Bristol alt-rock trio Black Foxxes have always been open about the ups and downs of the lesser-talked-about areas of band life - the grimy bits behind-the-scenes that cause sleepless nights and terse email exchanges. The toll it cane have on your mental health. After two albums' worth of compromising and playing by the rules, their third self-titled record seems them come back more assured than ever before. With frontman Mark Holley now joined by two new members, drummer Finn Mclean and bassist Jack Henley, it's a fresh start for a band reinvigorated.
Hi Mark, talk us through what happened after the release of your last album - when did the band transition to its current line-up? How close were you to calling it a day?
I think a lot of growth happened for all of us. We had a lot of really great tours off the back of the second record, some of my fondest memories. But after we finished the Dashboard Confessionals tour in November 2018 things just went quiet in camp. I was personally spending a lot of time writing with different creatives in Bristol and trying to develop as a songwriter, and for whatever reason, the band just lost touch. I don't think it was anyone's fault. Time just passed, and people felt differently about the band - these things happen.
I reached out to the guys, and Tris had decided that the time out was a good opportunity to reflect and, for him, it was time to call it a day. Shortly after, Ant decided the same. Absolutely no bad vibes between the three of us, we were a band for seven years, and the moment someone comes to me and says they think the spark's gone and they're not sure they want to commit to it anymore, that's all I need to hear. It's an inevitability that people will be on different pages after pursuing something for that long.
The one thing I wasn't ready to do was call it a day. I didn't know at the time whether all the stuff I'd been writing separately would be used for Foxxes or for a different line-up, but after a few different project attempts, it sort of all just snapped into place. I'd been writing with Jack for the most of 2019, he's my oldest friend, and we grew up playing in bands - so it just felt like a really easy transition to get him involved because the family dynamic of an older band felt like it wasn't lost. Finn slotted in shortly after that; I basically head-hunted Finn because I think he's such an exceptional player. It's been an incredibly exciting time writing music with this band over the past year.
Did all that upheaval impact the kind of music you wanted to make?
Of course. I think one of the reasons we naturally all parted ways with the old line up is because we all wanted different things musically. I really felt like I had taken the songwriting as far as I could with the style and genre of music we were making. I really wanted to take a step into the unknown and make different music than I'd ever made before. It's not even that this third record feels like the truest reflection of myself as a songwriter; it's bigger than that. With the new line-up, there are simply no limitations, and it's the excitement of the fourth, the fifth, the sixth records that's making us smile ear to ear at the moment. We know we've really unlocked something with the three of us as players, and that's so fucking important and missed in modern-day rock music.
You've said you made the record for no one but yourselves, what points of contention have you previously come up against in that respect?
Hah, where do I fucking start? If we didn't make this record for ourselves, it never would have been made. I have been aired, pushed and pulled, physically drained from the process of this record. It's funny looking back because I look at so many exchanges with people and I'm like, 'Jesus, if I didn't just bite my tongue here, if I didn't just grit my teeth and get through this phase - this record would never have been made or written so many times'. I basically saw the absolute worst parts of the music industry time and time again over 2018/2019. It's not something I want to go in-depth about because it actually fucked me up a lot. But it is something I'm massively proud of myself about given the fact I stuck by myself every step of the way. I never doubted myself once. So for that reason, when the new band formed, we told ourselves that this is all about us now. We don't give a fuck about pleasing anyone else that doesn't understand the band or the music. We love the music, the people closest to us love the music, and that's enough for us. We don't need that negative energy in our lives anymore, ya know?
Mental health has long been one of the dominant themes of your music, how has it fed into this latest batch of songs?
I think it always feeds itself into the music subconsciously. I don't think this record is anything like the first in regards to openly speaking about mental health. 'I'm Not Well' was a record made to specifically talk about my battles. This one isn't. This is just a showcase for where we can go and what we can do when no one else is getting in the way of us writing for us. There are obviously intense themes throughout the record. During the two years of writing, my alopecia came back in horrific fashion, and I lost all my hair, including my eyebrows. Which is something I don't wish on anyone. It was horrific. 'Jungle Skies' was literally written the week of my head shave, I've never felt that dark in my life. Knowing this time I was shaving my head I also wouldn't have eyebrows, made me a wreck. So there's a lot of hurt on this new record, but there is also a lot of hope. Learning to love the version of the person I am is littered all across the record as well, ya know?
Starting your comeback with 'Badlands' was a bold move, what was the thinking there?
Just why not, haha? We wanted to come back with something aggressive anyway, so the fact we had the opportunity to come back with a kind of Marmite-style track with 'Badlands' was ideal to us. It really set the mood for where we were going with this new line-up. We didn't want to just warm ourselves into it. We wanted to explode into the new line-up and direction, and that was the best way we could explain to people how it's different now. The love we have got from that track has honestly been wild. I never expected that.
Would you describe this as a bold record?
Yes. 100% yes. Not just from the writing perspective. But getting Adrian Bushby and George Perks involved again was key for us. The sound had shifted quite a lot so it was important to bring back a key element of the first two records which could tie it all together. The production on this record is honestly fantastic. There are moments where it's peaking out at a higher volume than Metallica records, and then there are moments where you can only hear the creaking in the chair I'm sat on playing acoustic guitar waiting for my take. I'm so proud of this record, we all are.
What lessons from this album are you going to take forward with you?
Believe in us. It always has to be about the music. It isn't going to be for everyone, but if you believe in what you're creating - in time that will show and the end result will always benefit from it. IDLES said it best, but "build it and they will come". Back yourself and what you're doing 100% and the rest will fit into place.
Do you think 'Black Foxxes' would have been different if made say, a year later? How of its time is it?
Probably. I mean the record almost didn't get made. If we'd left it a few months with everything going on in the world, I don't think this would have ever gotten made. If we found ourselves in the middle of the pandemic without having recorded it, I imagine we would have recorded all our parts separately and sent them to Ade & George to mix/master. So it just would have sonically sounded different. Even though there's a lot going on on this record, the bulk of it was still just the three of us playing live in the room together.
Do you have any predictions for 2021?
Nah. Everyone knows it's a shit time right now. I don't even want to hazard a guess as to where we could be in 2021. Let's hope for some live music at some stage, but until then I hope to god the arts get the funding they so desperately need.
Taken from the November issue of Dork. Black Foxxes' self-titled album is out 30th October.
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