Somewhere in Madison, WI sits an empty house. A house where music once waltzed freely through open doors. A house once shared by old friends, and then friends became family, and then family became a band, and then that band became a little bit of a big deal and hit the road... hence the empty house. The six friends that make up Phox all hail from the same dusty Wisconsin town, and you can hear the rambling scenery and intimate vastness of the old circus community — once upon a time Baraboo, WI was the winter headquarters of the Ringling Bros Circus — in the whimsical strings that roll beneath Phox's kindred mist of vocal harmony. We spoke with the band's main canitllator Monica Martin about melody, harmony, and romantic the notions of small town roots.
On the live version of "Kingfisher" from the iTunes festival, you mention Baraboo being a circus town with a Walmart and it's special place in your lives. How did your surroundings help form your musical identity?
The lack of stimulation in a small town forced us to create our own reality. We all had different experiences there, but that seems to be the common thread.
The personal relationships between everyone in this group and the longevity of knowing each other since high school, how does that dynamic play a role in making the transition from being a smaller band to having a international audience?
Hard to say, we've never been in a band with strangers or hired hands. I can't imagine doing this with people I couldn't fall into emotionally. Constant travel is simultaneously spiritually taxing and uplifting, so feeling safe is really important.
Your self-titled record is set for release on June 24th, what should fans expect with the band's latest music?
I think it's important to say that we were in complete creative control of this record, just to soothe peoples' fears about what signing to a label means for a band. For me, I feel more confident about my vocal performances on this record, and I think overall there is more clarity in the arrangements.
Going from releasing an EP to a full-length LP, talk about the process of expanding your songwriting prowess and finding the music within yourselves for the debut.
I can't say much has changed. Maybe our abilities to sacrifice our individual egos a little bit better, and therefore find more clarity with six voices.
Is it coincidental that the tone of the music seems to resemble the same sort of ambiance and dreamy scenery one would connect with the countryside landscape of Wisconsin?
I think I might be the only one who lived outside of the Baraboo city proper, out by the old Statz strawberry fields. I would bike by miles of pine trees, and hey, maybe that dreaminess has stuck with me and comes through. When I try to escape my mind that's where I go.
For a band hailing from a small town like Baraboo, talk about the experience of representing such a small town and bringing international attention to your home?
I grew up in Baraboo a very scared and sad young woman. I didn't read anything, I didn't do my homework, I got in trouble for truancy — I barely made it out of high school. Save a handful of teachers/coaches/counselors that I'll remember until I die (and they know who they are), I wasn't taken seriously; so my objective is representing myself, not Baraboo. Phox is a representation of Baraboo: we are six people that spent our formative years in Baraboo. It is
romantic that we are all from the same home town, but it does not mean our formative years were romantic.
How do your neighbors in town feel about this band's rising success?
We've received several threats from our Shorewood Hills neighbors, and have been living in a bunker underneath a church outside of Madison. [Laughs.] No! They are the best champions, rooting us on. Baraboo pals seem surprised more than anything, and are very supportive.
Who were your biggest influences when forming Phox's sound?
J.E. Sunde and Canned Heat. Having an assortment of instruments and musical interludes to choose from.
Talk about the songwriting process. How do you go about organizing all these different sounds together in unison with one another?
With six people we really do all contribute in different facets. I provide a skeleton with the melody and lyrics, Zach and Matteo help flesh out structure and arrangements, Matt will create guitar licks and countermelodies, Jashawn — the resident vocal harmony prince — holds us down because we are insane, and Davey is the special spicy Uncle we all need. That's the concise breakdown. We put all ideas forward, try everything, and deduct what doesn't serve the melody.
Talk about the experience of making the rounds at the festival circuits and appearing on bills like Lollapalooza.
It's a trip. It's funny going from being curious about festivals but never being able to afford them, to now playing them. I had no idea though about the abundance of festivals that go on. SO MANY. Lollapalooza was interesting for us: we got slipped in on very short notice because Azealia Banks was sick. So we got to experience the crazy booty short parade, and, of course, share our music with a new audience. [Laughs.]
Living in the same house and consistently recording music, how has this band grown together musically since you moved in together?
I would say this has been the biggest thing for us, and it's still being sorted out of course: how to sacrifice our own egos during songwriting. It's important that everyone feels represented in the music, but not just for the sake of being represented. Every part that is written should service the melody and the feeling of the song, and sometimes that means just playing supporting parts, or sometimes you're the focal point in an interlude or counter melody. I worked at a rock venue and casually watched many different bands from the door; I would too often see a band with all members fighting to be heard because well, "I'm important and I want to be noticed," and when you have 4-plus people doing that your sound turns to gray porridge. Phox has done that many times, but now we see more and more that the space we give each other makes it so we can all be heard.
Listen to "1936", a scenic walk through time, off Phox's debut PHOX
out June 24th. Pre-order your copy now on iTunes
Be sure to follow Phox on Twitter
, like them on Facebook
, and catch the Wisconsin coterie on tour this summer:
Tue Jun 24, 2014 - Omaha NE - The Waiting Room
Wed Jun 25, 2014 - Kansas City MO - Riot Room
Fri Jun 27, 2014 - Austin TX - Stubb's BBQ (Indoor)
Sat Jun 28, 2014 - Dallas TX - Three Links
Mon Jun 30, 2014 - Scottsdale AZ - The Western
Tue Jul 01, 2014 - Los Angeles CA - The Echo
Thu Jul 03, 2014 - San Francisco CA - The Chapel
Sat Jul 05, 2014 - Portland OR - Mississippi Studios
Sun Jul 06, 2014 - Seattle WA - The Crocodile
Tue Jul 08, 2014 - Salt Lake City UT - The State Room
Wed Jul 09, 2014 - Denver CO - Hi Dive
Fri Jul 11, 2014 - St. Louis MO - Duck Room at Blueberry Hill
Sat Jul 12, 2014 - Champaign IL - Mariposa Music Fest
Sun Jul 13, 2014 - Nashville TN - The High Watt
Tue Jul 15, 2014 - Birmingham AL - The Bottletree
Thu Jul 17, 2014 - Asheville NC - Grey Eagle
Fri Jul 18, 2014 - Chapel Hill NC - Local 506
Sat Jul 19, 2014 - Washington DC - The Hamilton
Mon Jul 21, 2014 - Philadelphia PA - Boot & Saddle
Tue Jul 22, 2014 - Brooklyn NY - Knitting Factory
Wed Jul 23, 2014 - New York NY - Mercury Lounge
Fri Jul 25, 2014 - Newport RI - Newport Folk Festival
Sat Jul 26, 2014 - North Bennington VT - The Vermont Arts Exchange
Mon Jul 28, 2014 - Montreal QC - Casa Del Popolo
Tue Jul 29, 2014 - Toronto ON - The Drake
Thu Jul 31, 2014 - Cleveland Heights OH - Grog Shop
Fri Aug 01, 2014 - Detroit MI - Magic Stick Lounge
Sun Aug 03, 2014 - Green Bay WI - Meyer Theatre w/ San Fermin
Mon Aug 04, 2014 - Minneapolis MN - 7th St. Entry
Wed Aug 06, 2014 - Milwaukee WI - Turner Hall
Thu Aug 07, 2014 - Madison WI - High Noon Saloon
Fri Aug 08, 2014 - Madison WI - High Noon Saloon - SOLD OUT
Sat Aug 09, 2014 - Chicago IL - Lincoln Hall