By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 30, 2015 at 4:56 PM

The Summer Festivals Guide is presented by Pick 'n Save, Where Wisconsin Saves on Groceries. Pick 'n Save is Wisconsin proud, and excited to help promote and feed the great Milwaukee summer that includes festivals and fun nearly every day. Click to save here!

After traveling the globe in support of its star-making self-titled debut album, PHOX's tour is bringing the band right back to where its journey started in the first place. Well, almost. The Wisconsin-based soulful sextet will finish its tour in its true hometown of Baraboo later in July. First, however, the band is dropping by its "home away from home" of Milwaukee to play Summerfest, opening for Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros at the BMO Harris Pavilion at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 2. 

Before then, got a chance to chat with PHOX's Matt Holmen, and considering the season, it only made sense to ask about his own fondest Summerfest memories, working the festival circuit, the band's plans for a sophomore album ... and why we should all move to the Arctic Circle. And no, it's not for its beach season. I saw your lead singer Monica Martin perform briefly at Shakey Graves and stay to watch a bit of Punch Brothers at the BMO Harris Pavilion last week. I was going to ask if you get to actually come down and enjoy Summerfest when you have a gig there like this?

Matt Holmen: Yeah definitely! Summerfest is pretty easy – especially if you want to go multiple days. I’ll be definitely hanging around on the day of our set, watching shows.

OMC: Is there anyone in particular you really want to hit up?

MH: I’m just kind of impressed with the lineup overall for the festival, headlines and local bands getting to play. We’re playing right before Edward Sharpe, and that’ll be cool. I haven’t been to the BMO Harris Pavilion yet, so I’m excited to check that out.

OMC: Last time we chatted, you guys had just been announced for Coachella. How was that experience?

MH: That was great. You know, all the festivals that happen around the country are so fun to be a part of. Some of them have different attitudes than others. Some festivals are more about culture at large, and then other festivals are about … like, the Newport Folk Festival is a much smaller but much more music-oriented and family-oriented atmosphere. Whereas Coachella is definitely a much younger demographic and has a lot of facets to it. It was good.

OMC: Where does Summerfest fall on that spectrum for you?

MH: I think Summerfest is rapidly evolving to fit the current, you know, what people kind of expect from festivals – especially younger people. I think Summerfest is doing well because it is a family-oriented festival. I think those, for me personally and for a lot of other people my age, that’s the kind of festival you want to go to because it’s not necessarily completely overrun with … uh, how do you say … people who just want to party.

It really is about music fans. It’s inexpensive. It’s in a fantastic location and easy to get to. I’m just really blown away the way the lineup came together this year. It’s like every band in all of these festivals that you have to pay $300 to go see … and it’s $15 at Summerfest. And it’s in our backyard.

OMC: Do you have any fond Summerfest memories, either performing or as a patron?

MH: I’ve been to Summerfest for about 20 years or whatever. I’ve played at the small truck stages up to the local stage, and now we’re playing the BMO. It’s crazy, and I’ve had a chance to see it from every single angle.

But actually, funny enough, when I was playing in a different band on a very tiny stage maybe six or seven years ago, Monica came to see our set, and after the fact, we went to go see Dashboard Confessional – who we just played with a week ago, and actually got to know Chris (Carrabba, lead singer and rhythm guitar) and the guys; they’re incredibly nice people and welcomed us and advocated for us at all of their shows. But it was very surreal. We kind of elbowed up to the front row. I forget what stage it was on, maybe the Harley or something. And we pushed our through all the kids and got right in the front row – and I never, never, never, ever do that at shows; I find the place where I’m the least intrusive.

But I was in the front row against the railing, and I just remember very vividly watching Chris and the guys play a cover of Weezer’s "El Scorcho." And I was just like, "This is the coolest possible thing." (laughs) Then (Sunday) night, I was at Dashboard Confessional’s show, and I found a little pocket up near the front of the crowd where I could stand. And Chris, on stage, turns to me and says, "Hey, I just wanted everyone to say hi to my friend Matt, who’s standing over there. He’s in a band called PHOX." I was, like, no way. This is not real, is it? (laughs)

OMC: How did you kind of meet up with them?

MH: I mean, we played a show together. We opened for them; they were on tour with Third Eye Blind – I like both of those bands – and the promoter just asked if we wanted to, because we were playing a smaller venue in the same building, play on the main stage and open the show. And we were like, "OK!" Actually, the bass player Scott Schoenbeck is from Milwaukee, so he’d seen us play a few times at the Pabst and Turner Hall, so he knew about us. But Chris watched our set and was just really complimentary afterward. He was like, "We have to go on stage right now, but I want to talk to you about your set after. It was really great." So we ended up just hanging.

OMC: Do you have anything special planned for your upcoming Summerfest show?

MH: You know, thanks to you guys and Radio Milwaukee and all of the awesome stations and media channels in Milwaukee, it’s kind of become our home away from home. It’s like our second home, and playing in Milwaukee is always the most fun experience. We have a pretty diverse set planned. It’s a lot bigger venue, but it’ll be just like we’re playing in your living room.

I think the big thing – and I guess people who have seen us know – is our attitude about performing is one that’s not about glorifying the idea of a rock band but about just trying to be people on stage and trying to relate, tell stories and have fun together.

OMC: Will there be any new songs potentially, perhaps off of a new record in the works?

MH: You know, that’s the next step after we’re done touring. And we only have like four shows left this year and then we’ll be back to recording. So unfortunately no. We have a couple of B-sides we did a little bit ago; we’ll play some of those. But yeah … 

OMC: Looking at fall for recording then?

MH: Yeah. I mean, Monica’s been writing stuff and she’s always just jotting down ideas as they come to her. We’re trying to figure out how we want to do that, if we want to go travel and stay somewhere with relatives in some corner of the country and workshop stuff or what we’re going to do. We’re in a great point; we’re pretty much done touring on this album with our last handful of shows, so we’re just trying to take everything we’ve learned over the past couple years and apply it to our live show and try and kill it.

OMC: Do you have, like, a dream location that you would love to write and brainstorm and hash out an album?

MH: For some reason, I would just love to do that in Trondheim, Norway. We played a show there very randomly maybe two years ago, and that’s miles away from the Arctic Circle. So they get, like, 24 hours of sunshine in the summer and 24 hours of dark in the winter.

I think it’d be really interesting to be in a place that is a complete extreme, some place that you can’t escape the elements in that way. Because, you know, in Wisconsin, the winter is very long and very cold, but you can always go inside. But if you’re in a place that’s constant dark or constant sun, what would that do to your creative process? I wonder if, instead of saying "OK, the day is done; it’s time to turn in," you might just keep working. Because you take all of these cues; you start getting the fading light, and it’s like, oh, it’s about time to have a beer and watch Netflix. (laughs)

OMC: Maybe it would just 72 hours of pure creativity because you wouldn’t have those signifiers.

MH: If that were the elixir, I mean, I’d say let’s all do it. Let’s all move to the Arctic Circle. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.