Culture, Interview, Music

Black Honey: “I just feel like the whole of my life every musician ever has been told that they need to get a ‘real job’”

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Featured Image: Laura Allard Fleischl

Combining the glamour of an old-school Hollywood film with the raucous energy of a stadium show, Brighton-based four-piece Black Honey are masters of their own whimsical identity. The band consists of lead singer and guitarist Izzy B. Phillips, guitarist Chris Ostler, bassist Tommy Taylor and drummer Alex Woodward. 

They’ve continually captivated audiences since 2014, particularly with their early tracks – such as ‘Corrine’ (2015). This track focusses on importance of female friendship, finished off with Phillips’ soaring vocals and steady, moving instrumentals.

Their refusal to conform was further noted with their successful debut self-titled album in 2018, which earned a top 40 position – from tackling shimmering disco in ‘Midnight’ to powerful alt-rock in ‘All My Pride’, their ability to master any genre of their choosing is obvious.

A band keen on championing individuality and always choosing their own destiny, it’s not hard to see how they’ve gained a cult following – proven with their latest Record Store Day release selling out in a mere five minutes. They’ve also completed sold-out headline tours, performed at Glastonbury, toured with the likes of Royal Blood and Queens of The Stone Age. If that’s not enough, they were chosen as the soundtrack of Roberto Cavalli’s Milan Fashion Week show.

The band have returned to the airwaves, with their indie-rock masterpiece ‘Beaches’, a quintessential slice of summer. It may have been filmed during lockdown with TikTok and Instagram filters, however, the band managed to maintain the polished, theatrical element which they have become known for.

Their most recent track, ‘Run For Cover’ is an abrasive reminder that Black Honey is here to inspire. It’s a track set against thumping drums, hard-hitting guitars, biting lyrics and Phillips’ commanding vocals. Written in the hope that it makes “women find themselves”, it’s a manic, attention-grabbing hit with hints of 50s rock and roll. 

The band have also announced their forthcoming album, Written & Directed, a spunky mix of tracks acting as a call to arms, tackling a range of themes such as power, identity and even womanhood. It was written during 2019 and also created with long-time collaborators and friends, Royal Blood. However, it wouldn’t be a Black Honey album, without paying homage to some of the past musical greats, while still keeping an inimitable Black Honey core.

The tracklist is as follows: ‘I Like The Way You Die’, ‘Run For Cover’, ‘Beaches’, ‘Back Of The Bar’, ‘Believer’, ‘I Do It To Myself’, Disinfect’, ‘Summer ‘92’, ‘Fire’, and ‘Gabrielle’.

Phillips says: “I made this record for young women to feel invincible.” Their will to share a message of empowerment marks a bold but necessary statement. Created with ideas of cinema and also expectations of females on the screen, the band are poised to make us question everything we have ever known with their sharp-witted but catchy tracks.

aAh! Magazine caught up with Izzy B. Phillips to find out more about their forthcoming album, working towards equality in the music industry, and her inspirations while growing up.

Laura Allard Fleischl

You’ve recently announced your latest album Written & Directed, and have said that you “made this record for young women to feel invincible”. What was the beginning of the process behind this album?

“I think it was touring and just seeing all these women on tour who came to our shows and how they felt like they were really connected. I really love like how ‘Corinne’ brought women together, so I thought it’d be really cool if we could do some music that felt like it injected a bit more of veracity into women but it was really positive and feminist.”

Personally, what do you think needs to be done to work towards equality for women in the industry?

“So many things, like the industry… it needs more male allies, I think. If you’re a dude in the industry, you should be looking to hire women and women of intersections. I think we need to be positively discriminating at this point and let that be okay. If we can positively discriminate for a bit, then maybe we can catch up and things will start evening out.”

“I think women need to be super supportive of each other and bring each other up, and female CEOs need to employ more women as well. All together we can do that, you know. I think we’re all part of a process across all industries. I think it’s harder for the crew on tours and stuff. It’s like people do respect you because you’re the artist, but they don’t necessarily respect your crew. That’s a very male-dominated world and I really feel for those guys.”

How did you find growing up and then going into the industry? 

“I found it really scary. I thought that girls couldn’t play with guitars and didn’t have pedals, for some reason. I just thought that there was some weird biology to it, that girls couldn’t do stuff. As soon as I figured out, ‘ah I can do all of this’, it doesn’t mean that you do have to do it but it’s a feeling of, ‘ah this is awesome’. It took a long time to get the confidence to do it and to also believe in what I was doing creatively.”

What were your inspirations growing up, did they change as you got older?

“Yeah, so I invented women in music. It’s like, I don’t know, as soon as I discovered Patti Smith and Blondie – all of my female icons, it was like, ‘this is sick like I’m so stoked about this’. But, for me, it was The White Stripes and Nirvana. When I was really young, I loved nu-metal and rock music. Basically, I always adored anything with a guitar in. The standard pop charts and stuff fascinated me too, I would programme ringtones for my friends into their phones, like into their 3310s – I think they were called. Such a recent age.”

You also appear to have taken a lot of inspiration from film as well, you’ve joked about giving Tarrantino a writing credit for your forthcoming album. How did your interest in his work begin?

“So, I think like Tarantino has been an ongoing obsession of mine and like I literally didn’t even fully acknowledge, discover or appreciate his work until quite late. I think that because I was so late to the party it kind of made me go overboard. And, then I just loved it when people started saying, ‘you know we’re like a ‘Tarantino movie band’. We just thought, ‘hey let’s roll with that idea, let’s make that our thing’, with the joke of it and it was really sick to do. I love the way that Tarantino writes about women and I love his conversation about modern violence, as I think it has a lot of reflections of the reality we live in.”

