Black Foxxes – I’m Not Well: Exclusive Album Stream

South-west trio who favour raw, visceral, authenticity over fake, plastic, pomposity stream their eagerly awaited debut album exclusively with The Independent

Remfry Dedman
Sunday 21 August 2016 11:32 BST
Black Foxxes, from left to right, Ant Thornton
Black Foxxes, from left to right, Ant Thornton

Black Foxxes have steadily been winning the hearts and minds of thousands around the country with their intensely honest and dynamic songs. The band was formed by vocalist / guitarist Mark Holley with drummer Ant Thornton and bassist Tristan Jane coming on board mere months before the release of their critically acclaimed debut EP Pines. The trio wrote and rehearsed the five visceral songs that would make up the EP in the humble environs of a scout hut in Plymouth. But the electrically-charged nervous energy that came out in Holley’s song-writing translated into a wealth of positive press coverage across the country, including from the likes of Kerrang!, Rock Sounds, Punktastic and BBC Radio 1’s very own Rock Show host Daniel P. Carter. Their debut album, I’m Not Well, is released via Spinefarm Records on 19th August and is available to stream exclusively with The Independent two days before official release below.

Black Foxxes have enjoyed a fairly rapid ascension in their three years together as a band. But despite a gaggle of major labels chomping at the bit to sign them after the release of their critically acclaimed debut EP Pines, the three young men kept their feet planted firmly on terra firma. ‘It almost felt like this fictional frenzy that was going on behind the scenes’ says Tristan. ‘We kept getting told that various different labels were interested, but I think all three of us were quite grounded about it. We didn't catch on to it and think suddenly we were going to be the biggest f**king band in the world or anything like that. We had an attitude of ‘we’ll believe it when we see it’.’ ‘I think we were quite sceptical about signing to a major straight off the bat anyway’ Ant picks up. ‘You hear so many horror stories of bands who one minute are drinking champagne and the next, they're dropped and are barely a band anymore ... we didn’t want to do that.’

The smart money suggests the chances of Black Foxxes going down that route are pretty remote. They’ve already enthralled crowds across the country supporting the likes of Milk Teeth and The Dear Hunter, and converted masses of fans at festivals across the country, including Download, 2000Trees and Reading & Leeds. That they’ve done this with no pretence, flash or gimmicks is a sign of the positive direction rock music is beginning to take, after roughly a decade of style over substance posturing from a plethora of young bands afraid to write songs with any validity. As someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder and crohn’s disease, the subjects Black Foxxes tackle directly affect Mark’s everyday life. ‘I think half the problem is that most people aren’t willing to talk about it,’ he says on the issue of mental health. ‘I decided halfway through writing this record that I was going to be completely open about all my experiences. For example, we've got to go to America next month to tour and that's literally one of the most terrifying things to me, I don't know what the f**k I'm going to do. I have alopecia because of how intense my stress and anxiety levels get. I’ve woken up in the morning and peeled whole clumps of hair out; when things like that happen, it's hard not to say 'I'm just going to go home!’ I love music but sometimes I ask, what is it worth? Is it really worth someone essentially taking 25 years off their life just for the sake of playing a few shows? But then something always keeps bringing me back, I don't know what it is, I don't know why I keep doing it because I really shouldn't!’

But he does, and with the full support of his bandmates, both of whom say that if things ever get too much for Mark to handle on tour, they just go home, no questions asked. ‘There’s some people that don’t even believe that anxiety disorder is real!’ says Ant in disbelief. Tristan agrees, saying, ‘There have been times when Mark hasn’t even been able to leave the house and I feel like anxiety disorder isn’t being discussed on that level.’ Part of Mark’s ambition with the band is to open up that conversation; great steps have been taken in the fight to make mental health issues less of a taboo subject, but there’s still work to be done. ‘I think there’s still a stigma attached to it’ he says, ‘some people seem to be in denial that they may have a mental health issue, even when they’re suffering from it. I think it's really important to understand that it doesn't lower you as a human being, the fact is you’re going through something that many other people are as well. It’s a medical issue, you can’t control it, it's something in your mind that isn't quite working right. If you have an anxiety disorder, you are wired differently and that’s nothing to be ashamed of because that's just the card you've been dealt. I could choose not to talk about it if I wanted to but I don't really know how far that's going to get me because it definitely feels better to talk about it!’

