When the Midwestern weirdoes who make up psych-indie band PHOX first met in high school, there was no way they could’ve guessed that, just a few short years later, they’d be headlining a tour across the U.S. After all, their small hometown of Baraboo, WI celebrates a drive-your-tractor-to-school day.
But after doing what most great artists do – failing to survive in the real world – the six friends quickly reunited and set out living and writing music together. For the next two years they documented their domestic adventures and musical experimentation in an online video series and self released a demo reel of bedroom-recorded songs in an EP entitled Confetti in 2013.
This garnered the attention of Bon Iver and the Fray recording engineer Brian Joseph. Joseph encouraged the band to enter the studio and produced their chaotic self-titled debut album at April Base Studios in nearby Eau Claire, WI.
PHOX’s unique brand of eclectic folk and stellar live performances soon set the Internet ablaze. Before they knew it, the band found themselves onstage at South by Southwest and as a last-minute addition to the 2013 Lollapalooza line-up. They hit the road opening for the likes of the Lumineers and Blitzen Trapper, the latter of whom they joined at Bottletree last fall.
Riding high on their budding notoriety and debut LP, which was released in late June, these guys and girls are poised to be the next darlings of the international indie scene. They’ve since become regular features on NPR, Spotify, Sirius Radio and Pitchfork, just to name a few.
Upon listening, it’s easy to understand why. Sonically, these Wisconsinites have developed a sound that is equal parts catchy and pensive, energetic and subdued. Most easily listed beneath the “folk” heading, PHOX accompanies the usual guitar, bass and drums combo with bits of banjo, violin, piano and clarinet.
However, their songs move elegantly and are far more complex than the aforementioned “folk” label might suggest. Lead singer Monica Martin’s soulful croon wafts delicately above her bandmates’ thoughtful harmonies. PHOX isn’t at all afraid to wander into a cappella territory either, allowing songs to be carried by heartfelt vocals and progressive song structure rather than drowning them in instrumentation and radio-ready choruses.
Fans of Company of Thieves, Edward Sharpe and First Aid Kit will find PHOX feeling right at home within their record collections. Listeners will also notice various nods to straightforward indie, Southern bluegrass and the golden age of country among the musical motion as well, all delivered with genuine reverence.
Alongside PHOX this time around will be the California’s multi-lingual and multi-instrumental Trails and Ways, sporting a lofty blend of shoegaze, pop, bossa nova and soul, perfectly accenting PHOX’s Americana with bright South American color.
Spurred on by the Brazilian and Spanish influences that lead singers Emma Oppen and Keith Brower Brown gained during their post-collegiate travels across the world, Trails and Ways formed in an attempt to craft a singular sound out of Latin pop music, smooth Brazilian jazz and the dreamy indie that drifts out of Californian basements.
Floating in international waters somewhere between Beach House and Antonio Carlos Jobim, Trails and Ways seduce their audiences with tight percussion resting on a seabed of reverbed guitar and tidal synths. Their visceral shows feature all four members harmonizing lovelorn lyrics awash with English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Despite being so influenced by their trans-global pursuits, this is the band’s first venture to the Magic City.
“This is our first time playing Alabama, or the South for that matter,” Brown says. “We’re stoked to play Birmingham!”
Their debut, last year’s aptly named Trilingual EP, was a hit among college radio across the country, and the band is currently at work on their first full-length effort.