Track By Track: Black Foxxes – ‘Black Foxxes’
Posted: by admin
Black Foxxes just dropped their third LP Black Foxxes. While the band’s first two albums explored a more textured version of the dark, heavy alternative rock of bands like Manchester Orchestra and Colour Revolt, Black Foxxes takes the Exeter three-piece in a more experimental direction. The songs are longer, more patient on this album; there’s a bit more focus on atmosphere than there is on throat-shredding catharsis. It is easily the vibiest that Black Foxxes have ever sounded. It’s a bold album for the band to make, and I chatted with the band to get the rundown on how each song came together.
Read through this behind the scenes info while you listen through the record.
Mark: “I’m shaking with adrenaline.” This was one of the tracks we wrote near the end of Foxxes with Ant & Tris. I felt it was important to keep a couple of tracks I wrote back then to set the mood for the record, this one felt like a no brainer. With the recording process for this song it was imperative we made it as ragged and raw as possible. I was hearing old school Rory Gallagher and Neil Young vibes in the way it was produced all day long. When we got into the studio Ade & George didn’t really have any idea what the three of us would be like in a room together playing live, they’d only ever heard rough demo’s which probably gave them no clue at all as to what we were sitting on. I remember jumping straight into “I Am” and seeing Ade & George on the other side of the desk just punching the window and screaming at the end of the song because of how ferocious it sounded. That was it. It was genuinely one take and done, absolutely no overdubs, no padding out the track, this is the three of us live in a room, bleeding and sweating. I suggested potentially doing another take and Ade just said “just fucking come in here”, we went back into the studio room and listened back and all said to each other, that’s it, it’s done, let’s move on. This song took 3 minutes to record and 3 minutes to mix. Sounds fucking great, move on to the next.
Mark: I’ve been friends with Jack since we were kids growing up in the tiny town of Chudleigh. We became inseparable from a pretty young age and joined countless bands together. When the shape of Foxxes changed Jack was the first person I called. I’ve wanted to make a project with Jack for years and getting him involved with this felt so right. Anyway, at the start of 2019 I got Jack to send me a bunch of music he had written over the years that he had done nothing with. I remember a lot of it felt unusable as I’m pretty sure a 25 minute flute solo Jack wrote when he was high wasn’t really what the Foxxes collective would be after (we’re saving that for album 4), but amongst the weird and wonderful I found that riff that’s now the backbone of “Badlands.” I remember hearing those chugging guitars and thinking “I can do something so fucking sick to this”. I made a rough song structure, put some different chords in a bridge section and set up a microphone in my loft. I forced myself to do one take, and whatever came out would be exactly how the vocals needed to be. I was going through a wild period of my life and my head constantly felt like it was on fire, the moment that song started and I hit record I have never changed the lyrics or the melody. I just started spitting aggression for 8 minutes and I loved how raw and honest it came out. That set the tone for the new record to me. Finn and Jack both think exactly the same way as I do with music. It’s either so ferociously loud that it’s distressing, or it’s so eerily quiet that you can hear a pin drop. We wanted absolutely no middle ground with this record unless it was on purpose, and this is the mantra of the band. This song shaped the sound of the third Foxxes record.
Fin: The first jams of this iteration of Black Foxxes, though we didn’t know it yet, took place in October 2019. The jams were always fun, carefree and it was clear how well we worked together, I remember coming away from the rehearsal space feeling re-vitalised towards music in a way I hadn’t in a long time. “Badlands” is one of the tracks on the albums we recorded together, live in the room and I think it perfectly captures the mood of those early sessions. The 9 minute takes felt like marathons, and I can’t really remember thinking about ‘drums’ at all that day, just sheer expression. The outro we ended up using took shape on the fly, I was ready to move onto the heavier B section, when I saw that Jack and Mark weren’t moving towards their pedalboards to kick on the fuzz, so I held back and we just looped it over and over and over and over and by the end we were all just smiling and laughing.
Mark: When Foxxes disbanded and we were in limbo state from the start of 2019 I decided it was time I taught myself how to record my own music. I learnt back at college but was just being lazy with it. I bought logic and just dived straight in with the worlds oldest Mac that literally would take 2 weeks to put together half a song because it was so fucking slow. I’m reluctant to upgrade because I’m pretty convinced this is the final piece of the puzzle and having it easy with a brand new laptop will effect the process. Either that or I’m a psychopath. Probably a bit of both to be honest.
