For the alt-rock collective PHOX, the holiday season marks the anniversary of their move to Madison and a curious incident that brought them closer.
After forming in their hometown of Baraboo, PHOX plunged into Madison's music scene when they started getting offers to bring their eclectic sound to the area. The group moved close to downtown last December, into a spacious house they've dubbed "The PHOX Den." The canary-yellow domicile has served as living quarters, practice space and a home studio for the band's six members.
For their Madison debut, the group was asked to play a set of holiday tunes at the Johnson Public House. They had only a week to learn an hour's worth of material for the show, and they weren't accustomed to playing yuletide music. With tensions running high, the first night's practice came to an ominous close. During a soulful rendition of "Santa Baby," the group's instruments awakened a nest of brown bats in the chimney, unleashing a flurry of terror into the living room.
"It was like that scene in Batman when young Bruce Wayne falls into a well and a swarm of bats attack his face," recalls drummer Dave Roberts. "Except, you know, in the place where we sleep."
With neither the heart nor the funds to kill an army of bats, the band's first week in Madison was a sleepless one. Amid a cloud of financial worry and the possibility of rabies, PHOX practiced under the threat of constant bat bombardment. After several days, they were able to evict the pests with a combination of blankets, kind words and squirt guns. It was just in time for the show.
"It's strange how our work ethic over the last year was in many ways defined by that first week [in the house]," says bassist Cheston VanHuss, recalling how the band made their first full-length album, Friendship, in less than a week. "It's as if, deep down, we are always waiting for disaster to strike, so it's better to finish things sooner than later."
To celebrate their first year in town, PHOX will join Paul Otteson, Whitney Mann, Dietrich Gosser and several other local musicians at Gates of Heaven on Saturday, Dec. 8, for a holiday charity concert called Wintersong. Singer-songwriter Anna Vogelzang, who curated the event, describes it as a "dream Madison mega-bill." All proceeds go toward Madison's Second Harvest Foodbank. Thankful for the support they've received thus far - and their now critter-free house - PHOX are excited to spend the holiday with friends old and new.
"Unless bats take over the event," says keyboardist Matt Roberts, only half-kidding. "We don't do bats."