If you like sugared cereal, you'll like PHOX. At least, that's what lead singer Monica Martin tells me, while I interview the band on a Thursday night at Ancora Coffee.
I'm not sure that her assessment isn't accurate. Spending an evening with PHOX feels like the equivalent of a direct injection of Lucky Charms into the bloodstream.
The seven-piece band — a group of friends who grew up in Baraboo — is home in Madison for a few weeks in between opening for The Lumineers at the iTunes Music Festival in London and a national tour with Blitzen Trapper.
They'll open for Delta Spirit at the final "Live on King Street" show of the summer on Friday, Sept. 20, starting at 5 p.m. in front of the Majestic Theatre.
Are you all recovered from your jet lag?
Zach Johnston: Absolutely not. I’m still getting up at 5 a.m.
I don’t even know what that time of day looks like.
Matt Holmen: It’s beautiful, actually.
Zach: She’s seen, probably, the other side.
I’ve stayed up that late. And done homework.
Matt: I’ve actually slept on the couch, three out of the seven nights we’ve been home. And it’s horrible.
Monica Martin: It’s a loveseat.
Zach: It is weird, because there’s the short couch and the long couch, and you choose the short couch. Every night.
How was London? How was the European trip?
Matt: Cray. It was cray.
Zach: I remember being tired and poor.
Matt: But then also at the other parts of the day, just being treated like kings everywhere we went.
Monica: It’s so polar.
Matt: Yeah, it was so polar. Because you’ll go from having, like, your own private place where people are hand-feeding you grapes, seriously. That’s real.
Monica: OK, not the grape thing.
Matt: No, seriously.
Zach: I was fed a whole thing of grapes by one guy.
Dave Roberts: He was standing in a shell. And he was very muscular.
Well, how did the trip to the iTunes Festival happen in the first place?
Matt: I booked one show, from a guy who saw us at South By (Southwest). One show, in Norway. So during this time we ended up signing with our manager, who is Christen Greene at Onto Entertatinment, and she manages The Lumineers. That was how we got on that show. They kind of just helped us fill out these festivals and try to make it make sense.
How’d you get hooked up with The Lumineers’ manager? That seems like kind of a coup.
Matt: Bizarrely, I swear to God, I was sitting at that table — the second one — talking with Tag Evers, who promotes shows in town with True Endeavors, works with Frank Productions. And so we just kind of chatted it up, and he put us in the ear of a variety of people. And just kind of was like, 'I worked with this guy, and he was really great to all the bands he’s worked with.' So he introduced us to a bunch of people that he’s worked with in Wisconsin or here or there. He calls himself our weird uncle. It’s not like an official position.
A few tangents later…
How’d the band come together?
Monica: Some puppet mastering.
Matt: Well, Monica was living here, and Zach wrote a bunch of songs, but Zach was living in San Francisco. So we assembled the rest of the band to play those for kind of a one-off show. We got a lot of encouragement from some other friends. It just really seemed like Madison was in want of something like — there’s this huge wealth of music in Madison, but it’s all these extremes … And we were like, well, there’s this huge space in the middle. Not a ton of bands are doing this indie pop thing.
Is that how you guys describe yourselves, then? 'Indie pop'? Do you describe yourselves?
Jason Krunnfusz: It changes every time.
Monica: Dust pop. Lethargic pop. Depressing pop. Nap pop. Nap metal. Because if you’re napping and you want to play metal, it’s mostly just orchestral, art, dust-pop. Cereal. If you like cereal, you’ll like PHOX.
Zach: Sugared cereal, that is.
Monica: If you like sugared cereal, you’ll like PHOX.
Where does the name come from? An easy one, maybe.
Zach: I’m gonna answer this one, because you guys are gonna try to, and fail. Even though I don’t really know the answer. There was a fox hat. A hat, just with like, the tail. And that created the band Foxhat … and it was shortened to Fox. Is that right?
Monica: Yeah, that’s pretty good.
Matt: The 'PH' was added … I don’t know why.
Monica: I didn’t think we were going to be a band for more than a month. I was going to humor you and then run away.
Matt: Typical you.
Monica: Typical me. And now as it turns out, we’re a band, and every day I’m like, f**k, our name is Phox. With a 'PH.'
Matt: Like the biggest mistake ever.
Monica: Like why have we done this?
Matt: That’s like my only rule in band names. No funny spellings. It’s so stupid.
Zach: But we use funny spellings in our everyday life. I feel like it kind of reflects us.
Monica: Yeah. Plus we eat foxes. For pleasure.
Um… How many different instruments do you guys use in your music?
Matt: One. Our hearts.
Matt: No, I don’t know. As many as we can get our hands on? We used to do a ton of instrument switching when we were playing around Madison. Monica’s played like seven instruments?
Zach: We all like trying out new things. We are all willing to try playing instruments even if we can’t play them super well.
Monica: And I think we’ll probably find new instruments along the way and incorporate them whenever we can.
Matt: Degrade them. I’m interested in looseness in performance, to some degree.
Zach: Sometimes when you’re learning a new instrument it’s a lot more fun than when you’re good at it.
Matt: Yeah, the beginner’s mind. It’s a fascinating thing.
Zach: Endless possibilities.
Do you guys all write? What's your songwriting approach?
Monica: I would say I’m mostly doing lyric and melody stuff, but everyone does.
Zach: Everyone contributes. Monica’s like the genesis of it. For the song, the melody, the story. And it all comes out in different ways. We all contribute.
When does the tour start?
Matt: Well, we kick it off here in Madison, with Live on King Street — which is really the last time we’re going to be playing in Madison for some time. Because once we get back, we’re hitting the studio, as you call it — hitting the little red circle. So many changes, so many things to adapt for and get ready for.
Is the material written? Is it still in progress?
Monica: It’s in progress, yeah. New stuff. I’m really excited about new songs. We’re actually just kind of going through them and fleshing them out right now. It’s exciting. It’s always scary. I mean, we’ve not put out an album.
So Blitzen Trapper — have you guys talked to them yet, do you know how that’s gonna go?
Monica: I don’t know if anyone else is active on the Twitter realm, but I have been talking to them, mostly about fattening them up. Introducing them to our personal diet lifestyle.
Matt: Cheese curds, truffles, beer.
Monica: You’re not gonna want to take the stairs ever again. Only elevators. ‘Cause that’s how life should be. But they seem like cool guys.
Matt: Everyone that we’ve played with, whether or not I’ve already been a fan of their music, I’ve become a fan once we’ve played with them. We went on tour earlier this summer with a band called Hey Marseilles and by the end of it it was like summer camp.
Monica: With booze. Summer camp with booze.
What’s in the future beyond touring and recording?
Zach: We will make the record. I don’t think we’re looking too much farther ahead than that. We’ll probably make some more videos. And watch the Packers. We have family time on Sunday, where we watch the Packers and make chili. Each person makes chili. We rotate out.
Matt: We’ll basically be camped out in Madison for quite a while, which will be nice. Summer was kind of a blur, in the best way possible. We didn’t get to be home that often. What better place to be, in the dead of winter, than beautiful Madison, Wisconsin?