Spencer Swain of ZOX
Currently out on tour in support of their latest release, Line In The Sand, ZOX (Eli Miller on guitar and lead vocals, Spencer Swain on violin and vocals, Dan Edinberg on bass and vocals, and John Zox on drums) continue to woo their cult following from coast to coast. Making a mockery out of mainstream ideologies by letting their music be the predominant voice that speaks for them, these guys are definitely a horse of a different color. It’s not easy to create perfect pop songs with deep rich layers so beautiful they should be framed and hung on the wall, with lyrics that are heartfelt and relatable, all while trading in the lead guitar for a classically-trained electric violinist.
The band came together when a few members met in college in 2002, thats right, brains and beats. They played the college circuit and started to build a voracious fanbase that only continues to grow to this very day. Doing things their own way from the start has made the band a formidable force. Mixing a melting pot of sounds from their folk roots to indie rock, to 80s influenced sounds, Line In The Sand is being called their best album to date. Produced by John Goodmanson (of Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater-Kinney, Harvey Danger fame), Goodmanson seems to have pulled the best out of this quartet. Whether it be their anthematic rockers or their balladesque heartbreakers the songwriting on this album should not go unnoticed.
Violinist Spencer Swain took some time to chat with TWRY staffer Stacie before their recent show in Boston. Dig it.
Interviewed by: Stacie Caddick-Dowty | March 2008
Some of you met at Brown University and united to form ZOX. Tell me a bit more about your studies, coming together and deciding to turn to music as your career. I read that one of you turned down am offer from Stanford to stay with the band?
The other three did. John and Eli basically started the band at Brown. They had a revolving cast of characters for a while. We had a different bass player on our first album, Ellie. Dan joined after that. We didn’t really start taking it seriously till after they finished school, and we formed the foursome that you see now.
I was wondering about their studies. What made them take the music route and not take their degrees and follow the other path?
Well, by the time they finished they had been playing all through school together, and I joined their last year of school. We played a lot more shows after that. We played here in Boston a lot and of course in Providence, basically did the New England tour circuit. We realized that we could do something with this; we were able to sustain ourselves. It became our job basically so we started doing it full time, playing show after show, and made our living off of this. And, that is pretty incredible! So everyone put off their plans for this.
Early in your musical jaunt you were described as reggae influenced, of late “genre bending”; your sound has definitely evolved over time to what is now, more of a strait up radio friendly electric violin infused rock that is more mature. Can you elaborate on the evolution of your sound for me a bit?
As with many bands, you know, you start off someplace just jamming and writing some songs. You always want to expand on your material. The first record was more pop, and little more reggae, with some sublime influences. As we got older, and hopefully more mature, we realized that you just want to evolve, of course. This last album we explored different writing styles. We used a lot more outside instruments. We incorporate a lot more of that into the shows now. We have some outside samples and some keyboards. Dan will play accordion sometimes. Yeah it’s a much thicker more mature sound.
“Line In The Sand” was released January 22nd, debuted at #14 on Billboard.com’s Top Heatseekers for Feb 9th, and moved up to #4 for Feb 16th, I predict it won’t be long till we see this album on the Billboard 200. What do you attribute this success to?
You really did do your research. Throughout the years we’ve had a pretty awesome fan base, especially in this area, people who have stuck with us. Through word of mouth and everything word has been spread as we play a lot more shows. We’ve been selling records at every show. Also with the internet and free downloads and everything it’s a lot more available. I actually had no idea what those numbers were!
“Lucky Sometimes” is a portrait of the state of affairs in the world today. This is a very personal account of your feelings of war; can you explain to me what sparked these lyrics, and why you felt it important to include them on this album to share with the world?
As far as the specifics on where the lyrics came from, Eli wrote the lyrics to that as he does with most of our material. I think we felt it was important to include that because of everything going on and the frustrations surrounding it. I think a lot of people can actually relate to that song. I know I can, I have friends who are involved in the war. It’s a tough thing! We’ve actually gotten some messages from people who are soldiers who have heard it and are like “Yeah, that’s awesome!” or “Thank you for writing that song!” So it’s really cool.
“Goodnight” was entered into the International Song Writing competition. Today is the last day to vote… do you know where you stand in the competition, and when the final results will be revealed?
The last I heard we had done really well with that. We got a message saying we were finalists, but I’m not sure what that actually means. (** ed. note: as of right now the winner has yet to be announced**) I should check on that.
What have been some of the greatest lessons learned in the 6 years you’ve been together?
Always change the batteries in your pedals. Do laundry as often as you can. Learn how to get along with your band mates.
I really just enjoy playing music, and being in the band is such a great opportunity. You get to travel and see so many thinks you might have never gotten to see. And, you are doing something that you like at the same time, which is really incredible. We’ve been able to go to Europe, and it looks like we are going to be doing that again. That’s not really answering your question… but overall just knowing that it’s possible to do this, and actually doing it!
What is your favorite band to tour with? Why? What did you learn from them?
That’s a tough one actually; we’ve played with a lot of different bands. We did a short tour with a band called Dub Trio which I really liked. They are out of Brooklyn. They are sort of an instrumental, dub reggae group. They sort of hint on hard rock here and there, with a lot of different influences. We did a tour with Flogging Molly which was really great. It was like a six week tour cross country in a bus. That was a lot of fun! This band from the UK that we did a tour with called Beat Union that was really great. They are this late seventies influenced punk rock band. There are so many!
From a recent MySpace blog – your nicknames are as follows – Dan “t-bag” Edinberg, Eli “h2o” Miller, John “cran-boy” Zox, and Spencer “thebean” Swain. Tell me how these nicknames came about.
That’s been a running joke. They just sort of pop up, usually it’s just something that happened that day, not really anything that sticks. They are different every day.
Internet media outlets such as MySpace and of COURSE TheyWillRockYou.com How do they help you in your goal to get your music out there?
Extraordinarily! That’s the way that people are getting their information now. You still have radio, you still have videos and TV and such. But, of course the internet is an incredible tool. There is just so much out there, and it’s possible for people to get so many things. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. iPods as well, there is such a variety of information and music you can get. I haven’t been to your site yet, but I will definitely have to do my research and check it out!
I’ve heard “Goodnight” on 95.5 BRU in great frequency. When people ask me “Who’s Zox?” I end up saying, “Oh you probably heard their song “Goodnight” it’s all over the radio!” But, is it just on select stations at this point? (I think you are going to have a “Hey There Delilah” on your hands…)
BRU has been really good to us. As our hometown radio station they have sponsored shows, and we’ve gone in and they’ve interviewed us. We did a thing where we took over the station and played our own selections. The list on our MySpace page is a list of stations that are playing us right now. There are other stations across the country and of course college radio. We did a few interviews on college radio stations. Slowly but surely we are building up our radio play which is great.
How excited are you to get back into Providence and play your favorite venue – Lupo’s?
We’re pretty stoked actually. We’ve always done well there. We’ve been playing Lupo’s for the past few years, and it’s great! We get the hometown crowd, and it’s pretty crazy. It’ll be a good time!
In closing, is there anything that I missed that you want the world to know about Zox?
Come to a show, we’ll be on tour for the next two months. We’ll be going out with Streetlight Manifesto in a few weeks. We’ll be going cross country and then going back to Europe!