Back in May 2019 I was having all sorts of issues with my alopecia again, this time FULL hair loss over my entire body. It wasn’t a great time for me or for anyone close to me, I’ve learnt so much from that experience and it all feels like a haze, I don’t remember a lot of it, it was one fucking long panic attack really. Anyway, during that time I decided I didn’t want to be taking any drugs for my Crohns disease anymore and I also wanted to cut out smoking weed, which was just fucking with my head every time I did it. This song was the result of the break from those drugs. I was in listening to a lot of sleazy, dive bar blues thanks to my girlfriend Ciara, and we talked back then about traveling through the Deep South (which we latterly did), and I just felt like I had to write this 3 minute sludgy track that was creepy as fuck. I was genuinely in love with what I did vocally in that track just from the demo stages, some really creepy close mic breathing, exhales, tone shifts. When it came together in the studio it just sounded like something from In Utero with like Billie Eilish production. Those ‘rips’ you hear on the chorus’ are plugging myself directly into the mixing desk and slamming it to 11 to create this horrible cacophony of fear. The guitar solo at the end is the same thing, we plugged my guitar straight into the desk and distorted it there and this other worldly sound came out, it sounded like the world’s most intense fuzz pedal, so we just cranked that as loud as it would go and sat it on top of the mix. Beautiful.
“My Skin Is”
Mark: Another track from a few years back. Ant, Tris & Myself rented a little cottage in Cornwall for a couple of weeks a few years back and started writing for album 3, but mainly playing a lot of Fortnite. This was always going to be one of the keepers from those sessions, I remember thinking once it went into the studio how shoegazey it could sound, and that’s exactly what happened.
When recording this one properly we already had a lot of the guitars and vocals recorded from previous sessions over the past couple of years, so from my end it was more what we could add to fill it all out and make it as My Bloody Valentine come the end as possible. As all the songs started out it was the three of us recording this live in the room and then adding bits here and there on top. But this is definitely one of the single take numbers, those squealing guitars were wildly loud in that room haha. It just drowned the drums and bass out and we loved how that sounded, so we went with it. The vocals were interesting on this one, I wanted the verses to sound eery and in unison, completely untouched with effects and layered to give it a sorta Pixies vibe. We actually used old vocals I had recorded separately and just stacked them Left and Right on top of each other, I don’t normally layer vocals so it’s weird when you first hear it, it’s not a traditional Foxxes song by doing that, and that’s what this record is all about. It’s all about those dynamics and changes that I felt I limited myself with over the past few years. Some people will love it, some people will hate it, that’s find by me.
Mark: Jeez, I fucking love this track. This was really the start of working with Jack and realising we were really onto something. I remember just going back and forth on this track for months and the ending just kept getting weirder and weirder, it was so much fun to write this.
Like all the songs I just came up with a nice chord sequence, but the moment Jack put synths on it we both saw the potential it had to build into something chaotic beyond our imaginations. There’s so many different time signatures and patterns going on in the end of this track, if you really listen out to it the monster synth at the end is essentially keeping the pulse, and everything else around it is going at its own pace and starting the bar in totally different places. There’s a 28 days later kind of guitar lead line that’s going on throughout that ending and that sequence dips in and out of time constantly, but somehow ended up lining back up with the other instruments at the end haha. So it all works out eventually. As Jack alluded to, we really tried to make this track mirror a panic attack.
Jack : When Mark first showed me “Panic” it was pretty much done. I just remember spending ages getting the end to feel like it was an actual panic attack. Imposing and chaotic. I’m not sure exactly why we wanted to convey such an awful feeling but I think there’s something to be said about music making you uncomfortable. Much like a panic attack, although it’s hard to get through it makes the rest of seem much calmer somehow.
Mark: The Beach Boys are fucking great aren’t they? Yeah, well I wrote this song with the idea of having a chorus absolutely stacked with vocal harmonies. I didn’t care about how I’d do it live, I just liked the idea of a song that was based around these thick choruses.
It’s funny with this song, because we’ve sat on it for ages, it’s seen loads of different band members and I’ve even tried to use it in other bands, but when I listen back to that original demo it’s exactly the same song. I remember the day I recorded this in my tiny little loft room in Bristol, I bounced down a mix and just walked the streets of Clifton until like 3am listening to it back to back to see what I wanted to change, but ultimately just listening to what I’d managed to record. I would spend so long mixing these little demos during 2019, it was all I had, I put so much fucking effort into these songs and that’s the side of being in a band no one sees. People just see an inactive band, therefore people that aren’t creating music. But I was fucking suffering for this album long, long, long before it was released.
A few months after the song was written I took it to a close friend of mine Tom Ridley, who’s an absolute synth wizard, and he added some really beautiful subtle synth lines, vocal delay swirls, a lot of it felt a bit too far from the original sound I was going for, but that’s the importance of writing, sometimes you need to push and pull the track to see where it needs to go. By the time we took it to the rehearsal room I thought I knew exactly how the song would end up, but it then took a turn into sounding like an aggressive Santana hahah. So we went with it.
