Tuesday, July 11, 2006

ZOX story - Newport Mercury - 6/26/06 - full text

Success hasn't spoiled them yet

Targeted serendipity. It started with that self-fulfilling
prophecy Zox guitarist-vocalist Eli Miller made in high school. Then inspiration came from a certain monosyllabic last name. From left, Dan Edinberg, bass and vocals, John Zox, drums, Miller and Spencer Swain, violin and vocals. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY LAURA BARISONZI

With Virginia Coalition and Alexi Murdoch; Heather Rose on the
Festival Stage
Wed., 6-28, 7 p.m. Gates open 5, Festival Stage music starts at 6.
Newport Yachting Center
America’s Cup Avenue, Newport
$15 advance, $18 at door


Warped Minds and Rusted Wheels: an apt title for the summer plans
of Providence’s Zox.

That is what the violin-laced, ska-peppered rock band has dubbed
their upcoming tour, which has them spending most of June darting
from city to American city as part of the Vans Warped Tour before
they head off for the rest of the summer — both stateside and at a
couple of European rock festivals — supporting Rusted Root. Zox
also recently signed with the indie label Side One Dummy Records,
which just reissued the band’s self-released sophomore album,
Reached by phone recently, 26-year-old Zox singer/guitarist Eli
Miller said that SideOneDummy is a welcome home for the band,
which has put out two records, achieved some commercial radio
airplay thanks in no small part to WBRU-FM, and garnered a
hard-working reputation by virtue of their relentless willingness
to travel since their initial inception as a college party band.

“When we put out The Wait in the fall of 2005 we started to get a
lot of attention (from labels),” Miller said. “The two presidents
of (SideOneDummy) flew out to New York in September and came to a
show and they offered us a deal right there. They had done a lot
of research and were super enthusiastic.”

Considering the diverse blend of hybrid punk acts SideOneDummy has
in its stable — from the heavily Irish-traditional bent of
Flogging Molly to the raunchy klezmer of Gogol Bordello to the dub
infusion of Bedouin Soundclash — the label makes sense for a band
like Zox, who fuse myriad influences into their sound. Miller
concurred, but said that the signing had as much to do with
practical considerations as it did stylistic ones.

“They just seemed like a really good company,” Miller said. “They
were small enough to give us a lot of attention, which was
important to us.” Miller added that SideOneDummy tends to seek out
“good live acts with a lot of word-of-mouth support, personal
contact with fans, and the DIY thing.”

The “DIY thing” — do it yourself — is something that has been part
and parcel of Zox since they formed in the early 2000s, when
Miller and most of the band were still undergrads at Brown
University. Zox put out its first two records, Take Me Home and
The Wait, on their own Arno Records label, handled booking, and
controlled the artwork and pretty much every other aspect of a
career that allowed all of the band members to leave their day
jobs behind three years ago.

For The Wait, Zox was assisted in the studio by the legendary
Mitch Easter. Easter founded the band Let’s Active back in the
early 1980s, but his rightfully earned status as a rock icon is
mostly due to his production work. Easter helmed the first couple
of records for R.E.M. — who were then mere jangly college rock
peers of Let’s Active — and throughout the ensuing decades went on
to lend his board skills to notables such as Marshall Crenshaw,
Game Theory and The Connells, plus plenty of lesser-known greats
like The Individuals, The Loud Family, Motocaster and Providence’s
own Velvet Crush.

“(Easter) was so cool,” Miller said. “Just very down to earth,
very understated. In a very important way (producers like Easter)
show you what they know by not talking too much.”

In addition to Miller, who writes most of the material, Zox
includes two other Brown alumni: bass player/keyboardist/ vocalist
Dan Edinberg, 25, from the Boston area who majored in music, and
drummer John Zox, 26, the initially reluctant namesake for the
group, who has an engineering degree. Rounding out the four-piece
is violinist/vocalist Spencer Swain, 25, a classically trained
player who attended the music conservatory at Purchase College in
New York. He joined the band after answering a newspaper
classified ad Miller and Zox took out seeking a violinist
interested in classical music, punk and reggae.

Did Miller have any idea when Zox originally formed that they
would end up making music for a living?

“No,” Miller answered bluntly. A San Francisco native, he said his
old friends now laugh at him because when he was in high school,
he gave a speech to his senior class titled “When I Grow Up, I
Want To Be A Rock Star.”

“It was an ideal, but not something I considered seriously,”
Miller said.

Miller said the epiphany that made him want to start playing music
came from his high school D.A.R.E. officer, who “was an incredible
guitar player.” Miller walked into the classroom one day and
witnessed the officer playing the opening notes of Guns N’ Roses’
“Paradise City” on an amplified electric guitar and was instantly
blown away. He went home that day and told his mom he wanted a

Miller described the musical tastes of his youth as “an even-keel
mix of classic rock — AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, The Doors — and a lot
of the West Coast punk rock,” bands like Lagwagon and Operation
Ivy. He would go on to form his own bands for the duration of his
teenage years. “I started writing songs really quickly, writing
lyrics, original music,” he said. “I was always looking for other
musicians to play my songs.”

Original material — particularly the fluid batch of tunes from The
Wait — is what audiences should expect if they go see the Zox
live, but Miller said the band occasionally throws in a cover by
one of their heroes like the Pixies, the Beatles, the Police, or
Iggy and the Stooges. There also might be a new song or two thrown
in for good measure, but the focus, he said, is going to be on the
latest album.

“I’ve got some (new) songs definitely that I’ve been working on,”
Miller said. “We won’t be getting into a studio until early next
year, maybe next spring, depending on how the tour schedule goes.”
Rounding out the interview, Miller was asked if Zox might be an
elaborate ruse to put off joining the real world.

“There is an element of that,” Miller conceded, but added that he
has come to believe that “real life” can be defined in many ways.
Making a living as a musician, for Miller, is just as valid as
working 9-to-5.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Miller explained.
“We’ve worked really hard at it. What is great is it’s ours. We
make all the decisions. We don’t have to answer to anyone. That’s
something we all really relish, being able to go out every night
and play rock music for a living.”


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