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