When a band’s debut album is labelled as “potentially world beating”, “intensely honest”, and “one of the most exciting debut albums of the year”, it’s clear that they mean business. Exeter-based trio Black Foxxes are overflowing with hunger, drive and motivation, and these themes are written all over their debut album, I’m Not Well.
Though the title is far from metaphoric, singer/songwriter and guitarist Mark Holley is by no means defeated, constantly testing his capabilities alongside bassist Tristan Jane and drummer Ant Thornton. Both on record and on stage, the power and emotion the three deliver is immeasurable, and their unapologetic honesty brings their music to such a personal level that it is near impossible not to forge a connection with.
We caught up with them on the Southampton leg of their first ever headline tour to find out more about the cogs and bolts working behind what might just be one of the fastest rising bands of the year so far.
What made you choose each other as band mates?
MH: Tris[tan] got the golden ticket! Tris was invited in!
TJ: I still haven’t had the official yes, I’m still on probation!
AT: Well before this I actually quit music, I was in a few bands before then I just thought fuck it, I’m not making any more music.
Why did this project make you want to change your mind?
AT: I’ve always wanted to be in a band, never thought I’d be a drummer though! I actually knew about this project [Black Foxxes] about one or two months before, and I didn’t really know Mark well but I liked his voice. I said to a friend “Oh, Mark’s putting together a band, its gonna be really cool I’d love to be in it” almost jokingly, and he messaged me that night!
MH: I didn’t even know if Ant was a drummer or not, because he played bass before but I saw some YouTube videos of him playing down at Camden Barfly and he was really cool so I just thought I’d send him a message randomly, he came down, it all worked out really good, and then Tris came along later!
So you met each other on the Exeter and Plymouth music circuit. Was that circuit an important pat of your journey or did you feel like you needed to branch out further to achieve what you wanted in music?
MH: I did, yeah definitely. It’s quite fickle; they just don’t really look at the bigger picture. There are some really good bands, like Patrons and Magpie, they’re really good but unfortunately most bands just gel in small sort of ‘cliques’, like nothing can come in and nothing can go out it feels like.
TJ: We’ve never wanted to play Plymouth. We will if we get offered it, but we have no real desire to play there.
Why is that?
AT: I think it’s just because we cut our teeth in Exeter really.
TJ: The music venues just aren’t there anymore. Like, the White Rabbit used to be that one place where bands touring the UK would play, and that went and now there’s just a handful of like, 100 cap bars and stuff.
Mark, why do you say being in a band is the worst thing you could do?
MH: Just health-wise. Because of what I’ve got, I’m always tired, drained and just sick, so it’s not the healthiest thing for me to be on the road I’m just not healthy enough to do it. But at the same time it’s so rewarding, so you know, I’d rather do this than sit in an office nine to five, which would be the perfect job for me, health wise!
What is it that makes it so rewarding and worthwhile for you, regardless of the risk?
MH: I think the thing that makes it for me is things like at the Birmingham show we just played. It’s the first time we headline and we don’t really know as a band how its gonna go, but jamming that out and having the reaction that we did is the kind of thing that lets me know that I’m doing something right, like when you can see that over half the room are just completely connected to the lyrics, the music; it’s just a really cool feeling.
And is it important for you then, to give that personal part of yourself to your music and your fans in a way you hope they can connect with?
MH: That’s exactly it, and the way I write, it’s quite open ended so you can read into it as you want. I’ve had tonnes of people messaging me saying this lyric has really helped me out, it relates to me in this way and I think, oh that’s interesting because that’s not what I wrote about, but that’s what’s great! My favourite lyricists are the ones who let you really look into their lyrics to decide what they mean to you, so that’s how I try to write.
For such a young band, Black Foxxes have a really distinct, almost unclassifiable sound. Did you come in to this project planning to sound the way you do?
MH: We definitely planned not to sound like the beige sounds that seem to be coming from everywhere, but when we started writing it wasn’t really a conscious thing because it was just squaring up that way. I think it stems from where we’re all at musically with our own influences and such.
TJ: I think also, being a three-piece is quite a factor in a way because, obviously it’s a pretty standard formant for a band, but I feel like nowadays there’s not many trios. In terms of contemporary sounds usually you get two guitars, bass, drums and a separate vocalist, so it does start to become a really saturated with all these really similar sounds.
What is it about being a three-piece that alters that dynamic?
TJ: When you go down to a three-piece you have such delicate parts and then also not so delicate parts. I mean the amount of times we’ve had people come up to us and say “I can’t believe how big you sound for a three-piece”, and that’s a really big compliment as far as I’m concerned, because it really is hard and our rig is ever expanding to accommodate it.
MH: I think it’s more power based isn’t it, its not necessarily how many amps you’ve got, it’s more what the three of you are doing at that particular moment. Like there’s so many parts we have that are insanely powerful and we’re all bringing that power to the section, and then we simmer down again and sometimes the more you add, the more it gets in the way. That’s how I feel.
What can you tell us about new album?
MH: It seems a lot more mature, there’s quite a few recurring similarities in format but it seems a lot more experimental. The thing about our music is that there’s no limitation to genre, I think we could go anywhere and I think the new album will be testament to that, because the stuff I’ve been writing is very very different, and we’ve all said with the first record, we don’t wanna make another emo rock album because we’ve don’t that now. I’m Not Well, we’re so proud of it, but we don’t need to make another version of that. My favourite bands are ones that evolve, and sometimes you don’t like it, but it’s cool because they’ve evolved naturally and then they’ll do something that you like later down the line!