Many artists can recall their earliest childhood inspirations, when their career path became clear, but that wasn’t the case for soulful PHOX frontlady Monica Martin.
In eighth grade, the Baraboo, Wis., native — who brings her sextet to town this week — imagined one day owning a hearse. By 18, she realized she had no career aspirations whatsoever.
“I liked painting and drawing, but that was seen as this disposable talent that only my art teacher recognized, So I didn’t really value myself, and I wasn’t planning for the future because I assumed that I didn’t have one,” she says.
Though she is assured on PHOX’s eponymous new debut — draping her voice over shimmering songs such as “1936,” “Leisure” and “Kingfisher,” plus a whistling-enhanced “Slow Motion” — the confidence was a long time coming.
She lived with her grandmother, drifted through high school, and was discouraged from pursuing anything creative.
“I was so bad at the classes that I should be good at, or I just didn’t have any interest in them, so I failed a lot,” she says.
But she was halfway good at bowling, which got her hanging out with musician upperclassman Matt Holmen. The day he accidentally overheard her warbling along to a radio tune, everything changed.
“He said, ‘Wait a minute! What is that?!?’” says Martin, who was embarrassed at first. “Then he said, ‘Let’s do a song together,’ and it was so scary because he was this older kid that I thought was so cool. But I just got more and more comfortable singing.”
As PHOX expanded, the six members all moved into a house together in Madison, Wis. (They since have moved to Baraboo.) Living with five guys was culture shock to Martin, whose domestic skills — like not replacing toilet paper in the bathroom or putting butter in the butter dish — left something to be desired.
“It was the worst ... it’s like, ‘C’mon, guys, we’re a team here,’” she says.
Martin’s self-worth grew along with her newfound songwriting skills. Working at a Madison coffeehouse, she noted the peculiarities of her customers, which morphed into her observational lyrics: “I’m so curious about people, curious about why they do things, so I ended up with a collection of awkward encounters,” she says.
Yet she hasn’t given up on the dream of buying a hearse.
“Parking will be tough,” she admits. “But I’ll probably go the distance and get alternative fuel for it, and then have a bumper sticker on it that says ‘I’d rather be on my bicycle!’”
IF YOU GO
Where: Chapel, 777 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Contact: (415) 551-7306, www.ticketfly.com