With the recent release of their third self-titled album, Dom was fortunate enough to talk to all three members of the Exeter band ‘Black Foxxes’ about their new insights into writing, their perception of success, and the importance of honesty during the making of their latest album.
It comes as no surprise that the mix of raw energy contrasted with the undeniable beauty of the album has been received in different ways. “I tried to go with no expectations…it’s been great, and I think people are getting it,” declares Mark Holley, the guitarist and singer of the trio. Elaborating on Holley’s view, drummer Fin Mclean admits that perhaps the best aspect of the reviews for him are that, “they’ve either been really good or not good…there’s only been a couple of people that don’t get it.” As the band has grown, introducing two new members to accompany front man Holley, so has their perspective on fame and releases. “This is the first thing that I’ve actually been like, ‘This is exactly what we meant to say’.”
So, what convinced Black Foxxes to release two ferociously brilliant singles ‘Badlands’ and ‘Drug Holiday’ as an introduction to their exploration into new avenues of sound?
“We wanted to start off with a bang…There’s something about Badlands – people smile when they hear it and they’re like ‘Oh cool!’,” admits bassist Jack Henley. Almost anthemic, not only does the single ‘Badlands’ represent the energetic drive of the band but also teases of the many possible directions that their highly anticipated album could take. Holley recounts the momentous recording and writing process of the single: “We were just jamming in the room and it came…I feel like it’s the record that you’d still hear in 20 years’ time and still be like ‘F**k me that’s a bad ass punk rock track!’”
Similarly, the second single ‘Drug Holiday’ has been met with high praise as it incorporates the same haunting bitterness as the sounds of PJ Harvey and Cobain. “I think Drug Holiday is the most fun in terms of what’s going on with production.” states Holley as the conversation steers towards the intriguing production attributes of the song. “I think VADA, the studio we recorded in – that room has so much character so when I listen to it, I can hear that room and it really takes me back,” recounts Henley as he discusses the significant part that VADA Studios had in evoking the live atmosphere that the album carries. From a first listen, it is difficult to argue that these two tracks are not perfect teasers of a great album.
For Black Foxxes, the element of catharsis during the album’s writing process was integral in evoking the humble authenticity and lack of pretentiousness that the band wanted to achieve. “For me, it’s listening to something that’s honest and without pretence that allows you to feel it,” admits Mclean as the band discuss their approach to being represented as passionate and genuine writers, “we’re not releasing this music for anyone else – this is literally just us doing what we want to do!” Holley concurs, “Yeah they’re intense lyrics and they’re sad, but for some reason that picks me up…real music picks me up and for me personally, I’ve never written like this in my life and I used to be so stubborn with how I wrote. The only way I knew I was going to progress as a musician was writing with other people.”
Though the previous members of the band wrote music separately, this is the first album in which all three members have come together to produce a record. Holley admits that writing with this new approach led them to “bouncing off each other” as he admits, “for me it’s been really liberating because we keep wondering where this could go.” Despite the success of their previous work, the band have been on a journey in finessing their sound but also their approach to growing fame and success. Now the three of them share the same vision of Black Foxxes’ direction, Mclean confesses that, “it feels great to have some sort of magic, like we’re dynamically and emotionally singing the same song.” He also admits that even with the dark times of a pandemic, the creation of the album has in his words “boosted [his] desire to create.”
In the eyes of young budding musicians, a well-established alternative rock band like Black Foxxes are the ultimate role model for young and enthusiastic individuals shaping their career path. In such a vast and fast-paced industry, the band move to discuss how their perception of success has changed as they have developed as musicians. “I think perception is everything…I remember playing in bands around the UK as a fifteen or sixteen year old…my perception was that if you get a record deal, then you’re famous,” professes Holley, having been the frontman of the band for seven years, “and then when that happens to you, you realise that nothing really matters and it’s all material.” He expands on this stating: “I truly believe that if the music is good enough, it will happen when it needs to happen. For me it’s not the fame, as long as I’m creating and writing with the guys – that’ll make me happy.” With a remarkable air of wisdom, Henley adds, “The idea that writing something that you’re happy with is a success in itself.” This maturely crafted outlook on the band’s achievements and successes within the music industry proves that for them, passion comes before fame.
As Mclean states earlier when discussing the ‘magic’ dynamic of the band, he later advises young musicians that they should “base everything on feel”. He expands on this, adding that “you can’t explain it or put it in a practise room – if it happens, it’s magic…If you’re writing something with your friends and it gives you a feeling then stick with it.” Perhaps this is what certain areas in today’s music industry lack – the feeling of being completely compelled by the writing that they as a musician create or the writings of others. The almost addictive passion and raw enthusiasm that goes into writing something with meaning are what the band believe are the key ingredients to crafting successful musicianship. Mclean states: “Find the thing that you’re obsessed with and do it every day…you need to be obsessed with it – if you’re not obsessed with music then don’t be a musician.” This mature attitude shines through on their new album and prominently represents the collective ideologies of the band.
During the production of their latest album, recorded at VADA Studios in Warwickshire, where the likes of ‘You Me At Six’, ‘Don Broco’ and ‘Ocean Colour Scene’ have all worked, Black Foxxes were sceptical about how their new writing method would be received by their producers. “We went into recording like ‘we like the songs’, but we kind of didn’t know if anyone would like it – we’d had a lukewarm response from the record label,” recounts Henley. Talking of his most memorable moments during writing the record he states, “we played ‘I Am’ and looked up at the control room and they were like ‘How have you done this?’” ‘I Am’ opens the album boasting an introspective and abrasive style that successfully coaxes the listener into venturing through the rest of the album.
On another occasion, during writing the song ‘Panic’, Holley describes how he remembers “being at Jack’s and writing that synth at the end and it felt weird!” The track ‘Panic’ presents the soft, melodic lushness that the band can create in contrast to their typically brusque heaviness. The trio would continue to work together, intertwining their individual musical preferences to create something that they are all undeniably proud of. With the incorporation of new members into the band, Mclean describes how, when practising with the other two members, it was the “first time going to a practice and coming out feeling more awake than I did going in. That was special.” The new line-up seems to be a fantastic feat for the band.
With Black Foxxes delighted by the great reception of their new release, they conclude the interview with a notion of immense thankfulness for their fanbase. Holley says, “I just don’t have enough gratitude and I mean music is the only thing that’s got me through this thing and it will continue to get people through things for a long time.” They are a collection of alternate-rock mavericks with a grounded and established approach to the industry and their artistry. It is certain that Black Foxxes’ new album will continue to surprise and amaze those who continue to join them on their sonic journey. Whilst the release of this new album may differ from that of their previous releases, it presents the growth and development of a band that remains true to their writing and passion for catharsis within music. ‘Black Foxxes’, the self-titled album, is certainly a triumph in writing with honesty and intuition, as well as an album with a message that must not be ignored.
Interview: Dom Smith / Words: Lucy Tessier