuck.”

The spontaneity of the sessions is what makes Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz Cyrus’ best work yet, according to Barthel. “Even if the take wasn’t perfect, it’s probably better than if [Coyne] tried it 45 times,” she says. “He doesn’t really care about quality, because it’s interesting to have things sound more gritty and grimy—like life really is. The project is really cool because it has everything to do with experimentation and emotion. He’s not too concerned with what’s right or wrong, because sometimes that can get in the way of music.”

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