Mark: We’re living in weird times right now. I’m writing this in the midst of a pandemic and some easing of lockdown (although that seems fucking ridiculous to me given the mortality rate in this fucking country)! I think I would have struggled with this pandemic a lot more had I not gone through the past couple of years, specifically the sort of time I was writing “Jungle Skies.” When I moved in with Ciara, I knew that I was moving in to essentially be in a safe space for all my hair to properly fall out and go through the buzzcut, no eyebrows, no beard, the lot, she was and is literally incredible, and on multiple occasions when I look book probably is a very large reason this record even got made. It’s hard to believe in yourself when I was smoking too many cigarettes than I care to mention, drinking myself into numbness and living in a cupboard room that I’d turned into a DIY studio. I certainly wasn’t good company during those months, and I think without Ciara’s motivation I’d probably have gone off the rails at certain points. When the head shave happened I was writing music constantly, it was my absolute release and the only thing that was giving me any motivation to move forwards in my life. During that time I didn’t leave the house for weeks, not even to go to the shops, not to go out for a meal, not to go out for a pint, I was in complete isolation. That really helped me to be able to live inside my head, and it also made me realise that there will be nothing that can happen that stops me from creating music. There’s a great Bob Marley quote about “feeling rich”, and I feel exactly that. I don’t earn money from this band, or my music, but I feel incredibly rich creating it. Those months in isolation really prepared me for the pandemic, it was about becoming comfortable in my own skin and “Jungle Skies” was written in the heat of that period. It’s basically a song about depression, and I think hearing it now is my favourite track lyrically. Every time I hear those words it transports me to that little cupboard recording vocals when it was shitting it down with rain and I had nowhere to go.
Mark: Jeez, I remember Jack sending me the chord progression for this track and thinking how lush it sounded, but how we both wanted it to be bookmarked by wild jazz infused free form sections to start and finish it. This track is definitely where we realised JUST how good a drummer Finn was haha! When he started playing the drum part for that intro Jack and I just looked at each other laughing hysterically, we just kept trying to goad Finn into doing even weirder shit. “Yeh, that’s great, do it weirder”. “Go on for longer”. “Come in on the 7th beat”. It was hilarious, because we ultimately wanted the majority of this song to be boring. We wanted the listener to be so on edge by this intro that the calm that followed was completely necessary. I feel like we accomplished that hah.
Jack : We agreed before we went into the studio that we wouldn’t do things by half. If it was going to be loud it needed to be very loud but if it was going to be quiet it needed to be excruciatingly quiet. “Pacific” captures this idea the best with the start and the end being recorded to a gird separately while the rest of the song was recorded live to give it a much more natural ‘band-in-a-room vibe.
“The Diving Bell”
Mark: Ok, ok. I know I said “Panic” was my favourite track, but as far as a piece of music goes, nothing tops “The Diving Bell.” A ten minute album closer? Sign me up. There were talks about this track being the first single back as a band, but we felt it was probably just a bit too self indulgent? Possibly just a touch.
Jack sent me the instrumentation for this and I remember just lighting up hearing where we could take it. I worked on it solidly for 5 days straight. Literally would get 5 hours sleep and just start working on it again. I think it’s so important when writing that if you’re on a roll and you’ve got a vibe, go down that rabbit hole hard. Don’t wait and stagger your time. Aggressively chase the inspiration your brains giving you, because If you miss it and you’re not feeling it, the song will suffer for it. Anyway, after those 5 days I’d put together what really was the final structure for the song. It was so important with a song this length to really lean into the dynamics, the listener has to feel like they’re on a journey, so when I was laying down those monotonous vocals that feature heavily in the entire middle and end of the song, it was crucial they went somewhere AND came out of somewhere important. For instance, again with the crazy section on this song (after chorus 2), we wanted this to be utter chaos. When we recorded this track we recorded it all fully live, that was the first hurdle, getting a ten minute track consistent enough across the board but with the honest feel from each player throughout. The noise section after chorus 2 was just hilarious, I’ve never kicked on so many fuzz’s and reverbs, Jack was clicking on pedals that didn’t even make sense, but the sound was nuclear. When we went back into the control room to listen back George muted all the mics and had the noisy section just coming through a room mic that was distorting out from the room volume and we all leapt out of our seats and said “THAT’S FUCKING IT”!! Ade & George looked confused cuz it sounded SO nasty, but once we balanced it out slightly they were jumping around the room with us. When that noisy section kicks in, it literally switches from a beautiful recording with everything mic’d up to the band in the room blowing out one room mic. It’s absolutely disgusting, it’s also literally louder than Metallica – Death Magnetic, which is hilarious!
Jack: This song came to me so easily. I just sat down one day and managed to write the music for this song, including brass arrangements and most of what you hear is still true to the original. I think we just removed one section and made another longer. I recorded a version in my house, sent it to Mark and within two days he’d sent it back with the vocals you hear on it now. They were nothing like I was expecting them to be but it’s hard to imagine anything else now.
Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison
The Alternative is ad-free and 100% supported by our readers. If you’d like to help us produce more content and promote more great new music, please consider donating to our Patreon page, which also allows you to receive sweet perks like free albums and The Alternative merch.