Amidst all of the new alternative acts of our time, many of which often blend into one another, it takes a lot for bands to stand out, especially those that seemingly emerge out of obscurity. Phox, a six-piece indie pop band based in Baraboo — a city 40 miles north of Madison — however, have assertively established themselves in a genre often dominated by bands that have more to start with. The band’s sleeper hit of the summer, “Slow Motion,” has garnered more than 100,000 views on YouTube since its release April 23; the band’s self-titled LP came out June 24 to rave reviews.
What makes Phox such an interesting, novel entry in independent music is that they have little internal structure, as opposed to other bands with similar backgrounds. In an interview with The Badger Herald, Matthew Holmen, the band’s guitarist, trumpeter and makeshift “camp counselor” claims there was not a whole lot of planning in the stages before Phox.
“We came together, honestly, out of serendipity,” Holmen said. ”We were all at the same place, at the same time, and we all love music, so making music was our excuse to hang out together. We would have beers, and it would be just us six.”
This rationale also created the band’s name.
“Band names are born out of total chaos and randomness,” Holmen said. ”If you can Google a band name, you’re doing something right.”
Phox’s track record is anything but obscure, however. Last year, their gigs at the Madison indie rock staples — Project Lodge, Frequency and the High Noon Saloon — led to spots at South by Southwest and Lollapalooza by the end of the summer. They even secured a Daytrotter session with Sean Moeller, a recording studio that has assisted bands of the likes of Beach House, The Temper Trap and, perhaps most prominently, The Lumineers, for whom Phox opened at the iTunes Festival last September.
All of Phox’s success, according to Holmen, has stemmed from the release of their EP Confetti, which put them on the map. Each song had a corresponding music video, which is not an easy task, especially for rookie bands.
“That EP really put us out there,” Holmen said. ”We really got our first wave of supporters outside Baraboo and Madison.”
Phox recorded their self-titled debut album at Justin Vernon’s home recording studio, April Base, in Eau Claire. The album boasts a sound that is distinctly Wisconsin-esque: Each song has a rustic, soulful sound that can only be obtained from spending two-and-a-half weeks in near isolation in an already isolated locale.
“We really hunkered down and got it done,” Holmen said. ”It was the perfect scenario in which to record. It really was a dreamy experience.”
“Dreamy” is perhaps the best way to describe the way vocalist Monica Martin approaches the craft. Her gentle, yet robust voice resonates on “1936,” a three-and-a-half minute track that most accurately conveys the band’s cozy, yet ambitious style. The chorus of “bum”s at the end is a reminiscence on simpler, yet more satisfying songs of decades past. Her voice seamlessly glides into a croon on the album’s other cuts, such as “Laura” and “Evil.” Listening to Phox, is, in a way, the auditory equivalent of going to your grandparents’ lake cabin up north for the weekend. It never quite gets old and the experience is like none other.
The band’s biggest hit so far, “Slow Motion,” has a formula for success, as do the rest of their songs, Holmen said.
“It’s always melody first,” Holmen said. ”Again, serendipity, randomness and chance make something work. It’s hard to tell what you’re doing when you’re doing it, so editing plays a huge part as well.”
The band’s currently on tour, with dates stateside and in Europe in the coming months. That said, they still hail from Badgerland. Both their shows at the High Noon next month have sold out.