Whilst anxiety affects people of all races, colours, creeds and sexes, Mark feels there’s a societal pressure for men to suppress their feelings that is perpetrating the problem. The disparity between gender suicide rates gives some weight to that theory, with the Office of National Statistics declaring that 76% of suicides in 2014 were men. ‘I think the problem with a lot of guys, especially in the 16-21 age bracket, is that there's a real trend for this horrible uber-masculine stereotype. There’s a strong lad culture at the moment and that’s a real problem because I think people that are struggling within that culture are finding it really hard to admit they might have an anxiety disorder. So if someone can listen to an album like ours and say ‘I can relate to that!’, that would mean the world to me.’

Mark’s anxiety isn’t triggered from the act of playing live in front of people, but rather from the more mundane aspects of touring life. As the famous mantra of touring musicians the world over goes, ‘You don’t get paid for the hour you’re onstage, you get paid for the 23 hours you’re off it’. ‘The shows themselves are actually fine,’ says Mark. ‘The hardest thing for me is getting the courage to go travel, to get out of the house and stay away from home. Obviously, I’m anxious before I get up onstage, but once I’m up there, it’s a place where I feel like I can just let everything out.’

Mark performing with Black Foxxes at The Beach Sessions at Boardmasters, Newquay, Cornwall
Mark performing with Black Foxxes at The Beach Sessions at Boardmasters, Newquay, Cornwall (Rex Features)

Of course, music as catharsis is nothing new, but it’s the authenticity behind Black Foxxes every note, lyric, drum-hit, cymbal-crash and feedback squall that makes them such a uniquely enticing and human prospect. The desire to translate this pure energy from the live arena to record was of paramount importance to the three piece when recording I’m Not Well. ‘There's a lot of big shot producers who are more concerned about the music looking right on the screen than it sounding right’ says Ant. ‘That's happening a lot; if we had come out with a polished record, I would've been gutted because that's not what we sound like.’ ‘We’ve always said that all we want to do is take the sound of us in that scout hut and put it on record’ says Mark. ‘The interaction between the three of us is the vital component and we really wanted that to come across on this album. We recorded with Adrian Bushby and he’s got such an eclectic history (Muse, Placebo, Alison Moyet, My Bloody Valentine, Spice Girls, New Order and Maxïmo Park amongst many others). He got the sound that we wanted to have straight away, he came down to a practise and said that he wasn’t going to do too much. Most of the time, we used one of the first three takes, even if there was a mistake in it, he wouldn’t do another take because he’d say it already sounded perfect.’

The desire for authenticity in a live setting is also fundamental to Black Foxxes. A trend has permeated through rock music in the 21st century for bands playing live to backing tracks, adding embellishments you wouldn’t otherwise hear. In some cases, they may just account for a few minor ornamentations here and there, but in others, backing tracks can provide a major part of the sound an audience will hear in a live setting. Black Foxxes views on the matter are clear. ‘A band shouldn't sound f**king perfect,’ says Mark, ‘it pisses me off when bands play live and everything's on a f**king backing track. You could watch a band like that every night of their tour and you’d get exactly the same experience from every show. When we play, it's always a different experience and that’s what’s so special about it.’ ‘I'm quite an open guy when it comes to this sort of thing,’ says Ant, ’but it's hard not to think that bands don't really have a place in rock music if they're using a backing track. Do it properly or don't do it at all. I guess it’s different strokes for different folks but backing tracks aren’t something we’re going to be using any time soon.’

With backing tracks becoming so prevalent in today’s rock music, Tristan wonders if that’s come out of a desire for fans to hear live music as it sounds on record. ‘I think part of it is down to the fans, I think sometimes they want to hear things as they are on record, so maybe some bands feel forced into playing things exactly like they sound on the album. There's plenty of bits and pieces we've recorded that couldn’t be pulled off live without an extra guitarist or a backing track. But the key difference is, despite all those extra layers that we've added, the songs still work live with just the three of us playing them and I think that's how we're going to continue to do things.’

It’s a blessed relief that Black Foxxes have decided to approach their music this way, both live and in the studio. I’m Not Well is testament to the fact that honesty never has and never will go out of style. ‘I want this album to show people that they can go out and be creative, that they can go out and do the things that they want whatever their situation may be,’ says Mark. ‘It's going to f**king suck at times, to be completely honest, it f**king does suck sometimes. Being on tour isn't the most fun experience for me, there are so many times where I'd just rather be at home, walking my dog and feeling safe. But then I consider when I’m older looking back on my life, I’d be gutted if I didn't try and pursue it.’

I’m Not Well, the debut album from Black Foxxes, is released via Spinefarm Records on 19th August and is available to pre-order on digital, CD and vinyl. Black Foxxes commence an 8-date UK tour in Leeds on 16th October

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