Is PHOX breaking up? The real meaning behind indefinite hiatus
It took a month or two for the news to sink in.
PHOX, arguably the most popular band to come out of Madison since Garbage, surprised fans with the announcement of an indefinite hiatus for future projects. The news came in the form of a media release for a February 3 PHOX gig at the Capitol Theater followed by Facebook and Instagram postings. The band had been laying low for much of 2016 supposedly working on a new album. It seemed a little bit strange when Pitchfork Radio was in town last July and didn’t include PHOX anywhere in their week-long coverage.
Few Madison bands have received the critical acclaim and popularity that PHOX experienced since releasing their first EP in June of 2012. Lollapalooza, Coachella, a Partisan Records contract and numerous tours across the U.S. and Europe dotted the resume of the indie folk popsters. Their Wisconsin shows at the High Noon Saloon, Capitol Theater and Turner Hall were sell-outs. PHOX was even receiving regular airplay on Sirius XMU satellite radio. Known for their intricate harmonies and quirky multi-instrument arrangements, spearheaded by vocalist Monica Martin's sultry soulfulness and guitarist Matt Holmen, the band seemed to be on the cusp of breaking through into the mainstream. By their own comedic admission, PHOX placed themselves somewhere between Feist and Monty Python.
Early on, the band had obtained a management contract with Onto Entertainment the same people who guided the Lumineers to success. PHOX was fortunate to be the developing band in an organization that had some serious clout and cash flow due to the platinum sales of the Lumineers debut album. Whether any of that money ended up in the pockets of band members is questionable, but it certainly helped fuel the rise of PHOX as an emerging independent artist. After a couple of self-released EPs and one album, PHOX released their official self-titled debut album on Partisan Records in June, 2014. Recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios in Eau Claire, the album was cemented into Wisconsin indie folk lore.
We often wondered about the logistics and expense of a six-member group on the road. Not only did PHOX have serious management, they were also blessed with a top notch booking agency. Billions had the connections to keep them touring nonstop allowing PHOX to follow the yellow brick road that so many musicians strive for. In the final hand though, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may not have been in the cards.
As usual for PHOX this was completely organic in the beginning, never meticulously planning or mapping out a career strategy. Although, there must have been some interesting conversations with their record company and management later on. The band was in it for all the right reasons making an artistic statement through their music while following an independent path.
In June of 2015, the band handed the reins over to Foundations Artist Management and they continued to gig, but a new album never materialized.
PHOX at SXSW
We were able to see the band at different stages in their development over the last four years. The first time was in the summer of 2012 at the Willy Street Fair followed by SXSW and the first Revelry Festival. Believe it or not, PHOX played right before Chance the Rapper at Revelry. Seeing them live in the early days always reminded me of a collaborative ensemble with no one person taking the spotlight. By the time, we saw them again two years later at the Inaugral Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival, PHOX had moved to bigger stages and Monica Martin had emerged as the focal point for live shows. They also managed to lose an original member somewhere along the way. You didn’t really feel the ensemble vibe anymore.
PHOX always made you feel good if you were a local musician or just a local music fan. No matter what music genre you gravitated toward, it was nice to have the most prominent independent band in the state based out of Madison. Better yet, proof you didn’t have to move out of town to do it! Except for Bon Iver, who just recently started to tour and record again there really hasn’t been another band who generated this much attention over the last few years. Makes you wonder who the next Madison artist will be to do it?
We still feel the best material from PHOX was on their first EP 'Unblushing'. Recorded in one take, mistakes and all, it really highlighted the spontaneous creative output of close-knit friends that shared a house in Madison. No expectations, glowing reviews or fan adulation at this point. The rough edges had not been smoother over by a producer. Even then, you could sense the potential for bigger and better things to come.
My college journalism professor would kill me for using a non-authoritative source, but we’re in the era of fake news so what the hell. According to the urban dictionary, which reads between the lines if you catch my drift, the fog is cleared on the real meaning of indefinite hiatus.
A fancy term for 'break up'. Bands use it to think it will soften the blow on their fans, when they in fact know the harsh truth.
I came across the zipped Bandcamp download of Unblushing the other day on one of our external digital hard drives. At the time, it was a free download. Enjoy the first song we ever heard by PHOX (Clubs & Spades) and see them live on what may be their final tour.
PHOX Indefinite Hiatus Tour (with Cuddle Magic opening)
1/25 9:30 CLUB - WASHINGTON, DC
1/26 WORLD CAFE LIVE - PHILADELPHIA, PA
1/27 BRIGHTON MUSIC HALL - ALLSTON, MA
1/28 MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG - BROOKLYN, NY
1/31 LINCOLN HALL - CHICAGO, IL
2/1 PABST THEATRE - MILWAUKEE, WI
2/2 CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER - MINNEAPOLIS, MN
2/3 CAPITOL THEATER - MADISON, WI
2/4 AL RINGLING THEATRE - BARABOO, WI