Interview with Black Honey
Four years since indie-rockers Black Honey first entered our world, The Mic joins the Brighton band shooting for the stars to discuss their self-titled debut record, life on the road and what the future holds for a band with one of rock’s most enigmatic frontwomen.
“It’s been awesome, we’re quite overwhelmed,” states Izzy B Phillips (vocals and guitar) when questioned about the general response to Black Honey’s eagerly anticipated debut album, released just a week prior to our interview at a restaurant just opposite Nottingham’s Rough Trade record store. There’s a sense of relief and anticipation in the air, expectantly so given the four-year period that the band have been together. The Brighton four-piece have long been on the radar of many as a band capable of reaching great heights, and with a selection of EPs released over the past three years, it seems almost surreal to finally have a completed record available. “It hasn’t really hit me yet”, remarks bassist Tommy Taylor, “We never really set a deadline with it, we just knew we didn’t want to rush it. We wanted to wait until it just felt right, and it just took us that amount [four years] of time. There was never a plan to realise a certain amount of EPs and then put out an album, there was just a feeling it was the right time.” Izzy B further adds her surprise at the general eagerness for the band to release a full-length album whilst Chris Ostler (guitar) nods pensively, saying “It feels kind of weird seeing it in store. It’s like a flag into the sand [highlighting] the end of chapter one and the start of chapter two.”
As stated in a previous review of the album, the LP is an ambitious forage across the spectrum of indie-rock, delving into a variety of genres including funk-rock, disco and new-wave pop, showcasing a competently different front to the band when compared to their earlier EPs. “It’s kind of like a calling card really, like hello, here’s your first real taste I guess.” offers Taylor. “It’s a summary of what we’ve been doing over the last few years but also kind of the complete opposite at the same time.” Having listened to the debut record on repeat, there’s an inherent understanding with Taylor’s statement. Tracks like “Hello Today” and “Crowded City” look back to the early days of the band whilst the ensnaring “Only Hurt The Ones I Love”, theatrical “Midnight” and woozily enchanting “Blue Romance” offer a plethora of new avenues to explore, and it’s the latter of those tracks that perks the interest of everyone present. “I actually think “Blue Romance” has a real thick, tying connection to [past EP] songs like “Cadillac”, “Headspin” and “Sleep Forever”,” says Izzy B. “I actually wrote “Blue Romance” with the mindset to write something similar to “Sleep Forever”.” Ostler adds “I think production-wise we were trying to push it, we were playing around with more electronic sounds, and heading in more of a pop direction so it’s kind of like we’re taking a stab in the dark with new ideas.”
If you walk past Black Honey on the street you might feel a little intimidated by the sheer finesse of the band. Donning a petite, red beret today, it’s no surprise that Izzy B has been regularly a focus for fashion enthusiasts. In fact, anyone familiar with the band will know that their flirtation surrounding glamour and performance is nothing particularly new. The video for pulsating crowdpleaser “Midnight” highlights the group’s amicability with show-business. Whilst Ostler and Izzy B both warm to various descriptions of the track as being Abba meets Twin Peaks, Izzy B explains the dynamic video. “That was a joke, we were thinking about disco because of Blondie. We were just dancing around to a disco beat, thinking about how to make something that felt a bit “Blondie-disco” and it was a bit of a joke to be honest and then it just sort of stuck, and once we made it everyone was like ‘what do we do with it?’ in that it stuck in people’s heads. We thought if we were going to go with it then we just go hard, and when we wrote it I took a recording of John Travolta doing the Saturday Night Fever dance to the original demo on the first day of the video shoot, and we just thought why not try and make that. [The video] was essentially flying beads, all wear glitter, stab some people, done.”
Speaking about the upcoming UK and European tour, Izzy B commands to her bandmates that they’ll “sparkle it up a bit more as well”. When it comes to songwriting, one track from the band’s debut record springs to mind. “Into The Nightmare” is a devilishly brilliant rock and roll thrill co-written by none other than fellow Brighton rockers Royal Blood. When asked what it was like writing with the duo, Izzy B immediately responded “Wicked. Mike [Kerr, Royal Blood’s lead vocalist and bassist] is a fucking genius. He did all the piano playing and singing.” “He came into the studio to record it and he was singing on it, it was really, really fun,” Ostler adds. “We were jamming together in the room.” Izzy B further goes on to say “He changed all the chords on the day as well, it was fucking cool. All of them were like the same chord but he changed the phrasing and added loads of inversions. The track came from being on tour with them. We’ve been buddies with those guys for a while and we’d always talked about doing something when we got back from tour, we just booked in the day finally I guess and finally did it, which I’m glad we did.”