All of your videos are very cinematic, such as your music video for your latest track ‘Run For Cover’ has been described by you, “as if Dolly Parton had a meltdown”. How did this concept happen?

“So, ‘Run For Cover’ was written with Mike [Kerr] from Royal Blood and he originally wrote it from a man’s perspective. So, I felt like it was quite rare to write a song completely from a man’s perspective and the first demo of the track was his voice on it. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to sing it because his voice is so different from mine, and then it really worked. It was kinda cool because we thought we could change the lyrics and stuff. But actually, it’s way cooler if we keep the lyrics the same and just flip the perspective as if it was like a literal, direct singing of a song from the perspective of a dude.”

Is there a particular song on the album, which you’re looking forward to people hearing?

“I really like a song called ‘Fire’ for women, and I have a love-hate relationship with that song. I got freaked out ages ago about that song and thought I didn’t like it as much as the rest of the songs. Now, it’s kind of a guilty pleasure of mine, like I actually love it. I can’t deny that song for what it is. It’s an anthem for women and the sentiment is important, the lyrics are like, ‘we’re all just diamonds shining in the dirt, I know exactly what I deserve, we are fire, I won’t apologise’. It repeats, ‘we are fire, I won’t apologise’. Something about a girl saying I won’t apologise, this is how it is, I’m f***ing fire… it gives me goosebumps, like I love that power, you know.”

Black Honey announce new album 'Written & Directed' | Indie is not a genre
Album Cover for “Written & Directed

Were there many strong women to look up to while you were growing up, that you could recognise in the industry?

“Yeah, I was quite lucky in a way though, I think. I was raised quite genderless and quite tomboy-ish. My heroes were all dudes anyway and I never felt like I needed to pick heroes of just women. I was always like, I want to be Kurt Cobain or I want to be Jack White. I was also obsessed with Courtney Love when I discovered her. I was obsessed with other women as well. I think, in my mindset, I’ve always been so non-gendered, do you know what I mean? I’ve never been treated like a girl, you know people say, ‘oh you’re not really a girly girl’.”

I guess this time in the industry is so weird for everyone at the moment, and how women have to work harder to get recognised and taken seriously too.

“It’s so unrelenting. The bit that’s so sh** but that’s so cool about it, is that I feel like women have always had this. But, only now it’s, ‘oh wait, like it is really hard for women, it is harder for women.’ Before there was this mass denial, I feel like culturally, people would be so annoyed if you were like, ‘It’s much harder for women in this world than men’. Men would be like, ‘Oh you just get to sit at home and raise kids all day, that’s well easy, we’ve got to do all the hard sh**.’ I can imagine the arguments that we would have to go through, but I feel culture is shifting. It’s f***ing bleak but they are speaking up for themselves. I’m almost into the aggression of how the stats are and about the balance in numbers in all industries. I always get in kind of pub squabbles with people and like, ‘Nurses are more women than men, women are just better at certain things’, and I’m like, ‘It’s funny that you managed to pick out the one industry, out of thousands, that are male-dominated.’ Men are getting paid more and CEOs are more often white men. Now, it’s great, how it’s a real ‘over thing’, and men are seeking allyship and it’s super commendable, it probably takes a big grouping, you know.”

Recently, you played a socially distanced gig courtesy of D.I.Y magazine, in light of the revival of retraining of people in the arts advertisement, what are your current thoughts on it?

“Oh mate, it’s ridiculous. Did you see my tweet?”

“I think that they retracted that statement after they realised how dumb it was. But, I just feel like the whole of my life, every musician ever has been told that they need to get a ‘real job’, and they’re not really valid. It’s like if you go to the Netherlands, you should see how they treat art. They really appreciate that it’s a functional route, for their society to cope with their own mental health. It’s like, maybe if we gave art like, I don’t know 5 more minutes look in government, then we would be in a position where people wouldn’t be suicidal. I would have loved to have seen anyone survive quarantine without music, film and literature, like seriously. We’d have gone insane. That’s what’s been keeping everything going for everyone and keeping them alive, giving people these really beautiful escape routes to their lives which are probably really hard right now – like people need music and they need art more than ever, that retrain thing was jokes. We filled out that form yesterday, did you see they’d released that?”

“We got the jokes like, I think I got an animal trainer or something as my job.”

If anyone’s looking for a new artist to listen to right now, whose music have you been enjoying at the moment?

“I really like the band, Sorry. I bought their record during quarantine, and also I really love the new IDLES record actually. Then, I really like discovering… I’ve been trying to find out more about trans and the trans community, so trying to learn more about them at the moment. Then, Anohni is one of my favourites, one of my new discoveries, she’s like a trans artist and used to be Antony and the Johnsons. She’s got a profile as Antony and Anohni, which are both conceptually different ideas, which I think is really interesting and I’m really enjoying that.”

Finally, is there anything which you’ve never been asked, but wish that you had?

“Ah, that’s a very interesting question! I don’t like, wish I’d been asked anything but I sometimes wonder, as people don’t talk as much as I thought they would in interviews about lyrics. If I was a journalist, when I’d be interviewing bands, then I’d pinpoint the specific lyrics and ask about that a lot. People don’t do it in media that much, which I find interesting. Also, I guess that’s me being a songwriter, always trying to figure out why my mate wrote this lyric here or what does that mean to them. What’s the secret story behind it? Because, there’s always a hidden story behind everything that doesn’t get spoken about that much, you know.”

You can listen to their latest tracks, ‘Beaches’ and ‘Run For Cover’ here. Make sure to look out for their forthcoming album, Written & Directed, which will be available from January 29, 2021. In the meantime, you can preorder it here.

Keep up with Black Honey:

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About the author / 

Camilla Whitfield

Third Year BA English with Overseas Study | Music Editor | Manchester & Cumbria | Music & Gig Enthusiast

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