“It’s cool to be weird.”
Black Foxxes are doing it for the weirdos. “It’s comfort in numbers,” they explain.
Words: Ali Shutler.
The title of Black Foxxes’ debut album says it all really. More than a warning or a confession, there’s a pride to the band’s honesty. Despite the scrawled, heart-on-sleeve admissions and open-book clarity, Black Foxxes are more resilient than you might expect. Turning their pain, confusion and anxiety into strength, ‘I’m Not Well’ is more than a statement. It’s something to live by.
“It’s positivity out of sadness,” starts Tris Jane. “It’s dark and light. It is doom and gloom because the subject matter is Mark and his battles with anxiety but it’s done in a way makes people feel better about those things.”
“It’s safety in numbers,” continues Mark Holley. “A lot of people ask me if the worst part of my anxiety is playing shows, but that’s the easiest part. The one thing I’ve noticed is that when you suffer from anxiety, there could be so many people in the crowd suffering as well. You’re among a crowd of people that are going through the same thing. It’s comfort in numbers. There are a lot of other weirdos and freaks out there,” he smiles. “It’s cool to be weird.”
Black Foxxes, as we know them today, formed a little over three years ago. That’s when Ant Thornton joined the existing two-piece of Mark and Tris, made their new friendship Facebook official and things fell into place. It took a couple of months for them to find their rhythm in the scout hut that was (and still is) their practice space but when it clicked, it clicked hard. “That’s when we really started writing stuff we liked and thought, fuck, this is really cool. This is us.” The band swiftly released their ‘Pines’ EP, eager to share the magic, and have been building ever since.
“I’ve only ever been in bands with friends before,” starts Mark, recounting a history of filling in holes in other people’s visions. “’Your pop punk band needs a guitarist, oh, I’ll play’. I’ve never really done a band where I’ve put my whole time and effort into it or that was something I really loved. This is different to anything I’ve ever done before. It would feel weird to do another band now.” It’s a similar story for Ant: “I’ve been in a number of bands that haven’t been very interesting. This is great.” And Tris: “Before this band, I’d never played shows outside of Plymouth. It’s a pretty big step for me,” he admits.
“You used to get really nervous, didn’t you?” asks Mark.
“Yeah.” Tris confirms. “I guess it gets to the point where you don’t really think about it any more. As weird as that sounds, and not in a big headed way, it just stops phasing you.”
Black Foxxes is built around the idea of support. It’s not just a confidence in playing live they’ve brought each other. Their openness only came from within. “These guys brought out the best in me,” ventures Mark, before pausing. “If you think my lyrics are good, that is. If not, then it’s not the best, is it? I’ve been in bands before where I’ve come in with lyrics and someone’s just told me ‘Nah, I’m going to write the lyrics. Those are shit’. I did a songwriting course at university and I’ve always been told things have to be a certain way. I fucking hated that.”
Ignoring all that early on in Black Foxxes, Mark felt comfortable enough with this unit to start sharing his ideas. Songs like ‘Rivers’ could be brought to the table because Mark didn’t feel embarrassed opening up. “I guess that’s just how it took off. I’ve grown from that. Without these guys, I wouldn’t have been able to write the songs that I did.”
With ‘Pines’ causing a fuss, Black Foxxes quickly set about work on an album so when the labels came knocking, they wouldn’t feel rushed. Despite the growing buzz about the band and the swelling support live, the trio pushed that to one side to focus. “We’ve only ever written for ourselves,” says Mark. “I think once we got the album together, we knew there’d be this hype around us because if there wasn’t, we’d be doing something wrong. If we didn’t get any hype around it, we shouldn’t be a fucking band. It hasn’t affected us though, it’s just made us feel like we’re doing something right.“
More of an evolution than an expansion, ‘I’m Not Well’ comes bearing a maturity. “As soon as we do something, we ask how can we do better,” explains Ant. “How can we be better? How can we progress? We’re always looking to the next thing.”
‘I’m Not Well’ is definitely better. The title track builds from bedroom confessional to stadium-levelling anthem, all while maintaining eye contact. ‘Husk’ is a slugger, all playful punches on the arm and knockout blows while ‘Slow Jams Forever’ is the sort of introspective plea that should be on t-shirts and online handles. There’s a lot going on but at its heart, is heart.
“It’s a body of work that’s really personal to me and I think, if it can help people in any way like music’s helped me, well, that’s why you carry on. That’s why you get through shit. It’s nice seeing people relate to it ‘cos that’s the most important thing. We get messages from people saying that, because of the lyrics, they’ve been able to get through things. As a musician, that’s 100% why you do it.” The band have been steadily attracting a following because of the magical pairing of great songs and a great live show but their reason for making music isn’t going to change. Ever.
“It’s weird seeing the Twitter numbers and stuff go up rapidly but as far as we’re concerned, we’re just a band. We’re just a three-piece who practices in a scout hut. Nothing’s different. We can go from The Pit, to the Radio One stage, to the fucking Main Stage. We’ll still be a band who play in a scout hut and I think that’s why people relate to it, because it’s honest.”
There aren’t any gimmicks or tricks to ‘I’m Not Well’. It is what it is. “The thing that sums up the sound the most, is three guys practicing in a scout hut. That’s how we wrote and I think that’s how it comes across with the songs. It’s rough and ready. There’s no insane amount of time spent on one bit, over polishing or anything.” The record captures a moment that the band want to live forever.
“We all want it to be, and feel it can be, something that in ten years time, is still relevant,” states Mark. “We didn’t want to make something that is only going to be relevant for a couple of years and then the scene will move on in some way. I don’t think we fit into any scene. We don’t have this clique of bands that we go off on tour with and we like that. I feel like we’re doing something that’s just our own thing and I hope in ten or fifteen years time, if anyone listens back, people will be able to say that it’s still current. If you put on Hundred Reasons’ ‘Ideas Above Our Station’ today, it would still stand up.”
“I just want to make records and see the world a bit,” says Ant, while Mark wants more: “I want to make important records. I want to make records that are going to help people.
“Hopefully it does well and we can go on and write another album. That’s the focus right now.”
‘I’m Not Well’, despite the lyrical content and the bold statement held aloft, doesn’t dwell. It’s a record looking up, out and forward. Black Foxxes are the same.