The final product of “Into The Nightmare” highlights the dominance of the music scene coming from Brighton right now. “It’s almost like our scene’s on tour now isn’t it,” says Ostler with a touch of pride. “[Bands like] Royal Blood, The Magic Gang, Demob Happy, The Big Moon…Slaves, they’re all from around there. We just see them every week on tour, it’s great.” Izzy B speaks more honestly. “To be honest, we feel quite detached from the Brighton scene because we’re never really there anymore, so when we come back we have to kind of figure out what’s happening at the moment. We came from a scene in Brighton that was kind of like a heavy rock, prog-rock scene that will always be partly rooted in me.”
The arena tour with Royal Blood has enabled Black Honey to perform to thousands of people in one go. The in-store promotion tour and the upcoming UK and European tour are on a completely different level of the spectrum, but that doesn’t seem to bother the band. “I really like the variation,” chirps Izzy B. “You definitely learn to appreciate the intimacy that you get in a small show and, at the same, we get [to see] the vastness of the huge arenas. I think I would probably just get bored if we only played arenas all the time because there is a separation that you have with the crowd. I love a sweaty venue, I like to see the front row.” When asked whether it requires a completely different mindset to adjust to the various venues, the three all nod slowly. “There’s definitely a skill to it,” confirms Izzy B. Going from radio acoustic sessions, to live in-store shows, to playing a full plugged-in set, to maybe a bigger show, to maybe a festival where you won’t get a soundcheck, and the skill is having to get up and deliver and try and consistently deliver.” Ostler also adds “I think festivals are really good for learning that craft. You usually only get half an hour to set up, if that, maybe less and it’s quite stressful.” Ostler further chuckles whilst talking about their performance at Finsbury Park supporting Queens of the Stone Age. “That was a very good day…such a privilege to be part of it. It was quite nice being on early as well. We played, packed up and just enjoyed ourselves, it was great!”
Having released a variety of EPs before the album came out in September, there was some debate over the decision to leave out fan-favourites such as “Corinne”, “Somebody Better” and “All My Pride” from the debut record, a decision which the band felt was justified. “We debated it for a while, but I think as soon as some of the new songs got written and demos got worked up, it became obvious that we were heading off into a new direction,” Ostler states. “When we played it back to back, some of these older songs stuck out a little bit, and I think as well, we wanted to try and make the album really fresh. I think we’ve all got a pet hate where a band releases a debut album and it’s full of just the old singles and it’s nothing new and nothing exciting, it’s exactly what you’d expect. We wanted to kind of shock people and bring out something that’s really really brand new and fresh.”
Izzy B smirks whilst discussing what the next step for the band could be. “We want to go more David Lynch, more fucking weird, shock people as much as usual.” Ostler then remarks, “We might try out some more genres. We might try a jazz tune.” Whilst their creativity is to be applauded and could take a variety of directions, the band are already in the process of recording new music. “We’ve already demoed a lot for it, so as soon as we can catch a break really, we’ll hopefully get into the studio and start working stuff out,” says Taylor. Izzy B boisterously declares “After the European tour we’re going to start putting everything together for the next record. Also, this time around we’re going to just take the demos and go straight in and make the album.” With a tour shortly on the way, plus commitments to a second album, you might think that Black Honey might want a breather, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. “We’ve got some fucking bangers ready for summer, and officially all we can say is be expecting to see us all around the world, like we’re looking international,” Izzy B smugly concludes. “There are some specific territories that we may have not entered yet, that’s the clue for you, that we know we’re going to perform.”
With both their music and production regularly portraying the band as an almost cosmic, out-of-this-world experience, you can’t help but wonder just how far away Black Honey want to go. Their effortless charm in conversation is later projected on the small stage at Rough Trade Nottingham as the band rifle through hits new and old. Still donning her red beret, Izzy B commands the crowd right from opening track “Only Hurt The Ones I Love”, past fan favourites “All My Pride” and “Somebody Better”, before closing with the ever-brilliant “Corinne”. It might have taken four years to get to this stage, but it seems Black Honey’s current momentum could propel them to feats beyond their wildest expectations.
Listen to Black Honey’s debut album here on Spotify.
Photo credit: Lindsay Melbourne