Black Foxxes: “Comfort in numbers.”

Black Foxxes: “Comfort in numbers.”

By Ben Tipple

Aug 24, 2016 11:10

‘I’m Not Well’, the haunting debut full-length from Exeter trio Black Foxxes, is an unashamed journey into the psyche of anxiety. Its opening title track lays the cards out plain and clearly. “I can’t ever sleep at night, all the pain that’s in my head,” vocalist Mark Holley offers in the first verse, breaking into a plea for salvation. As with their debut EP, 2014’s ‘Pines’ – three songs of which find themselves on ‘I’m Not Well’ – their themes are brutally honest.

“It’s taken a few band’s worth of material to get into the comfort zone of writing like this around other people,” Holley admits, previously shackled by the very anxiety he was seeking to discuss. “With these guys we bounce things off each other really well. I’ve been in bands before where I wasn’t even allowed to write lyrics. As soon as we got past me feeling a bit edgy, and I found the confidence to write, it all just came out completely naturally. I then had the confidence to push it forward as a topic for the whole album.”

Holley hasn’t shied away from the album’s themes since, having spoken openly about his battles with poor mental health and with crohn’s disease on various occasions. For a touring man, they certainly don’t make for an easy life, yet alongside fellow band members Tristan Jane and Ant Thornton, Black Foxxes have built comfort and familiarity in an otherwise hectic industry. “It’s the most important thing for me,” Holley confirms. “Having good people around us really helps. We’ve got a tight team that we bring out on the road, people that you’re comfortable around. The best thing you can then possibly do is just go for it.”

This drive has propelled Black Foxxes upward in a relatively short amount of time. An adoring public that packed out shows off the back of one five-track EP, plus some high profile fans, has allowed the trio to graduate from one of the smaller stages at Reading and Leeds to opening the vast expanse of the second stage, something that Holley is acutely aware of as our conversation continues. “Those next few steps are terrifying for us. That stage is fucking huge. Then there’s America,” he continues of their impending trip to the stateside Riot Fest. “When we started out the one thing we said was about getting out there. It’s already ticking huge things from our bucket list.”

Their musical honesty and ambition is also what attracted record labels Spinefarm and Search and Destroy, both of whom are heavily invested in the band. “They were just really obsessed with us a band,” Holley beams. “They didn’t want to change anything. They let us do what we wanted to do, and record what we wanted to record. They were just so into the band, and that really came across.”

As much as the hype could potentially negatively affect the members of Black Foxxes, they welcome it with open arms. Despite trying to pay little attention to the conversations surrounding them, both in the lead up to and since the recent release of the record, Holley sees it as positive reinforcement. “We would be more concerned if there wasn’t that hype, because we’d be terrified we were doing something wrong,” he laughs. “If anything, it’s a good thing.”

It’s this assurance, and the comfort between the band members and the wider team, that has allowed Black Foxxes to thrive. ‘I’m Not Well’ developed naturally, emerging from some early demos Holley created before teaming up with Jane and Thornton. The guttural ‘River’ leads the charge, complete with its captivating bleakness. “It wasn’t forced,” Holley recalls. “We weren’t struggling for material.”

Black Foxxes, and particularly their debut album, allow Holley to concentrate on lyrical content. Although it is this that has drawn particularly attention, it is relatively new territory for the vocalist. “When I was growing up, lyrics weren’t something I used to care about. If I had a melody, I didn’t care about much else,” he accepts. This willingness to express himself compliments the musical prowess of his creative partners; ‘I’m Not Well’ presenting its theme in more than just words.

“When we started the band we wanted to be like Brand New and Manchester Orchestra,” he continues, both associations the band’s sound has encouraged in the past. The understated power presented by both of these bleeds into Black Foxxes’ output, but on ‘I’m Not Well’ sees them steer down their own path. “Obviously the longer we’ve been together, the more we are finding our own sound. I think that’s showcased more on this album. We’ve gone away from it a bit. It’s more an ode to songwriters like Neil Young or bands like Radiohead.” He pauses. “In time, we hope to get our own validation.”

It’s something they have been welcoming more than ever in the last few months. Their sound carries with it a gentle force, one which Holley and his bandmates explosively transform in a live setting. Although he finds it easier than expected to perform, the anxiety discussed throughout the debut record has unpredictable effects. “I’ve never really had bad anxiety on stage. It’s all built around it, and then as soon as I’m there I feel fine. The music lets me get whatever is on my chest out, which is probably why I’m so aggressive on stage.”

Alongside the aggression, Black Foxxes offer catharsis to the audience. Although Holley’s on-stage patter rarely discusses his anxiety directly, like many he hopes that his music helps others. “What I find really helps me is thinking back to when I was a fan of bands, and I was the one having an anxiety attack in the crowd. You’re not the only person in the room with anxiety, and it’s nice to have that company in the room. Comfort in numbers.”

Through this, ‘I’m Not Well’, a beautifully brutal piece of introspection, finds itself immensely relatable. Although Holley concludes with an appropriate mystique over future subject matter, he hopes that his journey, including his continued battle with the often amplified everyday pressures, offer solace for others. “At the end of the day, as long as this album helps people even remotely, that’s all I care about.”