The World Meets the Midwest in PHOX's Music

Categories: Interviews

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So how does living in the Midwest develop into the music you're playing? Maybe this is stereotypical, but I hear the banjo, and I'm going to think more of that country kind of feel. Yet, there are so many non-Midwestern elements too.

A lot of it is less about the aesthetic and more about the way we felt. It's separate from a lot of our contemporaries doing something similar. Being out of touch might be a good way to put it. Music is a combination of verbal storytelling and instruments. We're pulling from the experience we have playing music and our disparate libraries from world music to a cappella to hip-hop to whatever.

The music is very layered. Is there a principal songwriter and you all add pieces, or can anyone bring in a raw idea and you build from there?

One of the founding ideas of the band is to create melodies first; melodies are better. You have a lot more melodic options. Sometimes we see what Monica turns out with her ukulele or her lyrics, and then we try to fit the mood. It's like: How do we convey this idea non-verbally? It never feels like it's one voice. It's always a combination.

Something I like is that there's a simplistic beauty to the music, but at the same time there's a lot going on in many of the songs -- there are six musicians in the band. How do you keep the songs from being muddled?

It's not always like that, but the only way we've gotten through that is with communication. We communicate with each other, but it's not just musical. Only a couple people in this band can tell what key a song is in. If we can't communicate with a musical language, we can as friends and collaborators. We can talk about making dinner together, or who left their clothes in the laundry. It's mostly functional stuff on a personal level, but it helps us musically too.

The music also strikes me as unselfish. Monica is the frontperson, the vocalist and thus the focal point of the videos. At the same time everyone is chipping in for the good of the whole and not trying to force solos or there presence in a video.

Right. It's not part of our motivation for doing it. We're grateful Monica is shouldering that -- even though she is shy and loathes being in the spotlight. It's great that she's doing that, but none of us really want to be thrust forward.

What you say about the friendship aspect of the band and talking about your laundry is all very interesting, yet many of these songs are really personal -- the things Monica is singing about, such as ending relationships. Is it easier for the band to translate emotions to music because you are such good friends, or can it be uncomfortable?

A lot of times her songs can be very private, examining something about her life. But it opens up doors of communication for all of us. We're still figuring it out. Again, I don't think anyone expected to be paid attention to. I think that's generated the heart-on-the-sleeve kind of thing for Monica. It's a tricky thing. I'm always excited to see what she'll do or what we happen next.

I read a lot of bios. Most are true, but every now and then something is so hokey you have to ask about it. Your bio says your hometown is Baraboo, Wisconsin, "a place so small it had a drive-your-tractor-to-school day." Is that real?

Oh my God! That's the most true thing in our bio! [Laughs] I paint myself as a bit of a writer and I try to be dramatic as I can. I said we sound like a combination of Feist and Monty Python. How silly is that?

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2 comments
Daniel Sexauer
Daniel Sexauer

They were great. Too bad half the crowd was chatting during your set

Erin Armknecht
Erin Armknecht

I saw Phox open for Hey Marseilles in Cedar Rapids last June, and they. are. MAGICAL. I know little about music other than what I like and don't, but they have something. Whatever it is, it's in spades. Get thee to the Duck Room, kids...they won't be playing smaller venues for long.

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