Interview: Phox

Before their gig at Broadcast, Emma Ainley-Walker sat down with four of the Wisconsin six piece Phox, Monica Martin, Matthew Holman, Matteo Roberts and Zach Johnston.

This is you just starting off on a pretty big European headline tour. How have the first few days been? Where are you most excited to go?

Monica: We came into Iceland, so that was huge for all of us, but unfortunately we were only there for 23 hours or something, so hopefully we can go back. I enjoy all the different flavours of Europe and the UK.

Matthew: Most of the time it is a short stay. Sometimes we get a little down time or maybe a day off. Yesterday we went to a mall nearby here that had an indoor ski hill. That was crazy.

Monica: This is a good story, because in the US we were on tour with Paulo Nutini, and then we were three miles away from his Grandparent’s fish and chip shop, so that’s where we had dinner yesterday and it was amazing. His parents were working and the food was really good.

Matthew: It’s the best fish I’ve had.

Monica: It’s the best fish and chips I’ve had. So good. It was like curry, gravy, something? I don’t know. I was in love with it.

Youve played in Glasgow before at Stag and Dagger, do you enjoy Glasgow crowds and the live music scene over here?

Matteo: Yeah, definitely.

Matthew: You came to a show here, right?

Monica: Yeah, actually. We played a show and it felt really good, it was really nice. That was in more like a theatre (at the CCA), it was a big rectangular room. It was much different to this kind of club setting. Here it was rowdy because I was coming to see Courtney Barnett. It was fucking great. I met a new friend who pulled me into the front row. A very lively bunch is the short answer.

Your album just came out in September in Europe but came out in June in America. Hows it been seeing your first full length album come out and do so well?

Matteo: Unexpected.

Zach: Unexpected. It’s not something I think bout that often I guess, right?

Matthew: I think that’s true. Once you finish it it’s out there, it’s somebody else’s.

Monica: I’m shocked by it actually. I don’t know if I think about that aspect of it, but the reaction, or the effect of that is that we’re on tour all the time. That, I think is what’s most shocking to me. That we get do this type of thing.

 

Its been quite a big two years for you since the Confetti EP came out in 2013. Does it feel like its been a quick rise to you, or does it just feel like youve been just been working hard since 2011 to get here?

Monica: It feels really blurry because we haven’t had a slow month to even sit and digest what’s happened. I think any one of us if we took a moment to take a look at most band’s trajectory and how they would have to pound it out for a really long time, I think that it has been very smooth, very quick for us. And that is something that is kind of more scary.

Matthew: Faster than we planned.

Monica: Faster than we planned and faster than anyone ever expects to gain recognition. But it’s exciting.

Youve played an awful lot of festivals like SXSW and Lollapalooza. Do you find festivals are a really good way for gaining new fans?

Matthew: People are there to discover new music, especially SXSW. That was great, but every festival’s like that I think. You have a lot of people who are willing to cross their comfort zone a little bit to find something new, which is exciting. Sometimes if you play a show with just one band people might not be there to discover music, but at festivals that’s the object. To run into something you’ve never heard of and give it a chance. So we get a fair shake from festival crowds, which is another challenge for us because it’s so different from playing in a club or a theatre, being on an outdoor stage and trying to win over a crowd that’s shirtless and drunk. That’s a challenge. But it’s good, it’s definitely a good challenge.

What do you think you prefer, playing festivals or your own headline tour?

Zach: That’s so hard.

Matthew: I love playing headlining stuff.

Matteo: Headlining shows are very fun.

Zach: Yeah, probably headlining.

Matteo: But we’ve also had some really spectacular festival experiences. We played this one in Trondheim, Norway, which we had never been to before and never promoted or anything, and there were like 5000 people in the audience and they were all very attentive and really into the music. And that was the same way for every band that played that day. I don’t know if that’s necessarily normal for music festivals but that was a pretty special experience. I think we’ve had a couple like that. There’s this little festival in Atlanta that we played called Shaky Knees and that was another really good atmosphere. Everyone that we ran into was just having the time of their life. It’s a toss up. Some festival experiences though can also be very terrifying.

Matthew: Like if there’s karaoke next to you and it’s louder than your stage.

Monica: Oh my God. Yeah, that was a funny day. That was Ireland this last summer and we ended up playing while Hozier was playing, so he’s like the world’s hot shit right now. I’m a fan too. It’s just hard because we’re  way more new and not very well known over here and sometimes you just get those slots where no one’s going to go. It was our first time in Ireland, and also there was karaoke going at the same time like 10 feet away, louder than our set.

Zach: There were 15 people at our set.

Monica: They were really enthusiastic.

Matthew: We made 15 fans.

Monica: There were tweets about it, like ‘Oh it’s too bad that Phox ended up going against the biggest act at this festival right now’, but we had a good time. I wasn’t mad about it, it was still a fun place.

Matthew: For a first time that’s still good. If we played in a club in Ireland there’d probably be 15 people there too.

Monica: Which we will tomorrow, and I hope there’s 15 people.

Matthew: I hope all those people come out. Shows are fun.

Matteo: They all have their pluses, their pros and cons.

 

When you released your Confetti EP you released a video with each song. Do you find that music videos are just as important as the songs themselves for reflecting what you want to get across?

Zach: Yeah, I think so. How do I answer this concisely? They can be helpful, but sometimes I think that songs shouldn’t have visual components with them. It’s a toss up, I’m unsure of how I feel about it really, because some music I don’t want to see a video for and some I think it’s nice that it does. I think it certainly helps a band from a career stand point to get noticed, and at that point it helped us get a lot of attention. But it’s different with every piece of music I think.

