Black Foxxes frontperson Mark Holley isn’t well. But Crohn’s disease and anxiety haven’t stopped him from working on one of the most exciting debut albums of the year, with the band’s own I’m Not Well set for release in August.
“We could’ve called it something else,” he tells Music Week, “but it would’ve been very obvious from the first listen of the album what the content was about. It’s an album for people that have struggled with mental health. People can take what they want from it, like I’ve taken things from other musicians. That’s the whole purpose of it.
“It seems like quite a bleak album, because it’s pretty intense and dark, but if anything, it’s a positive one, because it shows you can get out the other side. I think it’s important, especially nowadays, to open up and talk about issues like mental health.”
The singer is more than happy to talk about his own experiences of mental illness, and how the album’s message is personal to him. “Especially with the illness I have, if I could’ve chosen a profession to go towards, this would’ve been the worst one,” he jokes. “But there’s something that always bring me back. There are times where you just want to sack it off and do something easier, but the music always brings me back to it.
“It’s really important to speak about it, because there are certain artists that I know for a fact really struggle with anxiety and panic attacks and depression; Ryan Adams is a big influence to me at the moment for songwriting, and he always talks about his mental health.
You see a guy like that who’s had a storied career for however long; he can do it, and that’s the message I wanted to get across. If I can do it, anyone can do it, because I’ve been in dark places with anxiety specifically.”
The album was recorded, according to Holley, over the course of three weeks, between Assault & Battery studios in London and Devon’s Middle Farm, which Holley describes as “this couple’s house with home-cooked food and log fires” just around the corner from his own place. After the three weeks were up, Holley went back for a few vocal edits, but compared to the writing of it, getting the album finished was a quick process.
“We’d been a band for a couple of years and we just didn’t stop writing,” he explains. “As soon as we signed arecord deal, we had 11 or 12 tracks already in place, so we just wrote a couple more and it was done. It wasn’t too lengthy.”
Black Foxxes signed to Spinefarm Records’ Search & Destroy imprint, with label interest hotting up after their self-released Pines EP. Says Holley: “[Spinefarm] were just the ones most aggressively seeking us, I guess.
We had a few meetings with them; considering their roster - and Search & Destroy’s roster - is so different from we do, they just completely got it, and they were such nice people. It was really hard to turn down, even though we had other big majors knocking. Technically it has major funding from Universal, but we liked the fact it was essentially an indie we were signing to.”
Holley gushes: “We liked that; it felt a lot more personal. You hear horror stories about signing to labels, and we’ve had none of that. They’ve let us just go and do everything we want creatively and backed us 100% of the way.”
Having a hand in the band’s signing was Radio 1’s Dan P. Carter, who works as an A&R scout for Search & Destroy. He also designed the band’s artwork for I’m Not Well.
“He’d messaged us back in the day saying, I love your music, come to a meeting,” recalls Holley. “In turn, we ended up loving Dan’s art. He said he’d do it, and we weren’t going to say no, so we thought we’d see how it came out and he completely nailed it. We were stoked on it. I think he got the message completely; it’s a striking and bold image.”