High Hopes: Black Foxxes – "ragged noise" trio from Exeter

Group shot of the rock band Black Foxxes

Black Foxxes reserve the right to fuck up. “You see bands now,” sighs frontman Mark Holley, “and everything’s going through a computer; it’s exactly the same every night. But that’s not what music is about. Hendrix wouldn’t have been perfect every time. Neil Young definitely isn’t. But that’s why he’s so good, because it’s raw and honest. We go out there and it’s like a lottery. The occasional fuck-up is endearing – and we have a lot of them.”

Look elsewhere for your slick, hairless, buffed-to-a-sheen rock. Formed in 2014, the Exeter-based trio describe themselves on Facebook as “ragged noise” – a nod to their beloved Neil Young, of course, but also a decent summary of the band’s debut album I’m Not Well. Rootsy, fuzz-faced guitars dance around loping alt.rock bass, and the secret weapon is Holley’s vocals, which he ratchets up to a dirty, Cobain-worthy shriek. “I haven’t lost my voice,” he considers. “Yet.”

Two years sounds like a short apprenticeship, but the singer insists that Black Foxxes have slogged to reach this juncture. “We still practise in a little scout hut in the woods, and we’ve played some terrible venues. We played one in Cornwall and the sound guy was off his face on acid. The first time we did Leeds Festival I was getting full-body electric shocks from the microphone.”

The material on I’m Not Well, meanwhile, draws on darker times. “When I was writing this album my mental health was really bad,” Holley reflects. “My anxiety got to the point where I didn’t leave the house for a month. I was a hermit. And I’d just been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and told I wouldn’t be able to do anything. It was a really shitty time for me.

“So I wrote all these songs,” he continues. “But as time went by and I got better, there was more positivity in the songs we were writing. I think this is a positive record. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, as opposed to all doom and gloom.”

For Holley, recording I’m Not Well at London’s Assault & Battery and Devon’s Middle Farm Studios was the ultimate therapy. “There were a lot of times when I’d be in the room with a wall of amps all literally cranked up to ten,” he remembers. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. There’s a lot of noise, dynamic highs and lows. We’ve got our own sound going on. That’s pretty important. I think the one thing we wanted was to make sure we did something that’s still going to be relevant in fifteen years’ time.”

Holley is clearly satisfied with the results, fuck-ups and all. The only sticking point, he says, is that band name. “We kind of hate it. We were going to change it before the album came out, but then we thought, you know, we’re stuck with it. It could be a lot worse. Foxes are lords of the darkness, so they’re quite rock’n’roll, I guess.”

FOR FANS OF: Neil Young

“Neil Young is the guy, as far as I’m concerned. He’s what my parents brought me up on, and I’ve just followed him through. He’s got, like, seventy-odd albums. Before this record I’d only just heard Zuma, and that was hugely influential songwriting-wise. And our song Husk really came about from listening to a lot of Ryan Adams.”

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.