“We knew and expected this record to divide" - Black Foxxes on the New Album, Retrospection and More
Since forming within an Exeter sweat coated rooms in 2013, Black Foxxes have emerged to be one of the most immersive and alluring groups within the nation as a whole. Across two full lengths – 2016’s I’m Not Well and 2018’s Reiði respectively – the group have become lauded on an international scale due to their shimmering experimental indie overtones, dark desire and naked honesty.
However, much like everyone else to an extent, the band have undertook changes and turbulence over the past year or so. Just before the first lockdown came barreling down, it was announced that two-thirds of the band had stepped down, leaving frontman Mark Holley the only original member – and the only member at that point. But yet, there was perseverance and new enlisting, and on October 30th the new edition of Black Foxxes released their critically acclaimed Self-Titled LP.
Their latest endeavour spanned eighteen months of hard graft, which left the band rather unclear if their efforts would be of use for Black Foxxes. Holley explains that ever since Black Foxxes started, he’s predominately written the music on an acoustic guitar resulting in a lot never efficiently translating to full band scenarios. “It was just an opportunity to play some of those tracks really. I don’t think any of them made the record or even that Acoustic EP I put out” He jests “They must have been shit.”
Thinking of the runs of acoustic shows all the way back in 2018, it pondered the question, was this the early stages of the song writing and a way of trialling them. “Not really.” Recalls Holley. “That was honestly just a great opportunity to try something different.”
Through working with a slew of new and old faces, Black Foxxes arose with a new and emboldened line up, which when asked if there has been a change in the way the album is recorded he responds “We just tried everything with the record. No idea was too extreme or unwarranted. We wanted to create something as unique as possible. So there’s lots of weird and wonderful things going on; but the majority of it isn’t wizard in the desk, it’s just trying mad shit out in the live room.”
Of course though, the change in vocals and subtle discrepancies in style could easily be attributed towards the fact that the record is the first without Tristan Jane on bass and Anthony Thornton on drums. Such a shake up of dynamics can often derail an act, but with Jack Henley and Finn Mclean picking up where their previous co-conspirators picked up, the record quivers with new life and feverish energy whilst still resonating the same emotion that the band have become lauded for. When probed if the shake up of personal altered the writing and recording process of the album, Holley was keen to throughly detail the experience.
“It was so much fun, and totally different to how we wrote before,” details Holley. “The beauty of Foxxes with Ant & Tris was the power behind the three of us. We would get into a room and just blast noise out. It worked brilliantly. But like anything, I was really ready to evolve my own sound and my own style of songwriting and bringing Jack and Finn in really pushed me in my own creativity. We sent songs back and forth to each other for a while, just playing with sounds and dynamics until we even got into the practice space. It’s something I always loathed the idea of previously, to the point I would be so cynical towards others that wrote that way. But the reality is I was an idiot, and I was really naïve. Because what came out of writing this way was something I've always dreamed of creating. The exciting thing for this band isn’t this album. Its where we can go with the three of us. The fact we’ve created this record in such a short space of time is making us all so excited at the prospect of the fourth and fifth records.”
“I don’t think any album will be as dark as ‘I’m Not Well’. I was a fucking mess when I wrote that. I didn’t want to be there."
Whilst the new record may see the band tread new territory and travel down paths previously untravelled by the act, the record still retains Holley’s penchant for taking one on a metaphysical journey. It may be a borderline hyperbolic term used frequently, but each Black Foxxes record does indeed plunge oneself headfirst into the exposed inner psyche of a creative who has navigated trails and tribulations en-mass. However, despite the band’s acclaim for taking listeners on such mental voyages, such traits aren’t planned or even considered when writing and recording.
“Not at all, and that’s why I think it translates so well,” states Holley when asked if he aims for his work to resonate any particular message. “I'm not trying to do anything. I’m just speaking exactly what’s on my mind and singing it/playing it exactly how it was intended to be played. I think that’s what connects people to the music. You can hear honesty in a song. It’s not tangible, but you can hear it when you’re listening, you just don’t recognize it. That’s what connects people to the music they’re connected too.”
Despite this, Holley has articulated his experiences through other means. A sufferer of Crohn’s disease, Alopecia, as well as struggles surrounding Mental Health, the frontman has frequently used social media to detail the reality of combating such conditions in a frank and insightful manner, showcasing how such affections can burrow their way into one’s mindset. It’s an astute look into the realties of fighting such horrific conditions and a source of comfort and solace for those also withstanding such ailments. The new long play may present Holley at his most darkest, vulnerable and exposed, but as Holley details, this isn’t in part for living with such conditions. For the musician, nothing he composes will ever be as dark as what came before it.