Matthew: It was itself a burst of confetti. A little flashy thing like, ‘here we are, this is us, now you know what we are and what we’re like.’ It’s laid a lot of context. Now, we didn’t make a video for every song on this album, but people maybe have more of a ground to understand who Monica is and this cast of the band. What we look like in our home and while we workshop, because that was very much a work in progress, kind of improvised album. I think it can be important, but unfortunately MTV doesn’t play videos any more.

Matteo: Oh no, they do. We said that to someone and they were like ‘Oh no, we’re proud to say that we still play music videos’,  but it’s at 4am or something for an hour.

Monica: I’ve seen music channels with like ‘Rihanna Takeover’ and it’s like 24 hours of Rihanna or 24 hours of Nikki Minaj and it’s like ‘you basic ass’. I like and will listen to both those people, but it’s too much.

 

Your music sounds, I think happy is the word I want to use, its really feel-good. Is that something you specifically want to come across in the tone?

Matteo: I don’t know if we’ve ever tried to design our tone to illicit certain feelings. Maybe in very vague, broad, sweep strokes. I don’t think we’ve ever thought ‘this song should have these instruments to make people feel this way’. We usually just start to riff over a melody and then it kind of falls into place, which generally I think they do come across as making people happy, but it’s never really planned.

Zach: There’s quite a bit of contrast too I think. The lyrical content can often be sort of melancholy while the music is otherwise. I think sometimes that contrast works and other times you try to have the lyrics and the way the song sounds to feel more similar. I think there’s a whimsical feeling in the music, even if it’s not happy there’s always some whimsy there, and I can see that being kind of a happy sentiment even if it’s a sad song. Like Noble Heart can feel very whimsical even though it’s kind of sad.

Monica: I think that that’s fairly accurate. A lot of the songs start and sound pretty sad, I think if we had an album that was just the way it sounded in my head it would be really annoying and sad. So in the collaboration we’ve created really nice things.

 

A year ago I interviewed Matty Healy from The 1975 and in answer to what new bands he would recommend he said you guys and specifically Slow Motion.

Matthew: Wow.

Matteo: What?

Monica: Jason Krunnfusz would lose his mind.

Matteo: Yeah, Jason’s a mega fan.

Matthew: Jason was recommending their album to us around that time, around when we played iTunes festival. They were playing it too, right? That’s so funny. They’ve got to meet each other.

Monica: I also love sex and chocolate, so I think we would get along.

 

Off the back of that, are there any bands you would recommend that are up and coming that maybe in a year well be interviewing?

Matteo: Dolores.

Monica: Definitely.

Matthew: They’re from Madison, so same place as us.

Monica: But even if they were from Middle Earth, they play really great music. J. E. Sunde.

Zach: Big influence for this band.

Monica: I’m trying to think what’s outside of our local spectrum too. So often I’m listening to music that my friends are making, which is nice.

Zach: We Are The Willows.

Monica: They’ve been getting written up all over the place.

 

As a final question, is there anything you always want to be asked in interviews that no one ever thinks to ask you about?

Matteo: What’s your favourite sandwich?

Monica: It’s usually a food question.

Matthew: Do you have anything deep about yourself that you think is misunderstood, or anything that could clarify? A question like, ‘Oh that would be thoughtful, if someone cared about that?’

Monica: I’m rarely thinking ‘Someone should ask me this question’. I think the reason why I say the food question is because I like seeing interviews that get to know the person that you’re interviewing, with more real life sort of questions.

Matteo: Classroom questions. They had some pretty hard hitting questions, like ‘how do you grapple with being a commercialised product while also feeling like a true and pure artist?’

Monica: Answering really, really thought provoking questions on the spot is something I have a hard time with. But it’s nice when you get asked questions like that. Not on the spot but then you get to think about it at home.

Matteo: It conjures feelings.

Monica: A lot of emotions.

Matteo: I actually really liked their question about if we were all teachers at a school what would we teach. It’s kind of silly and it feels totally unrelated but I feel like it’s a thing where you’re getting a glimpse into the spirit of someone. What would you love to share with people? Those kinds of questions are slightly left of centre but still give you great insight into those people.

 

What would you teach?

Matthew: (for Matteo) Choir teacher. Jason was the coach.

Monica: I feel like I was Home Ec, but I forget.

Matteo: Something like cupcakes class.

Matthew: Zach taught movies.

{Here, the interview was briefly joined by Jason Krunnfusz, who had the following reaction the The 1975 story:

Jason: No way. Not real.

Matteo: It’s funny because that was when you found their stuff, it was the same time.

Jason: That’s probably where he heard it! iTunes. Fucked up. My brain. No!}

 

Matthew: What was my class?

Zach: Psychology.

Monica: Oh yeah, you were the guidance counsellor with super long greasy hair.

Matteo: With that, you’d have an entire world in your mind just from that question.

Matthew: Dave would teach Tech Ed, or whatever. He would teach shop. There you go, now you know.


It should be noted that even after the interview was finished and the recorder turned off, Monica and Matteo carried on chatting to qmunicate about accents, comparing Northen Wisconsin to Northern England, and their love for the Glaswegian accent. Phox are, it seems, one of the loveliest, chattiest bands around.

[Emma Ainley-Walker – @emaw23]

Catch Emma’s live review in Issue 112 of qmunicate.

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