If the three guys in Pet Fox look familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen them play before—just not in this combination. There’s three prominent bands between them and even more side projets on top of that. Those who are stumped should refer to one of Pet Fox’s own lyrics for a clue: “Awfully loud for an indie band / but you like their sound.” Seems vague, sure, but it’s applicable across the board considering singer-guitarist Theo Hartlett and bassist Morgan Luzzi are from Ovlov and drummer Jesse Weiss is in Palehound and Grass Is Green.
All three are somewhat regular names in the local scene, but they weren’t always familiar with one another. Hartlett and Luzzi grew up in Newtown, Connecticut, where they began playing music together around age 12. Weiss, however, didn’t fall into the mix until they both began frequenting the Boston area. After meeting at a house show back in 2012, the two recruited Weiss to play drums in Flat Swamp, Hartlett’s personal music outlet at the time. The rest is history.
“I’ll never forget meeting Theo,” Weiss laughs, throwing his hands up. “Grass Is Green played a basement show in Allston, and a guy who looked exactly like Steve [Hartlett] came up to me and said, ’What’s up, dude?’ and I said, ’Hey… guy who looks like Steve.’ I knew Steve and John, their older brother, because they both played in the original Ovlov lineup. But not Theo. He just looked like a miniature version of my friends.”
“I had been a fan of Jesse’s for a while with that band, so I had to say hi,” says Hartlett laughs. “Favorite drummer! Like, come on!”
It’s the first of many compliments the members throw at one another, each genuine but with a certain level of spontaneity, as if they haven’t actually told one another what they like about the other’s work directly. They’ve never had to. All three musicians have been jamming together on and off for years, a silent testament to the fact that they enjoy playing together, much less one another’s skills.
That’s how Pet Fox came about. The three began meeting up to jam together, with no end goal in mind other than to spend spare hours burning off energy and melodies. Over the course of the summer in 2017, Hartlett, Luzzi, and Weiss began accidentally writing songs—piecing instrumentals together until they realized they had eight fully realized songs sitting in their lap. All the songs needed were lyrics. Halfway through the process, they started writing with a purpose, realizing they may as well form a band if the music was not only coming naturally, but evolving to a more fully formed point as well.
“It all started because of the voice memos,” says Luzzi. “What’s been great, other than the lyrics, is that it’s just the three of us in a room for 99 percent of the time creating something from scratch. We will workshop the pieces as we come up with them. But we voice memo it so we don’t forget the ideas. The next time we meet, we build on it. We don’t do much outside of that, no writing on our own or coming in with riffs, which is great because we all have an equal stake. I think I can speak for all of us in saying there’s something in the music of this that is new for all of us. We either haven’t done this before or couldn’t do this before. It’s great that there’s this space for freedom in that sense.”
Though dramatic on paper, Luzzi’s words aren’t hyperbole. In their other bands, like Palehound and Ovlov, the three take the role of backing musicians. In Pet Fox, there’s no principal songwriter and no need to step back into the shadows. That means Hartlett, Luzzi, and Weiss aren’t discounting melodies or guitar riffs just because they aren’t similar to what they’ve previously written. When one of them comes up with a part, they refuse to throw it out. Instead, they see how it can bend it. There’s no obligation to roll with a riff. There’s room to interrupt one another and encourage them to continue honing an idea. In that, Pet Fox is a chance for all three to play around with ideas that they wouldn’t normally bring to the table in other bands.
The relaxed atmosphere between them led to a proper recording session at the start of this year. The trio’s final product—an eight-song self-titled record—sees them shift from being technically focused musicians to a more simplistic pop sound, picking up on indie rock guitar slides and downtrodden turns into darker territory. Listen closely and you can hear things like strings, tambourine, piano, and even a rainstick in the background of the songs. From the warm tone of opener “Staying In” to the hypnotic slides on “How to Quit” and bummer hook of “Be Alone,” it’s an album stacked with some of the musicians’ best work. It just happens to be in conjunction with one another, each hitting their stride in time with one another.
What holds the record together like Gorilla Glue is Weiss’ additional role as the band’s producer and mixer. Weiss talks fastest when explaining the nitty-gritty of his production techniques. Luzzi and Hartlett laugh as he does so, but only with love. “We’re lucky there was no obligation to pay a chunk of money for only a few days in a studio,” says Luzzi. “Really, we’ve been so lucky to have Jesse as a producer. He’s so flexible and has also, on his own time, put so much time and energy towards working on this record. It’s been great to not have the stresses and limitations of having someone else in control of your time and sound.”
Armed with a Tascam tape machine with a mixer on board, Weiss doubles down on compression and saturates the EQ going into the tape. It’s important to saturate the sound going into the preamps to emphasize the sounds you want to embellish to begin with. For non-gearheads, the simplest way to understand it is by comparing it to photography. By getting the perfect settings on your camera for shooting—shutter speed, ISO, exposure—then the less editing you will have to do in Lightroom or Photoshop after the fact. Essentially, he wants it to be as fully realized as possible before hitting the computer, and you can hear that massive, warm tone in the record on each song.
“I’m a big fan of doing it yourself, even without high quality gear, because then you’re happy with it,” says Weiss. “That’s the most important thing: being happy with the way your performance sounds and feels over anything else. That’s what will translate regardless of sound quality.”
Pet Fox may come as a surprise to those who are used to the shoegaze-laden noise of Ovlov, math rock knots of Grass Is Green, or the breathy indie rock of Palehound. Yet it’s impossible not to fall in love with the sound the trio have built, even when listening to the record for the first time. As a labor of love, Pet Fox runs on passion and ample time. As a labor of talent, it’s incredibly catchy and deceptively intricate. Combined, it’s the sign of three friends finding a new stride, and there’s ample road left for them to explore in the coming years.
PET FOX IS AVAILABLE NOW ON ALL STREAMING SERVICES AND AT PETFOX.BANDCAMP.COM