Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Phox Live at The Sugar Club & Interview

(Photo: Remy Connolly)

Info: Last Sunday night in The Sugar Club was one of the more special and most enjoyable live shows I've attended in quite a while. I was there to see Wisconsin band Phox, hot on the heels from their appearance on Conan O'Brien the previous week and at the starting point of their European tour. It wasn't the band's first time performing in Ireland, as they played at Electric Picnic in September, but in considerably different surroundings, they put on a superb show at the intimate venue. Singer Monica Martin opened and closed the night, and in between the band members played the vast majority of tracks from their self-titled debut album which was released at the end of August. Highlights included my favourite track of theirs 'Calico Man' at the beginning of the night, the gorgeous 'Noble Heart' above, as well as a pleasant surprise at the end when Martin performed a hair-raising version of, wait for it, The Thrills' 'Not For All The Love In The World' song (definitely better than the original!). In some ways the night couldn't have gone better for both audience and band, the atmosphere was so relaxed but it didn't take long for the crowd to be fully engaged in the performance, in no small part to Phox's interaction, witty, happy and infectious. There were no trappings, just friends playing for friends is how I would sum it up. 

On a personal note I had a great chat with all of the band members afterwards, Matt who took the time to do the interview which is below, the lovely Monica who left a wonderful signed message on a copy of their album for me, and of course Jason, Matteo and Davey for shooting the breeze while we were waiting to take a few photos, special mention goes to the multi-tasking Gareth as well! This could be the nicest collective of musicians in the world right now.

Phox, 'Slow Motion'


Remy: You recently played the Little Big Tent (on the same roster as the excellent FKA Twigs & Irish band The Academics) at Electric Picnic, Ireland’s most popular music festival, how did you find the experience and did you get to mingle with any of your heroes over the course of the weekend?

Matt: Electric Picnic was where we first saw Paolo (Nutini), with whom we went on tour in the US right after returning from Europe. That man puts on an amazing show, especially in front of 50,000 people. We unfortunately had to up and leave for the ferry on the south end of Ireland that night, so no mingling for us. That happens a lot, when there's relatively no time for sight-seeing or boogying. 

Remy: Your self-titled release traverses so many different genres on each track. For example, opener 'Calico Man' could easily be on Nico’s Chelsea Girl, current single 'Slow Motion' is very chamber-pop, 'Evil' is folk-country and 'Noble Heart' is a real throwback to soulful blues. Is this as a result of varied influences among yourselves or merely the result of combined creativity?

Matt: It's definitely not intentional. Well, I suppose it is inasmuch as we try to write around Monica's melodies. We aim to set the lights just right, and put out the right potpourri. It would be totally silly if 'Calico Man' was folk-country and 'Slow Motion' was Chelsea Girl. Or maybe not?

Remy: Monica, I have to ask, purely because I think your vocals are outstanding and incredibly easy on the ear, which vocalists past and / or present do you most admire?

Matt (not Monica!): Monica always cites the classic jazz singers as influences. Billie, Etta, Ella. But also some contemporary folk singers, like Brandi Carlile. She used to yodel around the house a lot. 

Remy: The track and video for 'Slow Motion' is anarchic and fun-filled form start to finish, bar perhaps one or two other tracks out of the 12 on Phox, from my view this is quite in contrast to the rest of the album, many tracks seem to start out with a small tinge of sadness before reaching a hopeful conclusion, is this an overall idea for the album or am I seeing something that isn’t actually there at all!! 

Matt: There isn't an overall theme. Perhaps the best summary is that these are deeply personal stories, like entries out of Monica's diary. She never expected most of her friends in Madison to hear them, let alone have the lyrics be read by music journalists in Ireland. My read is that these songs come across vulnerable with intention to emote, not to hand-hold listeners through a story. There's no narrator.

(Photo: Remy Connolly)

Remy: I’m an unashamed vinyl enthusiast, (and in the interest of being upfront, I also have a beard, but it’s a normal one, not a lumber-jack one) so I was delighted to see on your website that you are selling the Phox LP on vinyl as well as other formats, something that’s always refreshing to see. Do any of you yourselves have a soft spot for the big old record disc?

Matt: I too have a normal beard, so yeah, definitely. I mean, when buying physical music, it always seems worth it to spend the extra few bucks to get the big beautiful artwork. Plus, when you're making out with someone on the couch, listening to 45s, and you're ready to start shedding skin, you can drop this sexy line, "Baby, I'm about ready to put on a long play." (Thanks to Michael Doyle Olson for that line.)

Remy: You were on an intensive 13 city U.S. tour supporting the ridiculously good-looking, talented and well-dressed Paolo Nutini, before arriving back in Europe this month, did you need a translator to understand his Scottish accent? (also, he’ll be very impressed if you ask him when was the last time he had a battered Mars bar, a delicacy in his hometown Glasgow ;) )

Matt: Touring with Paolo was amazing, and the only time we might have needed a translator was after finishing a bottle of whisky. It was quite a special tour, and the man and his vipers put on a hell of a show, as I said. And damn! We deep fry candy bars in Wisconsin, too. Think we have more in common than you might guess. Oh! Guess what, we're outside of Glasgow tonight, going to Paolo's dad's fish and chips restaurant! We've heard nothing but good things. And you know Wisconsin has a Friday fish fry tradition as well! Gosh, aren't we learning so much about one another?

Remy: Well I'm just glad we swapped chip shop stories for Bon Iver Matt!

(Photo: Remy Connolly)

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