Pheeling phoxy

Phox’s polished indie-folk tunes propelled them into an unexpected spotlight

From left: Matteo Roberts, Matthew Holmen, David Roberts, Monica Martin, Zach Johnston and Jason Krunnfusz of Phox.

Photo courtesy of Pip for Partisan Records

From left: Matteo Roberts, Matthew Holmen, David Roberts, Monica Martin, Zach Johnston and Jason Krunnfusz of Phox.

Grant Tillery

Winging it is not a mere act of defiance. It’s a lifestyle, at least for the members of Phox.

“We have no idea what we’re doing,” keyboardist Matteo Roberts said.

Phox’s profile is rising fast thanks to their self-titled debut album released last year. The Madison-based sextet blends folky old-fashioned charm with polished production and modern slickness. They’re opening for Dr. Dog during the band’s three-night stand in the Twin Cities with one sold-out show at the Turf Club and two at First Avenue.

Lead singer Monica Martin’s voice garners frequent Feist comparisons with its smoky timbre and singsong lilt.  After listening to “Phox,” these comparisons are justified. At no point does Martin come off as an imitator or clone, even though the string instrument jangles and woodwind presence on the album evoke a pared-down version of the glorious cacophony of Feist’s “The Reminder.”

The sextet grew up together in Baraboo, Wis., and migrated to Madison when small town trappings grew tiresome. Several of the musicians found themselves crashing with their parents back in Baraboo after college, and formed the band to combat middle-American ennui and to propel them onward and upward.

“Baraboo has that small-town America charm where it’s a little bit disconnected from pop culture,” Roberts said. “As a result, [that] aided us; you have to create your own fun when [all] you have [is] a Walmart.”

After garnering buzz for a top-notch SXSW performance in 2013, Phox signed with Brooklyn’s Partisan Records. The move eschews the typical Midwestern ethos of signing with local boutique labels for working with an indie stronghold better equipped to advance their career. Since they’ve grabbed the attention of larger acts like Dr. Dog, this tactic seems to have worked.

“Maybe it’s something Midwestern in us that comes out, but we like to find like-minded people that you can tell genuinely care about everyone they’re working with,” Roberts said of Partisan Records.

The label’s roster includes several other Midwestern bands — like Field Report — creating a sense of comfort for Phox.

Phox recorded their debut LP at April Base, Justin Vernon’s home studio in Eau Claire, Wis., in January 2014. While Vernon didn’t have a hand in the production of the record, he served as a sort of spiritual guru to the band members.

“People who are part of that crew would just pop in and say hi and sit down and have coffee with you,” Roberts said of the camaraderie at April Base. “[Justin] arrived during the last week of recording and was exhausted from touring, and just wanted to hang. He’s an incredible person and obviously for us being Wisconsin kids, [meeting him was] surreal.”

Though “Phox” sounds intricate and constructed thanks to multiple layers of instrumentation, the band recorded the album in a dash with high hopes of a quick release.

“We recorded it in two-and-a-half weeks and mixed and mastered it immediately after,” Roberts said. “We would have liked to have a little more time to work on the songs and let [them] breathe more naturally. We ended up doing one to two songs a day; it ended up being a little crazy when you’re in the studio and have that pressure sitting there.”

Success comes as a surprise to Phox. Roberts dismissed the band’s good fortunes with self-deprecating bewilderment.

“We’re all just blown away that any of this has happened, and people are in love with the album and like listening to our music,” Roberts said. “It’s a truly mind-blowing thing for a lot of us that we can’t quite understand yet.”

 

Phox (Opening for Dr. Dog)

 

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: First Avenue, 701 N. First Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: $22

Ages: 18+