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Melting Into Lunacy: Inside the Mad, Mad World of Phoxjaw

Wednesday, 10 July 2019 Written by Matt Mills

“I had an ice-cream a minute ago. It was, like, a tiramisu. It was nice. I like choc-ices, too. I find them very silly. They remind me of my grandad.”

Daniel Garland is a man who enjoys his ice-cream. However, beneath this veneer of goofiness, you will find a songwriter with a deadly serious desire to forge a career by creating the catchiest, most eclectic rock ‘n’ roll songs possible.

Garland’s band—the Bristol troupe Phoxjaw—are a similar story. The first time you listen to their new EP, ‘A Playground for Sad Adults’, you’ll likely be left awestruck by its totally oddball musicianship and lyricism that alludes to concepts as far-flung as Pedigree Chum and whales in bathtubs. But don’t be fooled: it’s all window-dressing—seemingly silly asides that are in fact mere pawns in the outfit’s desires to broaden their listeners’ horizons.

“I feel like if you’re listening to lyrics and they’re absolutely super serious all the time, then throwing in a more light-hearted line takes you out of the track a little bit,” Garland explains. “They can make you go, ‘What? What did he just say?’ I like having that kind of push and pull.”

Scratch beneath the surface of ‘A Playground for Sad Adults’ and you’ll discover songs with essential and sincere themes. Opening track Melt, You’re a Face of Wax may initially resonate through its bizarre imagery and fusion of metal riffs with indie-rock vocals but, deep down, it’s a harrowing exploration of apathy and animal abuse.

“These songs are kind of a collage of things that I feel and things that I see,” Garland says. “Lines like ‘When they started putting orcas in bathtubs’ are describing living things as ornaments. There’s a lack of people who realise that there’s a consciousness inside these creatures.”

This has been the key to Phoxjaw becoming one of the hottest up-and-coming bands in the modern UK rock scene. They draw you in with pure weirdness, but make sure you come back again thanks to their mighty hooks and darker subliminal edge.

For the uninitiated, it would seem that it took the band next to no time to stumble across their formula of avant-garde wordplay and indie-meets-metal musicianship. After all, Phoxjaw only started making music in 2017. However, the band formed out of the ashes of Black Elephant: a long-serving prog-rock crew that eventually dissolved through some members’ lack of motivation, as well as impatience with their slow climb to success.

“Black Elephant was more of an indulgent project,” Garland remembers. “I think Phoxjaw takes more from the Beatles and the Beach Boys. No matter what, I never would have left that band, but our drummer and keys player moved onto something else. They just left. We had been around for a long time and made great records but we weren’t successful; not like what Phoxjaw’s had. I think it became hard for some people. We needed a fresh start.”

Garland found just that after Black Elephant’s implosion, starting up a self-professed “marriage” with long-time friend Josh Gallop, who was a key and prolific player in the Bristol heavy metal underground.

“I admired his passion,” Garland says. “He was the guy who ran all of his bands; very serious and committed. We were both fed up of people saying they wanted to do this but weren’t willing to go out and tour, or take time off work, or make sacrifices you have to make to be a professional musician. It was the perfect time to come together.”

Originally joining the duo were drummer (and Josh’s brother) Kieran Gallop, keyboardist Huw Allen and ex-Black Elephant guitarist Glenn Hawkins, completing the five-piece that would record Phoxjaw’s first EP, ‘Goodbye Dinosaur…’, in 2018. 

The six-song snapshot introduced the band’s unorthodox stylings, which continue to run through ‘Playground…’. Ominous verses and Garland’s grungy singing were reminders of the suburban melodies of the Arctic Monkeys, before they exploded into cathartic guitar riffs that would feel totally at home on a Mastodon album. It was progressive and unique, yet, mathematically, always remained true to the succinct structures of pop music.

The uncompromising originality of ‘Goodbye Dinosaur…’ catapulted Phoxjaw onto European tours with fast-rising darlings of the rock world, including Black Peaks and Pagan. From there, their reputation as unpredictable anarchists has only grown, with not even arduous line-up changes being able to hobble them this time around.

“‘Goodbye Dinosaur…’ was actually a turbulent time,” Garland reveals. “Glenn had left and Huw was leaving. Although me and Josh would always move on with this project, there was that fear we had from previous bands. I was thinking, ‘Oh no, not again. Don’t let this go down the drain again.’ It actually made us stronger; the new line-up is stronger than we’ve ever been as a band.”

Now flanked by new guitarist Alex Share, and with their latest EP only days old, Garland and the brothers Gallop are already planning the next step in Phoxjaw’s ceaseless progression. Their music may be some of the most endearingly offbeat in the British rock scene, but the quartet fully plan on capitalising on the surprising amount of interest they’re cultivating.

“‘A Playground for Sad Adults’ already feels old to me now,” the frontman shrugs. “I’m working on the debut album and album two now. We’ve demoed a lot of songs and I’m so excited. I’m really proud of what comes next; it’s some of my best work.”

It’s fortunate that their momentum is only increasing in its intensity, as the youngsters are clearly intent on being near-omnipotent workhorses. Happily, if they keep making music as unique and intriguing as what they have created so far, it seems that it will be an extremely long time before anybody gets sick of hearing new Phoxjaw songs.

‘A Playground for Sad Adults’ is out now via Hassle. Phoxjaw play 2000trees festival, which runs between July 11 and 14.

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