“Now, I feel like singing is the only thing I want to do. It's the only thing that makes sense.”
Photos by Megan Monday
Phox | Madison, WI
We met Phox at the Barrymore Theater in Madison. It was mid-winter and we had been invited to meet up with a variety of Wisconsin bands putting on a holiday show for charity. The front door was locked, so we wound our way along the side alley to the back of the building and found the stage door—secret side entrance of those who make the magic—open just a tiny sliver. Our knock was unanswered, so we tip-toed in, landing smack in the middle of the Barrymore stage during a live sound check. Truth? Kinda awkward. But not to worry, as these were Wisconsin bands (the friendliest type) and they joyfully greeted us and introduced us around.
Among the bands hovering on the stage that day was Phox, the band-that-could from the ‘Boo (Baraboo, that is). We at Love WI had been listening to Phox’s record on repeat for some time. Their multi-player group is quirky, their harmonies synched. Every player in that set is charming too, from Monica slipping her cell phone into her bright red boots to Matteo shyly pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. They’ve played all around the world, and we were excited to see a WI band get such wide praise. They deserve it.
We first encountered Monica Martin, Phox’s lead singer, hanging Christmas decorations on the front of the stage. She invited us down to the green room to meet fellow bandmate, Matt Holmen. We squeezed into a tiny dressing room with two members of this six-piece wunderkind Wisconsin band, and learned all about how they came to be.
Matt and Monica met in high school along with most of the members of Phox. They shared stories of high school crushes, typical teen awkwardness, and Matt’s earliest cool-kid hairstyle (hot pink). They talked about touring, including that one night where the band had to sleep on top of each other in a tiny European hotel room because there simply wasn’t enough space. Matt and Monica finished each other’s sentences and teased each other like the old friends they are. In fact the whole band seems like de-facto family, bonded from their roots in Baraboo, the houses they’ve shared, the long months on the road.
For a photo, Monica and Matt sat on the edge of an old flower-print couch in the basement. She picked out something simple and sweet on the ukulele; Matt closed his eyes and nodded along. We couldn’t help but smile, watching these young folks from Baraboo with their histories all forged, making music and their futures together.
Now here's their story, in their words.
Matt: There are several reasons that Wisconsin's been put on the map: #1 the Packers, #2 beer and cheese and #3, Bon Iver and the Eau Claire music scene. That has become something world-renowned and has really said, "Hey, Wisconsin is a place that good music is made." Before, of course we had Garbage and Smart Studios, but it’s great that we are getting refreshed reference points now.
Monica: I was in marching band in high school. I played the trombone and Matt played the trumpet. I remember the first time I saw him because he had pink hair; I was like: "Obviously, I'm going to marry him." But I was in high school and I never talked to anyone. So that actually became my goal, to hang out with Matt before I graduated.
Matt: We did hang out. It was on Christmas. I was dating a girl and we really wanted to play Guitar Hero, but all the stores were closed. I was like, "Hey! We could call Monica! She'll let us come over." And that's when I found out Monica could sing. She played ‘Carry on My Wayward Son,’ playing the riffs and singing the a cappella breakdowns. I was like, "WHAT?! You can actually make music?!? I'm just playing with a toy."
Monica: When I met Matt, I really didn't talk very much and I didn't look people in the eyes. I moved to Madison when I was 19 and was pretty aimless. Matt was in Nashville with this other band at the time. When he came back, he was kind of floundering too. He asked me to do a show and I was really apprehensive. Now I can say that I always wanted to, but I was just really afraid. I didn’t want to address why it was hard for me to sing.
Now, I feel like singing is the only thing I want to do. It's the only thing that makes sense, singing with people.
Matt: I got asked to play a show, and I lied and said I had a band. I had wanted to Monica to sing on stage for a long time, so I was like, "Hey, it's one show. No big deal." Four years later, here we are. It just kept going. People just kept giving us reasons to play shows. Our friends were like, "We're playing a show at the Project Lodge. Come open for us." Cool, great. Someone else is like, "Hey, this band is going on tour. You should go but you’ll probably have to quit your jobs." Okay...sure. Why not?
And now we’re on the road a lot. But my sense of home…a huge part is having a group of people. It's not where you are, it's who you're with. This band. It’s really true. People mean home.
-Phox | Madison, WI