Thinking outside the box

In 2001, three Brown University students put out an ad for “a violinist that could rock.” They wanted to provide a certain virtuosic element to a band that didn’t exactly know to what genre it would belong. After recruiting Spencer Swain from a New York music conservatory, starting its own record label and producing a super lo-fi album in friends’ basements, Zox still has trouble answering that question.

The band’s wildly diverse comparisons are paralleled only by the diversity of its fans. “A lot of people say that all their favorite bands are punk rock and us, or jam bands and us, or hipster, Indie rock, etc. I’m not sure how we end up fitting into those categories. But typically people who like us are into something a little different,” lead singer Eli Miller said.

Citing Sublime, the Cure and the Police as major influences, Miller continued, “A lot of the bands we look up to fared the same. They didn’t really fit into any single genre. But they were making good songs and connecting to people, so in the end they kind of made their own genre.”

Miller, a San Francisco native, explained how the members’ unusual yet sophisticated paths converged – forming a sonic crossroads lead by a distinctively upbeat pace. “A lot of my influences were West Coast – punk rock, reggae and more groove-oriented bands,” he said.

The band’s appropriately titled 2003 debut, Take Me Home, centers on feelings of displacement “inspired in part by being far from home,” Miller said. The album has garnered numerous local accolades and caused major music publications to name Zox as one of this year’s definitive rising stars.

Since the album’s release, Miller said Zox has been able to make a living on tour. And that’s not such of a surprise, considering that the band averaged six shows a week and boasts nearly 20,000 posts on their website, many of which include desperate fan requests for Zox to return to their town. With tour routes mostly along the East Coast, Zox has played with Rusted Root, Guster, The Black Eyed Peas and the 2004 Warped Tour.

The follow-up album is slated for release in March 2005 on Zox’s own Arco Records. Miller described the pressure to conform to a genre in their talks with major record labels. “Major labels really want to be able to sell you and market you in three words.” Still, he’s optimistic about the album. With a bigger budget and “real producers,” he said it will hopefully “focus our sound a little more and be more sophisticated.”

Zox will play Thursday night at the Grog & Tankard, 2408 Wisconsin Ave. N.W. with ADHD and Regatta 69. Show is $8 and begins at 8:30 p.m.

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