South By Southwest 2014: The one band you need to know today

Here's your next favorite band -- Phox, who find the middle ground between indie-rock and soul

Published March 14, 2014 8:22PM (EDT)


There’s no particular reason you would know Baraboo, Wis., unless you’re from the area or a big fan of the Greatest Show on Earth: The little town about 40 miles outside Madison was once the headquarters of the Ringling Brothers Circus. It’s also home to the band Phox.

The group doesn’t much resemble the Ringling Brothers’ show — no high-wire acts or lion tamers here, and the members of Phox took a contrarian approach and ran away from the circus after high school, leaving Baraboo before they eventually all settled in Madison. What they do have in common is a singular ability to surprise and captivate, though Phox has a subtler touch.

The six-piece band finds the middle ground between indie-folk and soul, with hints of psychedelia and hip-hop. While that seems like an unlikely combination of influences, singer Monica Martin ties them all together with a husky, enveloping voice that sounds lived-in far beyond her 25 years.

Though the musicians have known each other for a while, Phox is a relatively young band: the group last year released a video EP, “Confetti,” and just signed to New York label Partisan Records, which will put out their debut LP this June. They performed like veterans Thursday morning at South by Southwest as part of the annual Bloody Mary Morning hosted by “Austin City Limits.”

Phox’s songs unfold slowly, and watching the band onstage is a little bit like receiving a series of really good gifts: faint hip-hop rhythmic undertones come accompanied with banjo, or a folky little piano-pop song builds into eddies of electric guitar over a burbling rhythm section, and then suddenly there’s a trumpet — because why not? — that helps propel the tune home. All the while, Martin sings in just-woke-up tones, her voice glowing with understated passion and subtle power.

The band is touring this spring with Typhoon and Laura Mvula, and is already slated to play the Sasquatch festival in George, Wash., on July 6 and the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island on July 25. Come to think of it, the path Phox is on isn’t so different from joining the circus after all.

"Noble Heart"

By Eric R. Danton

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