Who is this PHOX band? A common question from Madison music affectionados over the last few weeks. Anchored by the the stunning vocals of Monica Martin, the six-piece collective expresses a dynamic spontaneity that is both original and captivating. The type of sound that raises eyebrows, with unbridled excitement, from musicians near and far.
PHOX quietly released an impressive five song EP "Unblushing," in early June and the organic buzz began immediately. The maturity of the arrangements, coupled with high caliber songwriting, warrants repeated listening. Our favorite songs are Shrinking Violets along with Clubs & Spades, but the entire EP is brilliant. Just listen! Who is this PHOX band? They're one of the best new bands to emerge from the burgeoning Madison music scene.
We managed to corral PHOX guitarist Matt Holmen into answering a few questions for us. Evidently, PHOX has roots in Baraboo, Wisconsin and owes a debt of gratitude to Sufjan Stevens and the Badger Army Ammunition Plant!
Tell us a little bit about PHOX. How did the band get together?
Next time you visit Baraboo, you'll inevitably drive betwixt the famed Dr. Evermor's Forevertron and its perhaps more notorious neighbor, the Badger Army Ammunition Plant. You probably weren't in Mr. Witthun's 8th grade Natural Sciences class, but if you were you'd likely recall the Badger rezoning project in which we imagined the plant leveled and repurposed for something more relevant than a theoretical paintball arena. But Witthun was a tricky dick, see, and we were restricted from zoning any residential, recreational, or wildlife areas on the premises.
Thanks to production for WWII, the ground and water near the plant are chock full of heavy metals. So in terms of playgrounds or bison habitats, this is a whitecap'd pimple on prom night. Yay radiation! On the flip side, Spiderman did pretty well for himself, as did a generation of Baraboobians raised on chromium-infused groundwater (and that's not just a swanky mixer at Merchant). Hence, we bonded over our mutual mutations of the brain, soul, and likely genitalia. Just ask anyone swaddled in sweet bluffs of Baraboo. We cray. Someone opened our cage, and the world at large is just beginning to smell our stank: we're starting with Madison.
Where did you record the EP?
We recorded in our home, here in Madison, except the piano parts which were done in Baraboo. Thank our "drummer," "Dave" for "engineering" the "EP."
You really did everything in one take?
Surely we did. Of course, we multi-tracked it, so one instrument at a time, but once you picked up that instrument, you put it down five minutes later. This lead to some screaming matches, but ultimately proved that everyone was confident enough in themselves to deliver the goods. Plus we only had 5 days before our show at the Majestic with Company of Thieves. PS: deadlines work.
The EP really reflects a diverse range of influences. Who are some of the band’s favorite musicians and/or groups?
Sufjan's All Delighted People is playing downstairs right now. That song alone has drawn the blueprint for what we aspire to be. Monica is a big fan of old soul singers like Ella and Etta, tons of Motown past and present, and anything with fat ass harmonies. Matteo never stops flipping between those insanely T&E Awesome Show-esque Eric Whitacre videos and live performances of "Tallulah" by Company of Thieves. But he hears the world through Gustav Mahler's ears, surely. Jay Sean's mental six disk changer contains Space Capone (the best funk Nashville has to offer), Circa Survive, and Superheroes by Night. Two albums each. Che is our resident classicist. Cream documentaries and CSNY morning wake-up calls. Wilco? Did we rip off Punch Brothers' cover of Ophelia? Did we all go to RX Bandits' farewell tour and find ourselves disappointed at the glaring lack of horns? Is Outkast's "Roses" currently in competition with Ella's "Summertime" for our next cover video?
Ever try robbing a bank when Pioneer starts playing from your cellphone speaker, and the bank teller realizes that's not a Glock in your pocket? Ever make out in the back of a Ford Taurus to Copeland's Eat, Sleep, Repeat? Ever go streaking to El Valiente? Cedarwell spoke to us in our dreams before we met. Daniel and the Lion gave us our first shows. Sonntag gave us our first songs. EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING.
How does the writing process work for PHOX?
Small steps. First, you connect the head to the body. Large bolts are preferable. Then, you surge 10,000 volts of rock and roll through the cadaver, inject a dozen hours of screaming, crying, hugging, and eating pizza. Then, you ask Monica about the melody she's been humming all day. Trou tells us what chords to play, and we start dancing. I make a MIDI version of the song; abstraction and insanity ensue as Moni writes lyrics in her cave of dreams. Soon enough, we're playing a song on stage and Che is like, "What key is this in?" And it usually turns out to be the best performance we could ask for.
With just one EP under your belt, what do you do for material to fill out a set?
It's a lot of ONE MORE TIME!'s and YEAH! YEAH!'s, and the occasional prog jazz intro, furnished by a band that looks and smells a lot like PHOX, called Randy Boys (randyboys.bandcamp.com). It also doesn't hurt that the EP is near 30 minutes long, and these days, it's hard to get anyone through one song with out bursting out chanting USA! USA! USA! Pride, baby. Yeah baby.