Chicago – Once again, in preparation for Riot Fest 2016, we’re featuring an up-and-coming band performing at the festival: U.K. punk rock band Black Foxxes. Last month, this phenomenal trio, comprised of Mark Holley (guitar, vocals), Tristan Jane (bass), and Ant Thornton (drums), released its powerful debut LP I’m Not Well. The emotional album often focuses on frontman Mark Holley’s brave journey, grappling with anxiety – a crippling disease that has at times left him unable to do what he loves best, make music. Holley has been extremely open about his struggles, and because of this, fans have flocked to see and hear Black Foxxes – a band many find themselves relating to when it comes to dealing with depression, anxiety, and mental health.
Best New Bands spoke with Holley about coping with anxiety, the excitement of Riot Fest Chicago and performing with Motion City Soundtrack, and his love for Jeff Buckley.
Your Facebook page has “Depression-Pop” listened under the genre. Did you coin that term?
We’ve had a ton of cool reviews, and one of them defined us as “depression pop.” We’re not usually a fan of silly genre names, but that one really stuck out. It kind of perfectly summed us up with a new twist without having to use emo, rock, alt, etc.
Mark, I have to say, I applaud you for being so open with your struggles and talking about anxiety. My father suffered from anxiety and bipolar disorder, so I understand how taboo the topic can be for some and the importance of keeping the conversation going until it is no longer seen as something to be censored from everyday conversation. I imagine preparing for the release of your debut album left you feeling extra anxious. Now that it’s out and being so well received, how are you feeling?
To be honest, I was more anxious waiting to get it out. The first few days were quite bad just because I was so excited to see it being reviewed and listened too. I couldn’t really sleep. Now comes the time that’s the hardest, traveling to the States in a couple of weeks, and that’s one of those things a few years ago I didn’t think I’d be able to do when my anxiety was so bad. So it’s a really big step for me, and us as a band!
You’ll be performing at Riot Fest in Chicago. Will you be there the whole weekend, to not just perform but also attend the fest? What bands are you looking forward to seeing?
Yeah, I believe we’re there all weekend, as we’re doing some after show parties. One of which is Motion City’s last date, which is super cool. Obviously, Brand New will be amazing to see, and if we have time, Basement, Citizen! There’s so many!
Have you been to Chicago before? What are you most looking forward to experiencing in Chicago?
I haven’t. I’ve extensively traveled around the West Coast but never made it to the East or Midwest. Obviously, some proper pizza is a must! I’m just a massive fan of getting lost in the culture. I’ll probably take myself off for a lot of strolls to find some cool coffee shops and architecture.
You’re going to have a busy weekend in the Windy City. You’re playing a show with Sleep On It the same day as your festival performance, and you’re also playing that show with Motion City Soundtrack. That’s epic – all the more so considering you’ll be performing at Motion City Soundtrack’s last show. Did you listen to Motion City Soundtrack growing up?
Yeah, I’m going to be exhausted. [laughs] So excited for that show! I loved them as a kid. They were always phenomenal live too, so it’s honestly a real bucket list thing to play their last show.
And you’re playing the Metro – that place is history! I mean, so many greats have played there, including Jeff Buckley.
Jeff Buckley is the Man. I got into him a little later on, but I’ll never forget the feeling I got listening to Grace – such an incredible record.
Me, too. He had already passed. I’ll never forget the first time I watched his performance at the Metro, on VHS. I have to say, I absolutely love “Bronte.” There were moments in the song where I was reminded of listening to Jeff Buckley as a teenager. Will you talk about this song and who or what the title refers to?
Bronte doesn’t really have any relevance to the song. If I was going to be a girl, that was going to be my name, and I always loved it. [laughs] The song’s about the first time I underwent treatment for my Crohn’s disease. It was a really terrifying time not knowing how I’d react to the drugs. “As the steel hits my skin” is just the image of the needle hitting my veins that first time.
“Whatever Let’s You Cope” is a powerful song. What inspired the intense, emotional lyrics?
I was on holiday with my girlfriend in a beautiful, tranquil part of the world, in Wales. And as I went out for a peaceful coastal walk, I saw this lady collapsing on a bench. As I walked past, I discovered a used needle, bottle of vodka and a belt tied round her arm. Now bearing in mind I’d only ever seen one person using before in my life, in London down a side alley, this part of the world is so beautiful and has such a small amount of people living there that the scene really struck a chord with me. Drug addiction is such a cruel affliction, and to see this lady slumped over, needle having just been used with the backdrop of sheer nirvana it makes you realize sometimes people just need that release. I’ll never forget that moment.
I was listening to the album’s title track, “I’m Not Well,” and wondered if you feel any catharsis both by being so candid in your writing and then again exposing yourself and releasing your emotions during live performances?
Massively. When I write, I just zone out, and the songs flow out. The same thing happens with live performances. There’s been so many times I’ve not wanted to play a show because of illness or mental health issues, but every time I do, I always feel so much better when I come off of that stage. There’s something extremely therapeutic about making music.
Music cures all! You too can feel that wonderful feeling by catching Black Foxxes at Riot Fest Chicago on Saturday September 17th at 4 p.m. on the Rebel Stage. Tickets for Riot Fest Chicago can be purchased HERE. I’m Not Well is available for purchase on iTunes. Follow Black Foxxes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.