“I don’t think any album will be as dark as ‘I’m Not Well’,” states Holly with cadence. “I was a fucking mess when I wrote that. I didn’t want to be there. Touring was a nightmare. I spent three months in my room without ever going outside. It was just savage. So actually, my head is in a really good space at the moment. But obviously I draw on everything going on in my life when I write, so it’s always going to be personal, and it’s always going to be heavy. But sometimes that doesn’t always mean dark, or sad. There is a lot of re-birth and positivity on this record. It’s just all about how you interpret it.”
"How many records have you listened to from bands recently where you’ve heard the first 3 songs and you may as well turn the album off because the dynamics, production, sound, shape is all identical? It’s so fucking boring."
Coming off such an articulated and honest answer, it’s natural to ask if the new long play bought a sense of therapeutic catharsis. Understandably, the answer is as expected. “Like you wouldn’t believe,” states the frontman freely. “I can’t believe we even got this record over the line sometimes. The last two years feels like a haze. We were blanked by label, management, everyone. It was eye opening, but we stuck by our guns, believed in the music and after some shitty months we got it done! That release day was something special for that reason. The success of an album and sales and reviews is all irrelevant when something was that difficult to create. That was for us, and nothing could stop that feeling being euphoric.”
To return to this record seeing the band adventuring further into unknown waters music wise, a major part of this is due to the absolute nature of the record. The album energetically pendulums from two different extremes without ever losing energy and reverting to middle ground. There’s total flesh lacerating abrasiveness and lulls of uneasy respite, with both ends of the record’s spectrum resonating haunting human emotion in a fashion that’s daunting and tangible. It’s a cry from expressions of numbness hiding behind a waning placidity within 2016’s Reiði, and a truly intentional choice in accordance to Holly. “Do everything with purpose,” he states prior to indulging us more. “There are a few moments in the record that has ‘middle ground’, but we wanted them to come after something disgustingly loud, or abrasive, or uncomfortable so as a listener you need it. How many records have you listened to from bands recently where you’ve heard the first 3 songs and you may as well turn the album off because the dynamics, production, sound, shape is all identical. It’s so fucking boring. We wanted the listener to be forced to be engaged, and the reward for it is softer moments, and lulling, dreamy verses. But it was a ride just to get there, so they have purpose.”
Encapsulating the frank and uncompromising nature of this record as whole is it’s climax however. Clocking in at just under 10 minutes long, ‘The Diving Bell’ is a haunting conclusion to a relentlessly turbulent record fraught with dark desire. Across the running time of the track, repetitive, borderline possessed mantras and motifs are repeated and exercised, spiralling into a hypnotic swarm of alluring noise that ebbs and flows from periods of pure mania. It’s a conclusion that’s authentically Black Foxxes but one unlike anything they’ve done to date, and as the track rings out into the ether, it implores one to dive into the black silk of the record once more. “We were always going to end with that track,” states Holly on the haunting track itself. “One because its 10 minutes long. But two just because of how it ends. It feels like it has a bit of the whole album in the entire track. It’s got those really pretty almost Beck like chorus’s and then the loudest part of the entire album, but also the spoken word weirdness. So it just felt like the perfect summary to end on. Also the track ending with me tuning my guitar just felt cool. Ready to go again, play from the start.”
In all, with the record out now via Spinefarm, it’s not surprising it’s become the subject of acclaim, analysis and scrutiny from both the Black Foxxes devoted and passing listeners alike. This may be the same ethos and allure of Black Foxxes of old, but the 2020 edition of the band see’s the group toying with new sensibilities, technicians and textures. Given how Black Foxxes’ followers are so immersed and enwrapped within the group’s previously established sound, it’s inevitable that Black Foxxes of the current age may be a topic of division amongst the fan base. But for Holly, such an issue is to be expected, and with their evolution, welcomed.
“We knew and expected this record to divide,” he nods. “It isn’t old Foxxes in sound and it’s a new line up. That’s going to annoy some people. But ultimately we can’t force anything. This is the organic shift for this band. It is exactly what we want to be writing, and we don’t want to make records that sound like the other ones. That’s so fucking boring. They aren’t going anywhere. You’ve already got two fantastic raw, garage rock albums. Why recycle that sound again and again? Yeah, I know most other bands do it. But it’s lazy. The fourth record I promise you is going to sound nothing like this one. And I'm so excited about that. Naturally that will divide people. Wups. Rant. Back to your question. Yes we’re stoked. There’s not much middle of the road with how people are viewing it. It’s either people in love with it, or people that just say “I literally don’t get it”. That’s exactly what we wanted.”