A.V. Club Milwaukee – PHOX Feature
Madison-based Phox searches for new territory
At first glance, the distinctly different personalities and influences found in seven-piece Madison-based band Phox seem to be on the verge of turning the group into a noisy sonic circus. “It’s an ensemble performance like Monty Python or something, where everyone’s pulling in different directions,” says band member Matt Holmen.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of teamwork, restraint, practice, and patience to meld the band’s minds and personalities together that Holmen says are “dying to get out.” “We work separately a lot, and then we come together and improvise a lot and record a ton of different ideas and different approaches for a song,” Holmen says. “And the final stage is editing, going in and taking out the stuff that doesn’t sound quite right, and that’s when there’s a lot of deliberation and communication.”
For lead singer Monica Martin, Phox is her first and only experience writing songs. Before Phox, making music wasn’t something she thought she’d be doing. But the band’s democratic approach to creating songs quickly won her over. “When the song is being created, everyone has a part in what they’re going to end up playing,” Martin says. “It works out with all of our influences coming together. I think it’s a good way to operate as people feel more invested in the music. I feel like Phox functions more interwoven [than other bands].”
There’s a close bond in the band as everyone is from Baraboo, and nowadays share a house in Madison that also acts as a studio. “We all share a space and act like a family,” Holmen says. “I think it’s reflective of Monica’s personality and everyone’s personality. We all enjoy our fart jokes, I guess is one way of putting it.”
Earlier this year, these lighthearted friendships were on display as the band undertook an ambitious audio-video sensory overload EP, Confetti. It was recorded at Phox’s house by band member Zach Johnston, and invites fans into the band’s wild confetti-throwing antics and music. “It was definitely a mess,” Martin says. “Sometime it was fun and sometimes hard. Hard because we were recording while we were filming, so as you can see, there’s confetti being thrown around in [band member] Dave [Roberts’] face when he’s playing his drum parts.”
“It’s given me a lot of joy,” Martin continues. “The fact that I’d be 60 years old, 70, 80, 100, or whatever and be able to look back on it and have this period of time making the record beautifully capsulated.”
As for the present, the band is enjoying a surge of popularity around the country thanks to word of mouth, press, music sites like Daytrotter, and musicians like Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz. The latter opportunity came about thanks to former Milwaukee band Foreign Fields, who also happen to be playing at Wednesday’s Shank Hall show. Duritz had initially invited Foreign Fields on tour with the Crows based on a Daytrotter session, and when it came time to plan his showcase at this year’s South By Southwest, Foreign Fields “put in a good word” for Phox.
With all the sudden attention, the members of Phox have grown confident of their abilities. “It’s funny that people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you have a nice voice, but you already know that,’” Martin says. “And I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m just starting to believe that.’ I’m just starting to understand that this is something. I’m so surprised at everything that’s happening.”
That confidence will certainly aid the band as they prepare to go into the studio in the near future and record a full-length national release. “We’re definitely going to give ourselves enough time to play the songs long enough that we actualize them,” Martin says. “We’re hoping to make them a little more refined before we go into the studio. I’m feeling more and more free to express myself in that way as a songwriter. I hope to incorporate more brass into the music and utilize all the facets of our abilities.”
One thing’s for sure: there will be many different elements beautifully connecting with each other. Holmen compares it to a movie. “Even if you watch a short film or something it has to have a variety of emotions in order to be gripping.”
Phox plays Shank Hall Wednesday, August 7 with Foreign Fields and Boom Forest. General admission tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.